Experiencing the old life in Gulangyu

By greenteapanda

March 11, 2008

Category: Travel

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Off of Xiamen, there is a smaller island called Gulangyu. It is sometimes termed the piano island because it has more pianos per capita than any other place in China – perhaps even the entire planet. Many of those pianos did not come from China, but rather from foreign countries. Xiamen (known previously as Amoy) was once one of the ports forced open by foreigners. Gulangyu was the island on which the foreigners had their settlement.
The only way to get to the island is by ferry. Going to Gulangyu is free, but you have to pay to get back (unless you don’t mind swimming in the murky water).
Once on the island, you are greeted by some old-looking buildings, but like many things in China, they are fake. They were built in 2001. The real stuff is behind.
Navigating the island is confusing – many of the streets that run parallel to each other and intersect each other have the same names. If you ask locals for help, you are likely to be pointed in an easy-to-say, but long way to get to your destination. Long for everybody, since the only way to get around is on foot. The only vehicles allowed on most of the island are hand carts used to move heavy/large/bulky items like rocks around the island. Even down stairs!
Starting at the Gulangyu Museum (where the model is above), I got to see some of the more traditional things that exist on the island. Some beautiful dolls, but I have enough material possessions as is!
Below is the former Japanese consulate. Japanese might be a bit less hated than elsewhere in the mainland because they did something the British were unwilling to do – work to end the opium trade. The Japanese took the long term view, and it didn’t do their plans for Asia any good to have everybody addicted to drugs. Britain only cared about the short term profits.
Later I walked into one of the places one has to pay for. A place like a palace, with traditional music being played. They even have a traditional puppet show! I tried manipulating one of the puppets myself, but it was too difficult to do in the manner I wished to do.
The backdrop of Gulangyu, very different than most places in China, and quiet, means it is a good place for wedding photos. It is also nice to interact with the architecture, some restored and some condemned.
Even outside, there are some musical elements to be found. The walkways have musical notes, and some even resemble the keys of a piano.
You can interact with many things, something you can’t do in a traditional museum. At least the sorts of museums outside of China. Rules aren’t always followed in museums in China.
A Map of Japan before Tokyo…
Xiamen is in Fujian, the place that made Tea famous. Western knowledge and even the word ‘tea’ come from the flavour of Chinese spoken here. I bought some tea that can be used for 3 days! Also, given I bought 300g of that tea, I am set for this year.
There is some traditional rock eteching you can buy… (perhaps you notice that I payed a cheap tour guide to take us a round, and she hoped to boost her pay through a kickback on goods I bought…)
Obligatory pandas…
There is a piano museum. The interesting stuff inside cannot be photographed. For example, there was a piano that fit into a corner, so the keyboard was at a right angle. They did have some windows resembling Amsterdam’s red light district outside, though they featured beautiful pianos and chairs rather than women that appear to have chosen the wrong profession.
Ah! Some heavy lods being dragged up the hill for construction purposes.
There is even more on the island, such as an aquarium, but I will talk about that in the future. For most tourists, Gulangyu might as well be Xiamen itself. Other parts of Xiamen have some better nature experiences and the Tong’an Film City (China’s Hollywood), but that is about it. I will go into those in future entries as well.

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