The first stop of my Asia cruise was Xiamen. According to my mother, Xiamen is a boring old city with not much interesting to see, so we took a 20 minute ferry to Gulangyu Islet. The name Gulangyu means “drum wave island,” after the sound the waves make when crashing along the shoreline. Gulangyu is a tiny little island so we did a lot of walking around, instead of taking random modes of transportation.
When we arrived on the island, we were greeted by wonderful smells from food vendors’ stalls. Weird fruit was also being sold! I saw a lot of weird fruit on this trip. Some of the vendors’ stalls were really just trays on foam cubes. The reason for this was so that they could easily pick up their stalls and run away whenever a police officer came … obviously their businesses weren’t legitimate!
There are a lot of random tourist attractions in Gulangyu, so here is a list!
The musical instrument, not the body part. A man who grew up in Gulangyu (who has since moved to Australia) donated all of these organs to the island. To be honest, I’m not sure why.
Min Su Chun
This is a dried food/tea shop, found all over the island. We sat down with a salesperson, who gave us a huge tray of dried fish and shark bones to sample. The shark bones were my favourite (I’m sorry, sharkies!). We also had some tea to wash it all down!
Bainian Gulangyu (100 Years Museum)
The purpose of this museum was essentially to show what Gulangyu was like 100 years ago. Gulangyu, like many other parts of China, was under British rule (they invaded in the 1840s, and then a bunch of other countries also tried to get a piece of the action throughout the years, namely Japan during the Sino-Japanese wars). There was a lot of cool stuff at the museum, but not much in the form of explaining what things were or represented. It was kind of like a hodge podge of artifacts (toilets, beds, light fixtures, paper documents, typewriters).
We did follow a guide at first, but since my mom is the only Mandarin speaker in my family, we just decided to look around on our own. Once again, I was amazed at the enormous span of the British Empire, and also feeling sort of thankful that the language I grew up speaking is so powerful (politically and in other ways!). British influence has also made itself known on the island through the architecture – some of the buildings seem a bit out of place in China!
Gulangyu International Calligraphic Carving Museum
This museum showed a new type of calligraphy which only started becoming popular in the late 1980s. Instead of using ink and paper like in the olden days, words are carved into wood, or the words come up out of the wood. Everything looked really modern; I wish we were allowed to take pictures! We were told “No shoot, Thanks!”
Did you know that China has national parks?! Well it does, and Shuzhuang Garden is one of them! There are a couple of fun things to see here. First of all, the park/garden overlooks the ocean and there is a probably very cold beach.
To get to the different attractions, you need to walk along the Zigzag Bridge, or Forty-Four Bridge in Chinese (because the bridge’s architect was 44 years old when the bridge was built). The bridge zigzags over the water so it’s quite pretty, and there’s a good view of Sunlight Rock (a mountaintop viewing point that we did not bother walking up to because it takes 2 hours and there were a million people).
One of the highlights of Shuzhuang Garden is the Gulangyu Piano Museum. For such a small island, it’s kind of funny that it has such a large collection of pianos and organs! Again, we weren’t allowed to take pictures, but there were A LOT of old, antique pianos, and even a person playing piano, so there was some nice background music!
Finally, we also went to a part of the garden called Twelve Grotto Heaven, a bunch of rocks melded together to create walls, entryways, tunnels, and “caves.” Each cave is supposed to represent an animal – I found rabbit, dragon, horse, snake, and a bunch of other animals!
So that’s that for Gulangyu! A relaxing yet interesting stroll through the island was a great start to my cruise. Next stop: Okinawa!