Finding true love in Xiamen-A A +A
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
NIGHT had fallen when we walked out of the Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport. We dragged our bags as two Chinese girls in jackets and boots led us to the waiting bus. It was cold.
Inside the bus, a young woman with wavy hair welcomed us and introduced herself as our guide during our two-day tour of Xiamen. Her name was Chen Yingying, but we could call her Cindy, she said with a smile.
“This is Mr. Jiang,” Cindy said, drawing our attention to the man smiling in the driver’s seat. “He is a very experienced driver.”
It was past 8 p.m. The bus was taking us to a restaurant for dinner.
We traveled seven hours from Cebu to Xiamen for a familiarization tour sponsored by Cathay Pacific Airways. With me were two officers of the airline’s branch in Cebu and seven travel agents.
Not knowing what to expect of the place, I searched Xiamen on the Internet before we left Cebu on Dec. 13. A seaside city of 3.5 million people in the southeast Fujian province, Xiamen is considered one of China’s cleanest and most beautiful cities.
In a 2011 online poll participated in by 1.5 million netizens, Xiamen was voted as China’s most romantic leisure city. Packing my things, I resolved to find out what made Xiamen a romantic city.
During the 10-minute drive to Guo Hui Restaurant, Cindy briefed us on the places we would visit in the next two days. Our first destination would be the island of Gulangyu.
“It’s a very romantic island,” Cindy said. “Best island for honeymoon.”
We left Marco Polo Xiamen Hotel, where we checked in after the dinner hosted by Regal China Tourism Industry Ltd. general manager Stephen Chen, at 9:30 a.m. the following day.
“Before 1980, Xiamen was a small village,” Cindy said as our bus drove past gleaming skyscrapers.
When China opened its door to international trade in the 1980s, Xiamen--which means, in English, “a gate of China”--was declared a Special Economic Zone.
“Now people come here and don’t want to go back--like me,” Cindy said. A native of the neighboring Jiangxi province, the 29 year-old mother of two has worked as a tour guide in Xiamen for five years.
We boarded a crowded ferry to Gulangyu. It was wintertime in Xiamen. The temperature ranged from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. In January, the coldest month, the temperature drops to 12 degrees Celsius, Cindy said.
We arrived on the island 10 minutes later. After some brief sightseeing aboard electric cars, Cindy led us to the Guanfu Museum, where we marveled at century-old furniture pieces.
We then went to Shu Zhuang Garden, which offered a view of the sea.
In English, Gulangyu means “drum wave island.”
“The island is hit by waves every day,” Cindy said. “As waves hit the rocks, people hear sounds like drums.”
Cindy took us to the Piano Museum, where a collection of about 90 pianos by a rich Chinese-Australian businessman were displayed.
As we walked around the island, seeing young couples everywhere, we confirmed what Cindy said about the island being a romantic place.
On our way back to the ferry, we saw happy couples in wedding garb posing in what seemed like pre-nuptial photo shoots.
Stores, big and small, lined the Zhongshan Road, our next destination after Gulangyu.
We headed to Xiamen’s famous shopping area after our late lunch in a restaurant not far from the dock.
Zhongshan road seemed like Colon street of Cebu City, except that in the former, one shopped from one store to the next without worrying about getting run over by a vehicle. The whole stretch was devoted to shoppers and pedestrians.
It was getting dark when we returned to our bus and drove to the Xiamen Royal Victoria Hotel for a hotel inspection.
As it was already evening when we arrived 20 minutes later, we saw the hotel in all its glory. The hotel’s façade, glowing gold, was breathtaking.
The hotel has a Spanish architectural design and subtropical landscape. We checked the rooms and the amenities in awe.
With more than 300 guest rooms, it includes 43 luxury suites and 10 deluxe European villas. The size of the smallest room is 60 square meters. Each room has a balcony overlooking the sea.
It was already late when we left, after an overwhelming buffet dinner. It was one of the most romantic hotels I’ve ever seen.
“People think of Xiamen as a small town, that there’s nothing to see here,” said Stephen Chen as we walked out of Marco Polo to our bus the following morning. “But Xiamen is actually good for entertainment, sightseeing and shopping.”
It was the second and last day of our tour.
Chen’s Regal China Tourism Industry Ltd. helped arrange our tour in Xiamen. Chen said Xiamen is good for tourists all year round, although it’s rainy during April and May.
According to Cindy, about 30 million tourists visited Xiamen that year.
We went to the Jemei School Village, an institution founded in the early part of the last century by business tycoon and philanthropist Tan Kah Kee.
We ate lunch at the Yue Xui Restaurant and spent the whole afternoon shopping at SM
At nightfall, we were treated to dinner by Aida Uy, general manager of Cebu Fortune Travel, which co-sponsored the tour. After dinner, Mr. Jiang, our experienced driver, drove us to our hotel.
It was a beautiful night. I looked out of the bus window and found, on every street corner, reasons why Xiamen was hailed as China’s most romantic leisure city. But it was not until our bus was nearing Marco Polo, passing through a street lined with night clubs, when it struck me how romantic Xiamen was.
“That’s a very popular club here,” Cindy said, pointing outside the window. The neon sign at the club’s entrance read: True Love.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 03, 2013.