Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Xiamen - Birthdays, belching and botched bookings

Hi Everyone!

After my last post, some of you have wondered whether the recent silence on the blog was due to us either being too grumpy or getting beaten up by some angry Chinese people. Fortunately this is not the case, we have just not been able to find enough time to write articles. However, we are back and looking forward to writing about the last couple of cities, starting with Xiamen.

Xiamen was my 'birthday trip' (thank you for all the birthday wishes!), so Michael and I decided to live it up in a 5-star hotel. Unfortunately they 'lost' our booking, so we were stuck at the front desk for about half an hour showing them our email confirmations and trying to make sure that we got the cheap price quoted on the booking website. Since it was less than half the going rate for a room we thought that there had been some mistake on the website, but they honoured the price and gave us a room so no harm done. It was a very nice change, with a lovely soft bed, a bath, a concierge and a delicious buffet breakfast.

While I am on the subject of food, let me point out that the change in cuisine from northern China has been very pronounced. I have been told that the Chinese food that we enjoy in Australia is mostly Cantonese in origin, and this is definitely supported by my experience over here. Even as far down as Hangzhou, the food was fairly bland, although I didn't realise it until we got to Xiamen. Sure, we had some tasty dishes (like the Beggar's Chicken and Peking Duck), but overall it was not the taste sensation that I had been looking forward to. Xiamen was when I started to notice dishes more similar to my favourites back in Australia.

Still on the subject of food, the buffet at the hotel was amazing. I didn't realise how much I had missed having a proper breakfast until I was able to have porridge, muesli and pancakes for the first time since leaving. Unfortunately the dinner buffet wasn't included in the price, however we treated ourselves on the last night and it was worth every penny. They had all different types of steaks and skewers that you gave to the kitchen to cook for you, heaps of seafood like oysters, prawns and crab, delicious little entrees like a parfait glass with scallops and squid drenched in sweet chilli sauce and roast beef with steamed veggies, and don't even get me started on the desserts. Mmmmmm I am getting hungry just thinking about it... and since I am currently on a train for the next 2 hours with no food I should probably stop now.

Xiamen is very much a beachy sort of town, complete with palm trees and its very own Rottnest. It was also much warmer than Hangzhou, although not to the extent that I could leave my jacket in the hotel room. The area all around the hotel was mainly shops, which came in handy when Michael took me shopping for my birthday (which was the first day that we were in Xiamen) and bought me two nice new tops.

When we got back I was surprised by a delicious birthday cake (layers of sponge cake covered with cream and fresh fruit) from the hotel, along with a birthday card from the General Manager. I couldn't figure out how they knew it was my birthday, as Michael swore that he didn't tell them, until we guessed that it was from my passport (you have to present your passport every time you check into a hotel over here).

That evening we had a delicious dinner at a Burmese restaurant, where we were served by a waitress who burped really loudly as she poured us tea. It was hilarious and we had to choke down our laughter until she left the table.

Then we did a mini pub crawl of the two pubs at the hotel, the Hollywood Bar and the Golf Bar (with its own putting green). They were really the same bar with the same drinks list, just with different settings. But I was finally able to enjoy and few glasses of nice white wine so it was all good.

The next day we took a day trip to the lovely island of Gulan Yu. It was like Rottnest but not quite like Rottnest. There were no cars but also no bikes, there were plenty of beaches but you wouldn't want to swim in them and it was relatively quiet compared to the mainland but it was still as busy as Perth city on the weekend. The buildings are a fascinating mix of Chinese and European architecture, and together with the beautiful gardens and views made for a fantastic day trip.

First we climbed the highest peak on the island, which gave us a spectacular view. Then we took a cable car to another part of the island and went to the aviary, where they had heaps of different types of birds, including some spectacular white peacocks. It was an enormous enclosure, however some birds were in small enclosures, and some birds were even chained to perches :-( In addition we also saw a couple of huge rats about the size of Napoleon (picture to the right). It put a bit of a dampener on things and we soon left. After that we went to some beautiful gardens which were situated right next to the water, and then walked around the side of the island to see an enormous statue of some famous General, and another beautiful garden that had some interesting bronze statues.

Then we returned to the hotel, and Michael paid for my second birthday treat, an hour long massage at the hotel beauty salon. It was so relaxing that I didn't want to leave!

By the way, Michael and I would like to thank everyone for the emails and comments which let us know that people are reading the blog. Even though we are writing it mainly for ourselves, we get a real kick out of knowing that other people are enjoying it :-)

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