A bird's-eye view from Gulangyu island to downtown Xiamen in Fujian province. [Photo/China Daily]
The campus of Xiamen University has been considered one of the most scenic in the country [Photo/China Daily]
A snack street in Xiamen offers diners a variety of delicacies from both Fujian province and Taiwan.
Peanut soup is one of the popular traditional Xiamen desserts.
The city reminds one to slow down. It's quaint architecture and scenic natural sites encourage a relaxed lifestyle. Sun Ye takes you there.
There is only one tip to enjoy Xiamen - relax and take your time.
Admittedly, I had aimed for a laid-back weekend trip there, one that racks no brains at all. And Xiamen is the city that makes every effort to leave you the impression that it's the most effortless, breezy, romantic rendezvous ever.
I arrived at the oceanfront city on a high-speed train that started from Shenzhen, known for its time-is-money, keep-your-hectic-schedules-even-fuller attitudes, in a little over three hours. The two cities, 600-kilometer apart and now connected by the newly-launched high-speed rail with some 20 daily trips in between, are both special economic zones.
But Xiamen, which also include several small islands facing Taiwan, reminds visitors not of money or efficiency, but ease, especially so if you keep your stay to the city's more historical Siming district, where its most scenic spots are concentrated.
Take its No 1 Bus Rapid Transit line to the very end and you'll be in the midst of the historical district.
Arcade lanes crisscross the center of Siming. The two-or three-storied buildings, with their upper floors overhung and covered ground floors often becoming interesting shopfronts, are extremely conducive for a good stroll around. They deter sub-tropical heat and rainfall, and exude a relaxed, unhurried style.
The arcades comprise of peeled-off walls and grimes from the last century, as well as recently white-washed shopfronts to house posh stores (around Zhongshan Road).
Along the way, guests can soak in heritage sites including the city's earliest church for Chinese Christians, the old building of the OCBC Bank, the city's first hotel, among others.
Shops hang signboards not of discounts or sales, but "Take your time", "Pace and enjoy", and "Believe in serendipity".
Meet Xiamen, one of the many typical stores up Zhongshan Road, paints its shopfront with these words: "Xiamen is a lifestyle. You reminisce and live the present."
The shops sell the region's special filled-up pancakes, peanut brittle, dried meat floss, as well as map/stamp books. The books allow tourists to follow carefully designed routes (of music, of famous cats etc.) and put stamps on each stop.
And they're best known for hipster services like keeping letters and mailing them in the future, exchanging drift bottles of postcards and breeding small plants in the way "one cares for his dream".
With so much to do, exploring the area will take up the better half of a day.
And the walks, whichever direction you take, will lead to the city's natural endowment.
To the south, there are cool sandy beaches (with a skyful of kites) that go on to encircle the island. And the nearby inner-circle pavement prove qualified for international marathons.
Running a marathon may not be for everyone, so the Island Ring Road is lined up with bikes for rent.
To Siming's east, there are a botanical garden, reservoirs, lakes, hills and forests that border or sprawl into Xiamen University.
The century-old university is the uncontested "most scenic university of China".
The historical South Putuo Temple stands at its west gate. Libraries and activity centers are connected by paths of flame trees and groves of milflores, Xiamen's city flower. A football field overlooks the sand and the sea.
Walk along a trail scaling the hills enfolding the campus, and one will reach the Wanshi Botanical Garden to while away a whole day. The Lover's Valley near the campus is densely wooded with many trails winding into the hills that one can easily spend a day hiking.
Sunsets are best on the Sunlight Rock if one can reach Gulangyu Island on time.
Gulangyu, or the "garden upon sea", is one ferry stop away from downtown Xiamen and is the best jewel of the city.
Strictly speaking, it's a residential area except that it had housed various Western consulates since it was a leased territory in the early 20th century and therefore nicknamed the "museum of architecture". It has the best combinations of sea, greenbelts, rocks, statues, gardens and mansions.
On Sunlight Rock, one gets a panoramic view of these treasures.
Even better, whiffs of the wind could well be carrying music notes around.
Gulangyu is "the island of music" as a disproportionately large number of pianists, violinists and music lovers in general used to reside there. So many, that its two most popular museums on the 2-square-kilometer isle are the Organ Museum and the Piano Museum. Each houses historical instruments.
The island is ideal for spacing out while walking leisurely until one comes to its hub, the Longtou Road. That area is now lined up with boutique stores, restaurants and snack shops that paddle delicacies from both Fujian province and Taiwan.
The city has the best foodstuff from Fujian province and Taiwan. Snacks are available nearly at every corner one turns to and are generally highly-recommended.
There is the ubiquitous satay noodles that combines the best of the signature sauce with add-ons of duck bloods, offals and seafood. Hailijian, or fried oyster mashed with eggs, flour and condiments, is a must-try.
Stewed duck with rice wine, ginger and sugar is sweet, nourishing and especially good for women, according to traditional Chinese medicine theories. Peanut soup, with the nut softened and sugary from a long time of boiling over, is an ideal dessert. Mashu, the sticky rice pastry filled with crunchy peanuts and sesame powder, is another of the local's favorite sweetmeat.
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