Fun & Findings in Fujian

Three cites, three days. Our resident travel expert Alix gives HERE! readers the lowdown on Fujian and why you should consider visiting our adjacent province.

This month brings us to the east coast of our neighboring province, Fujian. My recent business trip began with an initial flight to the capital city of Fuzhou. Flying from Guangzhou took about one hour and was pretty straight forward as I utilized the bus link from Hadi metro station. Like many Chinese capitals, Fuzhou has history in abundance and one could spend hours trawling the notable incidents throughout the dynasties. Events in Fujian during the Sino-Japanese war were eloquently captured in the novel “The man who loved China” by Simon Winchester, who elaborates on the experiences of secret service agents from the U.K. and U.S.A, involved in aiding the national resistance.

Naturally today Fuzhou has numerous tourist attractions relating to its history, consisting of many traditional temples, pagodas and the seemingly ubiquitous west lake. I was most intrigued by the “Sanfang Qixiang” (three lanes, seven alleys) which is a cluster of restored ancient residential buildings dating from the late Jin dynasty near the city center. I also quickly realized the dialect in Fuzhou is completely different from standard Mandarin. After enquiring, I discovered it is actually the prestige form of Eastern Min which has a much lower number of homonyms.

Fujian cuisine puts emphasis on umami taste and is typically sweet (in some ways similar to Guangdong), which suits me perfectly.

Following Fuzhou was a nifty high-speed train jaunt to the city of Putian. This was where I truly got stuck into Fujian’s famed cuisine. If you appreciate seafood as I do, you will absolutely feel as if you are in paradise. During my time there I tried various guises of shellfish, including abalone, crab and clams, not to mention plaice, eel and bass. Fujian cuisine puts emphasis on umami taste and is typically sweet (in some ways similar to Guangdong), which suits me perfectly. A quick visit to the shore near the famed Meizhou island—birthplace of the goddess Mazu, and it was on to the next destination.

The final leg of the trip was another blitz on the high-speed train 100 clicks or so down the coast to Xiamen, which is probably the most renowned tourist city in the province. As with Fuzhou, Xiamen has a vast legacy associated with various conflicts over the years, in particular during the time of the first opium war in 1841. I particularly like the tale of how the Chinese managed to sneak out their treasury of Sycee bullion without the British forces realizing, by concealing it in hollowed out logs.

Xiamen also saw its fair share of action during the “Taiwanese straight crisis” in the mid 1950’s. Along with Fuzhou, the city was shelled resulting in many deaths. The subsequent truce agreement resulted in the nearby Jinmen islands remaining under Taiwan’s jurisdiction, with a large sign on Xiamen island’s west coast that still reads: “Peaceful unification: One country two systems.” Due to political tensions the eastern half of Xiamen island remained largely undeveloped through the 60’s and 70’s until Xiamen was granted “special economic zone” status in 1980.

These days Xiamen seems booming and has previously been voted as China’s most romantic city to visit. Romance aside, I set about visiting the renowned island of Gulangyu. A brief ferry hop and I stepped foot on the pedestrian-only UNESCO heritage site. The history was indeed fascinating with the legacy from the previous colonial foreign residents still present. The preserved grandiose buildings with European architecture gave an insight to how life would have been there 150 years ago. I even discovered that at one time, Sikh policemen from British controlled India were stationed there.

Gulangyu is home to China’s only piano museum, giving it the local nickname “the town of pianos” with apparently over two hundred pianos on the island. In addition, there is a quaint sub-tropical botanical garden containing many beautiful types of flora located near the “Eight Diagrams Tower.” I took a last glimpse at the tallest peak, Mount Lit Kong Giam (sunlit rock), as I boarded my ferry back towards the twin towers of Xiamen’s CBD.

As this very long weekender came to an end, I took my train back directly to Shilong station in just over four and a half hours for the reasonable price of 343.5 RMB for first class, having pre-booked by phone. Hotels were in the normal price range of around 250 RMB per night for what I consider comfortable. As long as you can keep yourself occupied for a few hours on the train, Fujian is undoubtedly a place worth taking time to visit!