Saturday, January 31, 2009
Xiamen is a second-tier city. Unlike Beijing and Shanghai which are considered their own jurisdictions directly under the central government and get many benefits because of their municipality status, Xiamen is their poor cousin.
And you can see it from the poorly constructed roads, sidewalks that aren't properly maintained so you have to constantly watch where you're walking, and people's fashion sense aren't quite up to Beijing standards.
But the cost of living is almost the same as the Chinese capital.
Taxis start at 8RMB (Beijing is 10RMB), but when you arrive at the destination, 1RMB is added to the total bill as some kind of fuel surcharge.
We took buses most of the time, and they were 1RMB each way, the same as Beijing. If you have an electronic bus card, it was 0.9RMB, but in the capital it's 0.4RMB.
Groceries were also quite similar. For example, for a 4-litre jug of Nongfu Spring water, at the grocery store where I live, it's 7RMB, but in Xiamen, it's 8RMB. Restaurants charged almost the same prices, but the exception was fresh seafood.
At a restaurant across from Xiamen University, four of us ate garoupa, half a cattie of clams and some prawns and four other dishes came to 300RMB.
What was also interesting was that when we checked into our hotel, the Xiamen Plaza Hotel, reception staff asked for 2,500RMB up front even though the total amount for four nights should have been 1,780RMB. When we checked out, I was given back the balance.
It seemed they wanted to make sure we really were going to stay there...
You also know you're in a second-tier city when people didn't seem to carry crisp, clean bills, but crumpled, dirty ones. They also rarely carried 100RMB notes.
In the evenings, we saw many people sleeping in the street or begging. In front of one storefront that wasn't open for the New Year holidays, I counted seven people bundled in blankets sleeping side by side.
While beggars have started to drift back into Beijing, I have yet to see any sleeping on the street.
Xiamen seems to be a tough place for people to live -- and particularly bleak for those who don't have much.