Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I'm ushering in the Year of the Ox in Xiamen, a port city in southeast China.
It's a two-and-a-half hour plane ride from Beijing. The plan was the escape the frigid weather in Beijing, but it turns out this coastal city is chilly! I've been wearing my down jacket these past few days even though I brought a thinner jacket...
My hotel is right next to the train station which is convenient in terms of taking the bus. It's also near Wal-Mart and KFC and McDonald's. There seems to be a McDonald's every 500 metres, each of them open 24 hours. You won't go hungry in this town.
Most restaurants were shut for Chinese New Year's Eve or already full for big family dinners. So we had to settle on eating dinner at a Thai restaurant -- but we made sure we ate a whole fish -- flavoured with lemongrass, spring onions and ginger, as well as prawns in a spicy soup with cabbage, carrots and turnip.
Interestingly not too many people were setting off fireworks and firecrackers, which was a bit of a relief for the ears. After dinner we wandered to a park called Jinbao which was lit up with green lights.
The park stretches up a hill and you can see many of the city's modern buildings are lit with LED lights creating a colourful but tacky effect.
On Chinese New Year's Day not much was open and so for lunch we had Xinjiang Uyghur food -- not quite traditional fare on the first day of the new year. We ate lamb kebabs, naan bread, French fries that were seasoned with cumin and paprika (very good), and then a noodle dish where the thick round noodle is cut into 2cm long bits and stir-fried with bits of lamb, peppers, Chinese celery and spices.
Xiamen reminds me a lot of Macau, with lots of storefronts on the ground floor followed by residences on the second and third floors. The buses too are relatively small and bus fare is 1RMB one way.
When you hit the beach area, some views look like the south side of Hong Kong, with container ships in the ocean and what looks like something similar to Lamma Island off in the distance complete with three chimneys.
I collected a few shells on the beach, including some sea glass in pretty shades of blue. The sand? It's golden yellow, ranging from rough to relatively fine.
Xiamen also similar to Lamma Island with lots of seafood restaurants where you pick your dinner from the fish tanks.
Last night we joined up with two other friends and had a feast of steamed star garoupa that was cooked perfectly, along with stir-fried clams in a thick soy sauce, prawns with salt and peppers, beef stir-fried with onions on a hot plate, a giant plate of spinach, and dou pi, tofu skin fried with spices.
We were hoping to have some tong yuan, or glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste, but the restaurant didn't have any. And by the time we got out of the restaurant, many of the other dessert places were closed!
So we ended up having ice cream at McDonald's... because it's always open.