Who would have thought that my contractors, a husband and wife team, would have visited Gulangyu on their Asian cruise! After all, they had five or six countries to visit, and the cruise only allowed three stops in China. Surprisingly, one of the stops was at the small island of Gulangyu and its larger island neighbor, Xiamen.
If you haven’t read my novel, Tiger Tail Soup, you’re probably thinking … So? Well, let me explain. The reason I’m so excited about their visit is because Gulangyu (also known as Kulangsu) was my late husband’s birthplace. It was also the setting for my novel.
In recent years, most Chinese cities have grown to look like Xiamen, Gulangyu’s neighbor across the water. At the top of the photo above you can see it, all shiny and tall and new. In contrast, Gulangyu, at the bottom of the photo, is a quiet little backwater.
To give you an idea how much Xiamen has changed, here’s the picture I took of it from our hotel window in 1983.
Gulangsu, on the other hand, hasn’t changed much in the past thirty-three years. I don’t think it was ever meant to be a bustling city. It was the pretty suburb to Xiamen’s gritty metropolis.
Everything on Gulangyu Island, is within walking distance, so there’s never been a need for a real road. Long ago, all but the most necessary wheeled vehicles were banned. The quiet, slower pace of life is one reason that Gulangyu has become a favorite destination for domestic tourists. And now also for foreign tourists.
The buildings on the island are historic, but they’re far from ancient. Many of the consulates, churches, hospitals, schools, police stations, and houses were built by the foreign communities that settled there after the Treaty of Nanking, which was signed in 1942. Like Shanghai, Gulangyu and Xiamen (then known as Amoy) were treaty ports until December 1941 when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor and all the Chinese treaty ports.
The view of Sunlight Rock, the highest point on Gulangyu Island, hasn’t changed much, although these are from different angles.
The little fishing boats look about the same.
The ferry has improved. In 1983, they didn’t bother with seats. Everyone stood. (It is a short ride.)
It still amazes to me that Gulangyu and Xiamen have become a regular stop for tourists. When we visited in 1983, Xiamen was putting the finishing touches on its first hotel for Overseas Chinese. They hadn’t even started thinking about having non-Chinese visitors–in Beijing and Shanghai maybe, but not in Xiamen.
Ever since 1949, China had been cut off from the rest of the world. Like the Russians, who lived behind an Iron Curtain, the Chinese remained isolated inside their own Bamboo Curtain. (See: “The Fall of the Bamboo Curtain.”) Nineteen eighty-three was early days for Xiamen. The city didn’t know what to do with me and my daughters. (Read about our lodging adventure in “No Room at the Inn.”)
Now my contractors are back. They have stories to tell about Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Korea. A week after their return, though, they were already back to work, ripping up my carpets and moving my furniture. They did an excellent job. Check out last week’s post to see the new hardwood floor.
Before I finish, I’d like to give you a link to Becky Ances’ blog. She’s a cute young American teacher, writer, traveler, and tea drinker living in Xiamen. I think you’ll really enjoy reading what she has to say.
Has your city or town changed a lot since 1983?