On a misty morning I traveled to Gulangyu. The trip is reminiscent to taking the ferry to Staten Island or Sausilito. The destination has a flavor all it's own. Sandy beaches, romantic villas, and music that fills the air. In and out of twsting alley ways, it is a place where one could meander for days.
Gulangyu is a tiny island off the south eastern coast of the island of Xiamen, in the Fujian province of China. The only vehicles are electric. Aside from the trams that take you around the island you seldom see one. Around every corner you find a garden. Every nook and cranny gives life to lush vegetation. Flashes of color from birds and butterflies make the air sparkle. The Chinese name of Gulangyu also has musical roots, as gu lang means "drum waves," so-called because of the sound generated by the ocean waves hitting the reefs. Yu means "islet."
Two Hundred years ago Xiamen was known as Amoy and like London of that time it was a terribly polluted city. For political purposes and to avoid the dirt and disease, foreigners took up residence off shore. They built beautiful sprawling embassies and consulates. Eventually wealthy, politically active Chinese joined them constructing villas that rival the splendor of the mansions of Newport.
Today a vast number of those architectural beauties, both on the water and in the town lie abandoned. It started with westerners leaving when the Japanese came to occupy all of Fujian and continued after the war when citizens that sided with the first communist government of Chiang Kai Shek. The Republic of China was over thrown by the People's republic of China, those who kept their allegiance fled across the straight to Tiawan, once known as Formosa.
In one respect Gulangyu is a respectful tourist destination - full of tasteful kitsch. For those who love food, there are local delicacies in insipiring shops at every turn. Days can be passed people watching the the cafe's and coffee houses on the beach and in town.
Gulangyu is also transports you back in time. The haze of a summer's day makes it seem like walking through Manderly, full of ghosts and ruins from it's former glory. I suspect many of the empty mansions are now run by the personable cats that appear at each twist and turn.
This "Garden of the Sea" is a place lost in time. Or perhaps it is not lost, it simply found the time it enjoyed most and chose to stay there.
More of what I did not expect to find:
Photo Credit: Julie Cecchini