travel: xiamen, the gateway to china (part one)

After spending almost four days in Guangzhou, we took a high speed train to Xiamen. Xiamen, located in Fujian Province, is a coastal city, and as such, has been an extremely important port in China for centuries, as well as one of China’s earliest Special Economic Zones. Translated directly, Xiamen means “door to the house”, referring to the city’s centuries-old role as a gateway to China.

Yongding District of Longyan

The place we stayed at actually wasn’t on the island of Xiamen itself, but rather on the mainland area of Jimei. Jimei is the hometown of Chen Jiageng (Tan Kan Kee), a Chinese businessman, community leader and philanthropist active in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, and various Chinese cities. He was a prominent figure in the overseas Chinese community in Southeast Asia, and  was responsible for gathering support from the community to aid China during the early 20th century. Aside from donating most of his assets and earnings to aid China, Tan also set up funds and contributed to the establishment of several schools in Southeast Asia and Fujian Province, including Xiamen University and the various Jimei schools. So, while in Jimei, we visited the Jimei Middle School, as well as the former residence of Tan Kan Kee. There was also a very informative and interesting museum regarding the Tan family (Tan Kan Kee Memorial Museum) that we visited, as well as Jiageng Park, a beautiful park in memory of Tan Kah Kee.

The next day, we drove about two hours to the southern part of Fujian, Yongding District of Longyan, which is home to the Hakka Tulous. Tulous are Chinese rural dwellings unique to the Hakka in the mountainous areas and were mostly built between the 12th and the 20th centuries. A large, enclosed and fortified earth building, tulous were built between three and five stories high and and can house up to 800 people. The whole structure resembling a small fortified city, and were built to defend against robbers in the early days. Because of their unique structure, many foreigners thought them to be nuclear power plants when they saw satellite footage of the area (especially when the people inside would cook food and the smoke would rise through the center). The tulous  were inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as World Heritage Site, as “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization [in a] harmonious relationship with their environment”. The ones we visited were built over 600 years ago and called the Tianluokeng Tulou Cluster, also called si wan ee tang (translated to four bowls and a soup) because the shapes of the tulous looked thus. 

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