Saturday, 14 March 2015

Xiamen: Day One

Xiamen on a rainy Wednesday late afternoon overlooking Yundang Lake
Our three-day trip to Xiamen got off to an unauspicious start when our flight was delayed an hour. After we checked in, we received a text message from Dragon Air saying it was delayed for no particular reason, and then after we boarded the plane, we sat there for another half hour because the water system was faulty.

Marinated goose with the garlic sauce
And yes -- there were naughty mainland Chinese children on the flight. One row ahead of us was a family of five -- the mother, a baby and their eldest daughter sitting in the front row of economy, then behind them the father and second daughter who was about two years old. The girl kept talking loudly and intermittently shouting, screaming, crying -- and yet the father didn't discipline her to quiet down, or tell her she was disturbing other people, that she was not behaving.

He let her be loud and dramatic and the rest of us had to deal with it. I don't know if the father was too embarrassed to say anything, or he is usually that indulgent, but that girl certainly did not have any manners. Only when the plane landed and we were waiting to disembark was she quiet!

As soon as we walked out of the airport we could smell cigarette smoke -- we were definitely in the People's Republic of China! Thankfully the long taxi queue moved quickly and in less than 10 minutes we were in a cab and on our way through rainy Xiamen.

Many of the apartment buildings that are six or seven stories high are run down, with architectural styles left over from the early 90s, featuring white tiled buildings with small balconies where people hang their laundry. Closer to town there are more swankier, taller apartment blocks that look sleek because there are no balconies.

Delicious rice cooked with peanuts, taro and dried shrimp
Turns out our hotel is in the more posh part of town, complete with Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Aquascutum, and Bally boutiques with no customers in them. Our hotel room looks over Yundang Lake, and we hope to get to walk around the circumference, which should take about an hour or so of brisk walking. There's also a lot of tea shops near us, as the province is best known for producing tea leaves on terraced hilly terrain.

When we arrived it was raining and so it's fog not smog we're seeing, but overall the air here is fresh -- a nice change from smoggy Hong Kong.

Since we arrived late in the afternoon we had an early dinner in a nearby restaurant, that serves all kinds of Chinese food -- Cantonese (even dim sum at night), Shanghainese, Sichuanese, and some Fujianese. We try going local and order lo sui or master sauce goose -- less than half a bird marinated in a soy sauce concoction that was very tender and flavourful. It went very well with a minced garlic vinegar sauce,

Assorted small fish (lots of bones!) cooked with Chinese celery
Another local dish was fresh assorted small fish cooked in a claypot with Chinese celery, radish and peppers. This was another tasty dish, the fish cooked perfectly, but required a lot of patience because the bones in the fish were so small! But like my relative remarked, eating the entire fish was like eating fish cheek, the most tender and sweetest part of the fish.

We also picked a healthy option of stir-fried vegetables with gingko that are meant to improve memory and eyesight, wood ear fungus, wai san, a kind of white yam root, lots of lily bulbs and carrots. And finally another Fujianese  dish was rice cooked with shrimp and cubes of taro topped with peanuts that was delicious -- and even better with spoonfuls of the soup left over from the fish dish.

Stir-fried vegetables including wai san, gingko and fungus
It was so good that we finished everything -- and the bill only came to 230 yuan for the three of us. If only Hong Kong prices were like that!

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