It’s felt like a busy few days here on the Fujian coast. Not because we’ve been doing all that much, but because getting anywhere has typically involved multiple forms of transportation: train, county bus, and ferry, with city buses and cabs in between. Cabs are the weak link; they seem particularly bad around here. Most of the drivers are participating in a racket, refusing to use the meter and never under-cutting each other’s exorbitant price quotes. We figure this may be a temporary chunyun “Spring Movement” (masses returning home for the Chinese New Year) scam, and a demonstration of the locals’ famous business acumen. This is, after all, the region that sourced most of the Chinese who emigrated in the 19th and early 20th centuries to Southeast Asia, where they and their businesses became crucial to the adopted countries’ economies. If our experience had any relevance, pehaps it’s not surprising that they weren’t always welcome.
Since our last update, we’ve been to three places here on the southern Fujian coast: Quanzhou, China’s long-ago glory-days center of maritime trade and (short-lived) exploration; Xiamen, a port city with some enjoyable European leftovers from China’s not-so glory days; and Jinmen Island, a defiant little outpost of the Republic of China (Taiwan) within spitting distance of the mainland, and now with direct ferry service for the mainlanders who can get approval to go.
Of all the above places, Jinmen was probably the most interesting. We’ve been to Taiwan before, but only to the big capital city if Taibei. Jinmen is more small town and countryside, and relatively isolated at that. On the island, we were struck by one aspect of traditional Chinese culture that could apparently survive modernity but not Marx: Buddhist temples, everywhere. Not like on the mainland, with one or two big ones in each city, where everything tends to feel very superficial (chucking coins at small holes for good luck? really?). In Jinmen’s main town, by contrast, there was a little temple on practically every block. They all seemed active and well-kept, and the people coming and going looked like they actually knew how to hold their incense. Perhaps more than any museum or historical sight we’ve visited in China, seeing the Buddhism on display here gave us a better sense of its prominence in traditional (or, as the Taiwanese might say, “real”) Chinese culture.
Owen also enjoyed Jinmen. While we left with the above impressions, Owen left with a stuffed Snoopy toy that’s about as big as he is. Someday he’ll no longer have restaurant owners scrambling to give him presents, but for now he’s still on a roll. Meanwhile, he can’t talk yet, but he’s perfected a technique where he clears his throat or gives a little fake cough to get the attention of strangers he wants to smile at. It works amazingly well.
I should mention that Bayley also came back from Jinmen with something new: a cleaver, fashioned by a group of local blacksmiths, from a shard of one of thousands of artillery shells shot at the island by the Communists. I thought it would’ve been cheaper than it was, though, considering that most of the raw materials were provided free-of-charge.
We head out to Guangzhou this afternoon on an overnight train. Goodbye Amoy, hello Canton.