Jo: In the morning I woke up at around 7am and feeling a little peckish, I decided to try some of the breakfast provided on the train. This came in two anonymous cardboard boxes and smelled quite appetising so I was eager to dig in. I still haven't quite gotten used to a Chinese breakfast. This one, perfectly standard,consisted of a boiled egg, two dumplings and a load of pickles in the one box and rice porridge in another box. Yum. It tasted fine when I was eating it, but for about five minutes afterwards I had the uncomfortable feeling that I had just eaten a brick, and for the next two hours I was feeling heavy and lightly queasy - message to fellow hungry breakfasters in China, don't go for the rice porridge it's just not the same as Readybrek.
I had woken up at such an early hour by Smelly Man sitting on my feet and apparently not noticing. Well I noticed, and woke up feeling grumpy and squashed. Luckily the countryside outside the window made up for my untimely awakening and I spent the next two hours until Ed woke up in raptures at the jungle outside. We were following the Min River down to the sea and the train went first through a series of Deliverance-esque canyons and then onto a coastal plain filled with tiny paddy fields and people ploughing them with water buffalo. We arrived in Xiamen feeling quite tropical and laidback, a feeling which increased with the lack of humidity and taxi drivers hustling us into their cabs.
We caught a taxi to the hotel of choice (Rough Guide's best budget option) and found that it had apparently been demolished to make way for a luxury block of flats. The curse of James continues. So we wandered over to our second choice which overlooked Gulangyu Island (where the colonialists used to live, rah rah) only this one was a little expensive. At this point I parked Ed in the hotel lobby and ran about the block going into all the hotels I could find. This included entering one posh one, three where foreigners weren't allowed (I always wonder why we aren't allowed to stay in these places - most of them look nicer than the hotels that we end up in) and, to make my point, one hotel which really looked as though it shouldn't take foreigners, but mysteriously did. So I brought Ed over to this one, and he emerged from being shown around the room with a wrinkled nose (one room had no windows, the other a hole in the roof -Ed) so next thing we knew we were on the ferry to Gulangyu to have a look at the posh hotel where Richard Nixon stayed in the 1970s. The 'Gulangyu Guesthouse' consists of three blocks. One was expensive, and looked it and the other two looked as though nothing had been changed since Nixon's visit. So we stayed in one of the ramshackle ones. The ambience of the hotel was similar to that in some of the temples we have visited, mainly feeling as though it had been forgotten. The style of building meant that the whole hotel was also scarily reminiscent of 'Psycho' apart from the banana trees everywhere.
We then circumnavigated Gulangyu on the coastal footpath (still under construction, what pioneers we are!) and hopped over to Xiamen for e-mailing and, because morale was super-low, Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut has such status here in China that Xiamen Pizza Hut is not relegated to an out-of-town shopping parade like at home, but has opened in luxury restaurant position on top of a skyscraper looking out to sea. Thus morale improved. We retired to Gulangyu with some trepidation due to the massive spider Ed had found earlier on in our room, but actually once we were inside our mosuito nets the room seemed a bit friendlier and the air conditioning made everything very comfortable. I read the guidebook before going to sleep and Ed asked me to read to him about the exciting places so I did. After about a minute of this Ed became strangely quiet, but I carried on. Then after two minutes he started snoring gently, then after three minutes the snoring grew in volume and so, feeling like a genuinely interesting person, turned off the light and went to sleep too.
Ed: Woke up - no drills! Rather peaceful little spot that hotel room actually, even if it was in a rather empty building reminiscent of many a horror movie. Strolled down to the ferry to go back to Xiamen for some Dim Sum breakfast stuff, and were extremely pleased with the temperate eleven o'clock weather. The ferry was waiting for us, and after a quick ten minute crossing (it isn't even that far across the channel, the ferry takes a rather convoluted route) we popped into our adopted hotel, the Lujiang, and had some grub. I say adopted, as over our stay in Xiamen, we kept coming back to the rather expensive Lujiang hotel to abuse its facilities without having to suffer paying for a room there. They have a lovely restaurant (which can also be a bar if you just order a bottle of beer - cheeky) and it was here that we came for breakfast. Having been given our bingo card, we choose dishes out of the hot trolley and tucked in. You choose little bamboo steamers filled with two or three little morsels, and they stamp the bingo card according to whether you have a large, small or medium dish. I suppose if you eat lots of food, you win a prize, but we didn't fancy trying everything, especially after I foolishly chose some stomach lining vol au vents. Mmmm.
Cheeky McCheesburger settled the hunger stakes, and we went to sweat it out a bit in the overly hot internet cafe around the corner for a bit. After having e-mailed various parents about our plan to catch a boat to Hong Kong, we popped over to the boat ticket office to arrange our journey. I should have left Jo behind - the curse of James had fallen again as the ferry hadn't been running for many months now. We should have guessed this when Jo pointed out, while at the ferry terminal, that "there are lots of signs saying this building is for hire". Great.
Decided to give up trying to leave, and went round the local botanic gardens to play with my new frisbee. They had some real grass there (lots of it actually) and some fantastic secret gardens. One such garden was a path that was hidden behind a rock, that took us up a stream to another big rock with a path hidden behind it. This kept repeating for quite a long time, and was very picture skew - a bit like a Chinese version of stream scrambling in Wales. The gardens also had a nice big lake with a pretty walkway across the middle and a pagoda to sit in. Unfortunately, due to a dispute somewhere in the lake building process, the pagoda and path team wanted to work at 194 feet above sea level, and the lake/dam building team insisted that this was unlucky and wanted to build at 196 feet above sea level. This ruled out the walkway as being a bit too soggy, but the pagoda was a leapable distance from the lakeside, and we "took five" in quite a charming concrete mock up of the willow pattern garden.
Continuing around the garden we found the bamboo section, which had big gates and bars around it - presumably to stop panda bears coming in and stealing all the bamboo - and we made it back to the entrance with hardly any mosquito damage to show for our journey into the wilderness. A very pretty park indeed.
It was now about teatime, and we didn't have no tickets to go nowhere. We tried to rectify this by finding somewhere in the guidebook to visit, then asking the ticket office at Xiamen train station if they could get us there. Apparently, the train line in Fujian province is rather green, and while the line itself is laid, there aren't that many places for the train to stop. We quite liked the sound of this ChaoZhou place that we had found in the book, and so I reluctantly agreed with Jo that we could try taking a bus there. Tickets for the bus were easy to come by, and so we bought some for the next day.
Next to the bus ticket place was the local "Friendship Store" - the place for aspiring chinese middle classes (i.e. they what have cash) to buy their kids cool western toys. We exploited this opening in the market for toy xylophones and train sets by having a good old play in the toy department. The staff even joined in for a quick game of "make the toy motorbike fly", which was great fun.
We tried catching a bus back to the seafront, but got on the wrong one, went five minutes down the road then had to walk back to square one again to catch the correct bus. V. humiliating. After supper (pizza again I am afraid - but in anticipation of a Chinese food only stretch in ChaoZhou), we went in search of a slightly less sticky internet cafe. We had a thoroughly nice walk around the town, but didn't find anywhere cooler (apart from the 25p/minute Holiday Inn) to write diary bits.
The backstreets of Xiamen in the evening are thoroughly entertaining, and have lots of exciting markets and shops to look at. We even found a print-your-weight machine, which measured your height and weight while screaming Chinese out of a speaker at you. The locals found this rather ammusing (but it got scary for them when I stuck my tummy out), and we had quite a crowd around us. Jo had her height measured, but got scared of the measuring thing and ducked out of the way - she is now officially 151cm tall. I have the printout.
A little bit of street frisbee was played after this. The pavements are very flat and smooth so one can get a good ground effect skim of the frisbee - great for whizzing it past pedestrians and scaring them. Played this all the way back to the ferry, and then staggered back through the bumpy streets of Gulangyu island to get back to the hotel. We spent this walk back using the frisbee for a different purpose. Jo and I were trying to work out which way the Moon and Earth rotate with respect to each other, and the frisbee is a good approximation to a blue/green planet for this purpose. After concluding that they contra-rotate, which sounded obviously wrong but looked okay with the frisbee model, we finally got back to Bates' Motel. With paper and pen at our disposal, we drew some diagrams and proved a) that the frisbee is a very poor model of the Earth (too flat) and b) that the Moon spins with the Earth in an anti-clockwise fashion.
No spiders were found in the room, and before we knew it, we had read our books so much that it was midnight. V. enjoyable day.