This year’s annual outing for Spil Games Asia was in Xiamen, the coastal city about 600 km north of Hong Kong. I had never been there actually, so it was a good opportunity to get to know the city a bit. Because of the distance from Shanghai we took a plane, Xiamen Airlines flies many times per day between Shanghai and the city, and with a group of 100 people you can get very nice discounts.
We left early Friday morning and around 10:30 AM we landed in Xiamen. The first thing I noticed was a KLM plane that was parked at one of the gates. I had forgotten that KLM now also flies directly from Amsterdam to Xiamen, a sign that the island city is booming! I guess most of the people flying on the Xiamen-Amsterdam route are Chinese business men, because I hardly saw any non-Chinese in the city. At some points I even felt like a tourist object myself, with people staring at me (likely tourists from the countryside), something that never happens in Shanghai anymore.
We were not very lucky with the weather, on both days it was a bit foggy and rainy in the morning, but the afternoons were sunny (albeit hazy) and at night we could even see the stars above the sea. But we were actually relatively lucky, because we were told a typhoon had just passed by – which explained the weather. It was hot and humid, with temperatures in the lower 30s, and it felt like Hong Kong in summer.
Xiamen has fantastic beaches, and on most of them there was hardly anybody. They are all sandy beaches and they stretch most of the eastern and souther part of the island (I did not see the west and north). There is also a lot of green in the city, with some big salt water lakes and some tree covered mountains north of the city center. The fact that it is a port town makes the city feel alive.
I liked the city, even though it is not very Westernized yet. Sure, there are the usual McDonalds and KFCs, and there is even a Starbucks now (just one), but generally it is a very Chinese city. No fancy Western restaurants (the best one, The House, had great food and service, but some of the others guests in shirts and shorts made it feel like a backpacker place) and terrible service in clubs and bars. I won’t go into detail, but if you just want to have a cold beer in a club it’s almost impossible. They try to upsell you to a bottle of Jack Daniels until it drives you crazy. In the end we left without even having a beer: they wanted us to buy 12 beers right away, otherwise we could not sit down!
Except for the service nightlife seems to be decent. Eventually we found a Texas (!) bar and restaurant right on the sea where we had a couple of beers and a bottle of chilled white wine with some colleagues. Also here some things went wrong when ordering of course, but in the end we had a nice evening there. The only thing I found disturbing was the neverending flow of beggars. Every few minutes one would stop at your table, trying to stop your conversation and sometimes even touching your arm. I guess the bar owners can’t stop them, but I can’t imagine it’s good for business.
The highlight of the trip was the half day that we spent on Gulangyu, the old International Concession island opposite Xiamen’s city center. A beautiful island, even in foggy and rainy weather. It’s quite small, walking around it takes about an hour, and filled with European colonial houses. Many of them dilapidated, but several of them restored to their former glory and turned into boutique hotels or fancy residences. Of course I checked out the real estate prices. I somehow had expected relatively low prices, but it turned out that a nice villa sets you back at least 2-3 million USD… And that’s in town, not even a villa close to the beach with a nice sea view. Crazy.
Gulangyu has some very nice beaches, and except the ones close to the city center they were virtually deserted. I did not bring my swimming trousers, but I would have loved to take a dip in the ocean. Next time maybe, because I will certainly be back one day. Then I will stay in a hotel on a beach, bring some books and just have a couple of very relaxed days there.
Spending a weekend here was fun, and it was a good way to get to know some Spil Games colleagues a bit better. I think most people liked it a lot, at least I heard only positive stories from everybody. Like me, most people had never been here, so it turned out that the destination was a good choice. For some people this was even their first flight! I would like to thank the organizers of this trip for their hard work to make this such a success. I know it was not easy to manage the organization for such a big group and at such a tight budget, but you gave all of us a fantastic couple of days away from the office. Thanks ladies!
I took a couple of pictures with my phone during the trip, you can see the set here.
A tiny web video of the beggars would have made for a nice viral clip — although I think they might have hammed it up for the camera…
If you happen to go back to Xiamen, I strongly suggest you to go Kinmen (Jinmen) islands, just few kms far from Xiamen.
It’s the only part of mainland China that has’nt been administered by the PRC (therefore no cultural revolution…etc) but has’nt been administered by a foreign power either, it’s like a parallel world, very interesting.
Just moved to Xiamen. Looking for a nice change from last year’s in Xi’an. You know it’s funny, compared to Xi’an, Xiamen is very Westernized and modern. It’s one of the first things I noticed, and wrote about in my first impressions of Xiamen: http://www.tomschinablog.com/the-first-two-weeks-living-in-xiamen/. I do see a lot of potential in the city. That Texas restaurant, I’ve been there, but was disappointed with the burger I got. Actually I am disappointed with much of the Western food in China (the only legit Western restaurants I’ve been to in China were Salvador’s Coffee House and Chicago Coffee both in Kunming) Be sure to check those out if you are there.
You get all excited for your Western favorites, and then they don’t even come close to your expectations. But Xiamen needs a fantastic restaurant, and I am even considering opening one.