Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Playing Hooky

We kept the girls home from school on Tuesday so we could do something touristy and fun and not have to deal with weekend crowds. We decided to go back to Gulangyu since we barely scratched the surface in our first visit. We bought tickets for the tourist “bus” – remember that there are no motor vehicles allowed on Gulangyu, so the bus is a large golf cart – and rode around the island. We saw parts of the island we missed last time – the old U.S. consulate that has been restored and is now a hotel, statues galore – before coming to the beach. Three minutes for a photo-op, and we were on to our next destination.

The next stop was ostensibly a museum to Fujian culture, though it was essentially a big gift shop with the usual slightly-coercive tactics and high prices you find in such places. But I did learn some tidbits about Fujian culture I didn’t know. Familiar to all China-adoptive parents are the granite etchings that are sold in Guangzhou – you give them a photo of your new child and they do the etching with pin-prick tappings on stone with a needle-sized awl. Well, apparently, that started in Fujian Province. The museum guide told us that it was a technique handed down to females, and only to females. No men were taught this technique. Who knew?!
The guide also explained her costume as original to Fujian Province. Unmarried girls cannot show their ears or neck to a boy, so a scarf must be worn at all times. If a boy sees a girl’s ears or neck, he will be required to marry her. She said that her belt also marked her status as unmarried, since it was made from cloth. Married women wear belts of silver, and the heavier the belt, the wealthier the husband.

And that’s about all there was to the museum exhibit – we were then led to a small room to learn all about Fujian Province tea (in the hopes that we would buy some!). We should have guessed, I suppose, after seeing this teapot fountain in the courtyard!

It’s quite true that tea is important in Fujian. And Xiamen has been exporting tea to the West for centuries. In fact, the Fujian dialect word for tea was exported as well – in the French word the (you'll have to just imagine the accent over the e) and the English word tea. Other places imported tea from Guangdong Province and ended up with the Cantonese word for tea, chai. And the tea that was the subject of the infamous Boston Tea Party was from Xiamen!

We learned about different kinds of tea, and how to make each one. (For example, some are to be washed and strained before steeping, others are not. Some can be made with cold water, others cannot.). And we were instructed on how to hold the tiny handle-less teacups – the rim between thumb and forefinger, the bottom resting on the middle finger, and the last two fingers held out “because it is more beautiful” that way. (I must not be doing it right, because it certainly doesn't look "more beautiful" in my hand!)

We were also told it was alright to slurp the tea, especially when it is very hot because it cools it down in your mouth. And making smacking sounds with your mouth after slurping the tea is good because it helps you taste it in the back of your throat.

And then there was the litany of health benefits, with hand-out included. The silver tea is peony tea, and it is “antipyretic, detoxication to faucitis, tonsillitis, and upper respiratory infection.” It can also cure constipation when taken with a little honeysuckle. The little knots of tea on the left are lotus tea. If you steep it with “corn beard” it will lower blood pressure, “repress diabetes” and “debase the cholesterol.” When taken with honey it will protect the brain and “help one get over a shock.” The third tea “has the function of anti-cancer, refreshing oneself, fat reduction and blood pressure lowering.” If mixed with the lotus tea, “it can reduce weight wonderfully. Therefore it is popular with the middle-aged and elderly men at home and abroad.” (What about middle-aged and elderly women?!)
I don’t actually like tea, but I gamely tasted each one. The girls LOVED it, though, and I was able to fill up their cups with my tea so it looked more like I was a generous Mama than an uncultured tea-hater!
And because it’s China, and it’s the sort of thing one must do in China, I actually bought the lotus tea and the weight-reducing tea (though I’m not sure I’ll ever drink it, despite it’s magical fat-melting properties!)

We then explored the Shuzhuang Gardens, which were lovely.

(Have you ever seen a tree more in need of a shave?!) The girls especially loved climbing up and down stairs in the “12 Rockery Caves.”

See the beautiful tree with trumpet flowers behind the girls? We saw it from the ground, and it became our destination as we wandered through the maze-like caves. Finally, we reached it , and it was certainly worth the climb. Here’s a closeup:

Isn’t it gorgeous? I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

As we finished up in the gardens, it started to rain so we hurried to the Piano Museum – yes, the Piano Museum. Gulangyu has the largest piano museum in Asia, because when Christian missionaries came to Xiamen they brought bibles and PIANOS! The museum has player pianos and beautifully carved German pianos, and a number of Steinways, and a pair with gorgeous wood inlay pictures of birds. Mimi and I liked the museum, but the girls weren’t that excited by it.

Our next stop, though, was more to the girls’ liking – Gulangyu’s Underwater World, which is a large aquarium.

We were all amazed by the variety of water life on display. Some of the creatures seemed so improbable we thought they were fake – until we saw them breathing! The blue fish above was HUGE, probably about 3 feet long. The aquarium had a long “Acrylic Tunnel” that allowed you to walk among the fish and sharks, which the girls thought was just a little scary and pretty cool.

The aquarium also included a dolphin and sea lion show, to the girls’ great amusement.

I think the girls will long remember the joys of playing hooky – at least occasionally!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The trumpet flower tree is indeed beautiful. Any idea what it is called? Sounds like a great day.