Goodbye Hong Kong, hello Xiamen! We will be stopping at three ports in China: Xiamen, Shanghai, and Tianjin (Beijing). Originally, we were scheduled to be in Beijing overnight which would have left plenty of time to sightsee. The itinerary was changed so that we are only there one day, and it is a short day at that. In other words, not enough time to actually get to Beijing and return to the ship. Bummer!
Our passports had been collected when we boarded the ship. The following morning we picked up copies of our passports that we would need to clear immigration at each port in China. Chinese officials had boarded the ship the previous day and had spent the night checking over our passports and visas (or so we were told). It took longer than expected; the passport copies were distributed just before we docked in Xiamen.
We had signed up for a half-day tour that someone on Cruise Critic had set up. We had to go through immigration to enter the PRC (People’s Republic of China). Signs informed us that if you were older than 14 but younger than 70, you would be fingerprinted. This turned out to not be true. Our passport copies were scanned and we were quickly through to the other side where our possessions were scanned. We passed by a drug-sniffing beagle and were quickly able to locate our group. Everyone was prompt so we were able to get started on time.
We were very surprised that our first stop was lunch. We had all eaten on the ship and so no one was hungry. Lunch was paid for as part of the tour, so we all had a second meal. Kleenex was provided as napkins. The tour guide, seemed quite disappointed that we did not eat much. The restrooms here were all squatty potties except for the handicap stall. Someone had given me a great hint that if you prefer a western toilet, request a handicap stall; great advice!
On the drive to Nanputuo Temple, Simfeng (our guide) rattled off lots of information about the area. Her English was heavily accented so was difficult for me to understand. She talked about why the language of China is called mandarin (because the Mans conquered China at some point, I think/ darin means “official”). She pointed out that there are 1.4 billion people in China; 3.9 million live in Xiamen which is in the Fujian Province. She showed us on a map how China is shaped like a rooster. She explained that the three treasures of China are silk, porcelain and tea. She also said that the reason there are so many Chinese that live elsewhere is that there is not enough food here. People emigrated to find food overseas.
We passed by two very tall curved buildings (pictured above). She said that these were built to improve the feng shui of the area. Since they were constructed two years ago, typhoons now pass by the area. The hurricane that struck recently happened at midnight so people were home rather than out and about; there were no casualties. Apparently the feng shui has improved the luck of the people here.
Most temples were destroyed during the cultural revolution except those in southern China. The one we were vising is 1200 years old and receives 13 million visitors annually. Our guide makes a point of visiting monthly to worship. Religion is not banned here; you can practice whatever religion you like: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, whatever.
The gate to enter had three archways. There is symbolism associated with each; we went through the tiger’s archway. I believe she said that only monks should use the middle one. There were statues of lions on each side; a male lion on the right and a female on the left, symbolizing yin/yang. To the left of the gate is a large pond which fills with lotus flowers during the summer. Lives are released in the pond (I assume our guide was talking about a funeral rite).
In order to become a monk here, you must first receive your university degree and then go through a rigorous interview process with the master of the temple. If you are accepted, you study for 4 years here before being granted the status of being a monk. Monks earn good money. As a basis for comparison, unskilled laborers earn about 1700 Yuan/month; educated workers 2,000 – 3,000; monks can earn 4,000 – 5,000 monthly. In USD, that is less than $1,000/month.
You are limited to burning one incense stick at the temple; three used to be standard but due to pollution, limits have been imposed. A smiling Buddha welcomes you. I took a picture before realizing that it is forbidden to photograph Buddha. Oops. There are 4 buildings here. To the left is where the monks study, to the right is where the nuns study, in the middle is the main temple. Inside the temple are three large Buddhas representing past, present, and future. All Buddhas are covered in gold which is a “thank you” gesture for all that Buddha does for people. The roof of the temple is covered in specially glazed tiles whose colors do not fade over time. They are shaped as swallow tails. The symbolism represents the swallows guiding you home.
Past the main temple is a smaller room (Mahakaruna Hall) that houses a statue of an Indian goddess. Legend has it that the princess’s father was sick and the doctor wanted to remove his hand and eye. The princess volunteered hers and so Buddha granted her 1,000 of each. It was impossible to construct a statue with that many arms so there are only 25, but each has 40 eyes.
There is also a library here that houses a book. But not just any book! This book was written over 9 years using the blood of the monk mixed with ink. It has lasted over 500 years. As we viewed the library, Clayton pointed out that a security guard had been following us the entire time we had been on the temple grounds. He asked our tour guide why and she implied that it was probably because my husband is a large white guy and needed to be watched. Also, a bombing had taken place at the temple a few years ago and so it is under heavy security measures.
Our next stop was Hulishan Fortress whose main claim to fame is that it contains the largest cannon in the world. In order to be admitted here, our passport copies were collected from us until the visit was over. Due to its location, Xiamen was an important military port historically. The cannon was purchased from Krupp in Germany (the company now makes only elevators but used to manufacture cannons) in 1897. It has a 10 km range and it is indeed a big gun!
Our guide led us to a 4-D presentation about the cannon. It was in Chinese so didn’t mean much; she seemed disappointed that we weren’t impressed. If you read the warnings in the picture below, that movie seemed quite dangerous! The fortress area is really quite lovely but she gave us no time to stop and take pictures or wander about on our own. I amused myself by taking pictures of the signs along the path that tell you how you should behave.
We only paused for a short time by the cannon but I managed to sneak in a couple of pictures. It’s hard to see the scale from a photograph but it is a big gun.
She told us that the gun had been fired three times but the plaque on the wall only talked about it being fired twice. The first time was as a trial; houses collapsed and the people and cattle in the surrounding area were frightened. The second time it was fired was to sink the Wakatake Maru Japanese battleship. Sinfeng said that the third time was against Taiwan which is pretty close to Xiamen.
We walked back up the hill past a 600-year old Banyan tree.
We were treated to a drum ceremony (a short pageant). It was difficult to get good pictures because people were lined up 5-deep to see it; the fortress is a popular place for Chinese to visit. We seemed to be the only tour group.
Our final stop was to see a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. We drove along the Ring Road which is a colorful road (blue skies, red flowers, green trees). I noticed that there was a huge musical staff with musical notes on it in the median. I asked our guide if the notes were random or if it was actually a musical score. She said that it is a musical score but could not tell me the name of the tune. She did say that it lights up at night. I bet it’s pretty! I thought it was a cool idea. The staff is made up of 5 steps and the notes are lit with LED lights.
As we drove, Sinfeng talked about the Kung Fu tea culture of Xiamen. No, not that type of Kung Fu! It is a term that has more than one meaning; in this case, it means time. You invite a friend to enjoy a lengthy tea with you – relaxing and slow. You put out your best teaware and spend quality time enjoying the tea together.
She also mentioned that when women menstruate they are not allowed to drink ice water, take showers or drink green tea. And, after giving birth, for one month you cannot shower! You are allowed nothing cold. Red tea is ok; wine is ok; beer is a no-no. Apparently it is thought that cold is bad for a woman during these times.
We arrived at the tea place. The tea “ceremony” turned out to be a tea infomercial. A beautiful young lady told us about the proper way to brew tea – you shake the tea to wake it up, wash the tea, wash the cups and then brew the tea. We were given a handout that explained the benefits of different types of tea. For example, white tea can dispel the effects of alcohol and nicotine. It also acts on colds, coughs and sore throats. We learned about teas that can soften blood vessels, relieve freckles, reduce liver fire and improve the skeleton condition.
My favorite was the grand finale – puerh tea. This one can lower cholesterol, cure diabetes and cure cancer. It can lose weight (sic). But, best of all, if you drink it first thing in the morning, later in the day you will have a good time in the washroom. LOL!
Now came the sales pitch. The cheapest tea was 200 Yuan; the most expensive was puerh at 400 Yuan. But, if you made any purchase, she would throw in a free pee-pee boy! What is a pee-pee boy, you ask? Well, it is a little clay figurine that tells you if your water is hot enough to make tea. You pour the water in the boys head; if the water is sufficiently hot by peeing it out. Water not hot enough? No pee-pee!
But wait, there was more! If you bought the puerh tea, you would also get a color-changing mug. By the way, the cheapest tea cost $31 US, the most expensive was $62. Even if I had been tempted, I wonder if there would be an issue bringing the tea through customs when we returned to the US.
The tour was now over. On the ride back to the ship our guide talked about the change in policy regarding how many children you could have. Up to 2 years ago, there was a one-child limit; now it is two. If you have more than two children you must pay a large fee to the government. It is illegal to do an ultrasound to determine the sex of a child. There are so many more men here than women due to the patriarchal culture that it is difficult for men to find wives. Many go to other southeast Asian countries to find a spouse. The divorce rate here is about the same as in the US – about 50%. We were dropped off an hour and a half after the tour was supposed to end. Fortunately, we did get back to the ship in plenty of time before sailaway. It wasn’t that interesting a place to visit, but they did light up the buildings at night making for a beautiful sail away from port.