Thursday, 20 February 2014

Ni Hao from Xiamen

Here we go again.....
Off to explore the delights of Xiamen, China...
and whether we would like to live there.


Will we get a new Chinese front door?
Decisions, Decisions (part 1)...

Xiamen is considered a second-tier Industrial city in China but first impressions are of water and greenery. We have 36 hours to make a decision about whether we will move there. This would be considered a tough Ex-pat move (well that's what I say!) but it's not exactly a hardship posting. We have moved many times, with five international moves under our belts.

However, compared with the easier options of Hong Kong, Singapore or even Beijing or Shanghai, with greater numbers of foreigners, and a country club lifestyle, not to mention English speaking domestic help, it would be... 


Well, let's just use the word exciting!


Piano Island - Xiamen
Xiamen Island is located on the south-east coast of China, across from Taiwan and not far from Senkaku Islands that China and Japan are in dispute over...

It has all the potential to be hot, steamy and very tropical in temperature. That sweat running down the back of your legs type heat, with the constant need to be mopping a clammy brow. A life where you hope you'll adapt from being a sweaty Betty, into a cool Sheila, but in the meantime you have several changes of clothes, or plan to live in an air conditioned bubble. Winters are respite and relatively mild, with the average temperature about 16C.

Xiamen'ites are proud of their coastal city with a port and an inland lake, and like to live here. Indeed Xiamen is often listed as one of the top most liveable cities in China. It was Gold winner in 2002 Livcom Awards for best Liveable Community.
Hmmm that's a long time ago...


Piano Island Temple - Xiamen

With a small population of only around 2 million, it is less polluted and with less congestion than the more popular work choices of Beijing or ShanghaiWe drove around the island in under an hour, a distance of about 30 km's. 

Now when a Company is trying to impressive a potential new recruit, they whisk the interviewee off to their new whizz-bang purpose built brand new facility in deepest China, and the partner they take on a lovely sight seeing tour.

Xiamen is proud of it's water front lifestyle
We visited two of the Islands top tourist spots - the Fort and Piano Island. Both packed with tour groups from mainland China. It is a jolt back into my Hong Kong past of people everywhere...

A sign says 'Safety first! Please do not run.' I look at all the people and want to leg it, even though I haven't run for years, to break away from the crowd. 


Keep calm, deep breath, focus. Could I live here?



They say driving is easier here than elsewhere in China, but it still seemed chaotic, with no rules, and hard to imagine how you could ever find your own way around without a driver....There is very little English on road signs, or indeed on anything but this is not surprisingly as we saw very few Westerners. 

Keep calm, and carry on...



There is only an occasional sign in English.
When China's property boom reached Xiamen, the island property prices exploded, and people started to move across the bridge into cheaper mainland China. Despite housing here also increasing, some by two thirds in the past seven years, it's lower real estate costs remain attractive and have helped preserve the Island of Xiamen. Although don't get me wrong there is still construction everywhere in Xiamen...


This is China after all.

Water view apartments
We looked at some apartments, around 160 m2. Living looked tough. We're talking high, high rise. The sort of place where even living on floor 33 gets you no-where near the penthouse! Surrounded by other apartment blocks it's a true concrete jungle. 
I'm thinking of the crazy poodle, 
that's one massive journey to take the dog out for a pee. 
.


I had always fancied a penthouse,  this was not quite what I had in mind.
We are shown some 'suitable' apartments and greeted by a smoking security guard and the stink of cigarettes in the foyer, lift, and well everywhere really. The lift interiors were all covered in plywood to protect the walls, making one hesitant to enter in case it was as flimsy as it looked. 

The hallways and communal areas had chipped tiles, presumable from all the furniture removals, and were covered in that black mold of a tropical climate.

Air conditioning units were fixed to the walls with daylight visible from the outside where cabling holes had been cut. There were massive weird water heaters in the showers and no room to swing a cat.

In the kitchen, there were two gas rings on the bench top for wok cooking, and no oven, which I am told is standard. Although judging by the Betty Crocker cake mixes I later spot in the International Organic Grocery store someone must own an oven!

Some apartments were semi furnished. The beds rock hard (the Chinese love firm beds - good for your back). I'm wondering where the nearest Ikea is? Boy this could take some adjusting, some digging deep to find that inner pioneer. 

Could you make an oasis behind the closed door? 


We are shown some beach front apartments,  the rear view is of the city sewerage
I couldn't help but thinking how spoilt we are in Australia, the average Chinese family would consider this a dream posting and apartment. I've lost the word exciting, I'm back to hardship....


'C'mon where's your spirit of adventure?', I ask myself



I need a coffee. Wow, we are heading off to coffee shop street where people like to gather overlooking Yuandang Lake at the weekends. Things are looking up. There is a Coffee Club and Starbucks. Hooray!

As a resort town, Xiamen boasts long stretches of beaches where the tourists flock, but locals wouldn't dream to swim. It's Ok, I reckon I could cope.



We went to check out some western stores like Metro, Carrefour and WalMart, as well as some modern shopping centres. I felt most at home in the Organic International Grocery store....reminding me how even when living in Hong Kong, we had an Aussie Organics fruit and veggie box delivery. Flown in each week from Perth, not very good for the air miles but gave me peace of mnd over what we were eating! I'd always been rather halfhearted about the local wet market shopping.....This would have to change, or would it?

When a Tesco's van drove past
 I did a silent air punch.
 Sad but true.

Even Walmart and Carrefour were not as I remembered them.
Living in Xiamen, China would have more than its food difficulties. One would be essentially illiterate, with no mandarin I would need to learn PDQ. English-speaking Chinese are very rare on the street and in stores. However, they say as new generations emerge that is changing a bit.... 

I would imagine it could be quite frustrating place to live but it would be an adventure too. It felt safe and would be a great launching point for exploring the Asia Pacific region as well the rest of China. We would learn a huge amount about the Chinese people and Culture. 

It sure would be exciting!

Decisions, decisions... What would you do?

Xiamen is twinned with many cities worldwide is your town here?:
to be continued...


Linking with  Alphabe Thursday
N is for Ni Hao from Xiamen
Thank you for Jenny Matlock for hosting



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