Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Xiamen, China

Map picture

Xiamen, China

My first order of business is to correct an error from my previous blog. I commented that our ship had cruised for three days north and east to Manila, which is correct, but I said that in that time we had covered only 800 nm. In truth, we sailed over 1,400 nm to reach Manila. From there we continued northward to Xiamen, China, which was a distance of 700 nm, and today we are continuing even further north to Shanghai at a distance of 500 nm.

The terrible sea conditions I mentioned in my last blog finally abated, but many people on the ship were sick or injured by the rough weather. It was impossible to stand in our room, and we were barely able to keep from being tossed out of bed. Fortunately that has given way to clear skies and smooth seas, but the balmy weather of Singapore and Manila is but a distant dream. Yesterday in Xiamen, the day started at 40 degrees F and rose to a very comfortable 65 degrees. This morning it is around 35 degrees outside, and we are told that Shanghai will probably be even cooler.

Yesterday was somewhat disappointing in that we had booked ourselves onto an all day tour that included a trip to the countryside, but when we boarded our ship in Singapore we found out that our stay in Xiamen had to be cut very short in order for us to make the proper tides into Shanghai, and that our tour had therefore been cancelled. As it turned out, we had only 4 hours to visit Xiamen. At that, we were offered only two quick tours from which to choose, and neither sounded very exciting. We chose a tour which drove north through the city and which visited Jimei Park and Turtle Garden.Xiamen, China Essentially the Park is home to an Academic Village founded in 1924, and where several of the leading Universities of China can be found located among elegant pavilions and DragonBoat Lake. Xiamen, ChinaAt the heart of the complex, is a garden called Turtle Garden which is the resting place of a wealth Chinese merchant who founded this campus. We walked the grounds for well over an hour before finally returning to our buses.

From there we had a 30 minute ride to the opposite side of the city, where we stopped to visit Nan Putuo Temple. Dating to the Tang Dynasty, the Temple complex is one of the most revered Buddhist shrines in China. We had an hour to meander around before being returned to our ship. Xiamen, China

If all of that sounds rather unexciting, then you have caught my drift correctly. More interesting to me than what we visited was what we experienced and what we saw. Right off I was impressed and overwhelmed with the terminal where our ship docked. It was huge, extremely modern and very efficiently run. Each passenger was given a thermal scan as they left the ship, and anyone who showed an elevated body temperature was escorted to a private medical area for evaluation. As we approached immigration, there were plenty of personnel and no waiting. Our photographs were taken, and matched on the screen before us with our passport photo. All of our information was electronically entered including our Visa permits, and after a short search by the computer we were flagged through and given a hearty welcome to China.

Our tour busses were virtually brand new and very modern. In fact, everything about Xiamen was extremely modern and upscale. The highways, the trains, the busses, the cabs – everything was large, modern and impressive. The city was spotless and the people clean, well dressed and friendly. During our stops, groups of Chinese would show interest in our group, and several times they would approach and ask to have their photograph taken with one of us. Notice I said that they asked to have their picture taken with us – which means they all spoke English. For the modern generation, English is a requirement.

Xiamen is a city of 3 million people, and as we were informed, it is but one of the smaller cities in China. It is the closest point in Mainland China to the breakaway islands of Taiwan, and to my surprise there is regular ferry service between the two enemies. In Xiamen, the shops were filled with almost any conceivable item you could hope to buy and the city was bustling. The Chinese place a great deal of emphasis on education. Nine years of education is mandatory, and for those who pass the National College Entrance Exams, higher education is both expected and free.

I said last time that it is not fair to judge a country by one short visit, and while that is true, this is my fifth visit to China spanning almost 40 years. I can tell you that in that time, the progress I am seeing is nothing short of amazing. On the upside the country seems to function very efficiently and poverty seems to be almost non-existent. While the government is still communist, in recent years, they have begun to allow private ownership of businesses and free markets to function and the results are impressive. At the same time, all is not milk and honey. The government still has tremendous influence over individual lives. Two quick examples are the internet and childbearing. The Chinese certainly have and use the internet very effectively; however, the government is very careful on what content is available to the average person. The same degree of “correctness” extends to publications and to the media in general – so in that sense China is not a completely “free” society. My second example has to do with the “One Child Policy.” Imagine living in a country where the Government tells you when you can marry – the later the better, and then restricts couples to only one child!

Our next stop is Shanghai, and there we have arranged a private car and driver which will allow us to hopefully get out of the city proper and see somewhat more of the countryside. That will be our challenge for tomorrow, so meantime I will try to get some pictures from our visit yesterday posted before the day is over, and get the blog updated.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays.


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