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Phenominal friends in Xiamen

Written on: Monday December 1st, 2008

For those of you regularly following my blog, you may recall that way back in Indonesia, specifically in Sulawesi, I met a group of friends travelling together who live in China.  At that time, they invited me to come visit when I was passing through the area.  Now that my Chinese visa had come through, I was ready to set off for Xiamen, China to see my friends.

Meeting me at the airport were Anthony, Marco and Hendrik.  What a wonderful reception, as I was greeted with gusto and over-flowing smiles.  We set off directly to their weekly football game, where Anthony and I chose only to be spectators, leaving the goal scoring to the Europeans.  After the game we went back to Marco and Ksenia's place, where Ksenia and Emma were preparing a delicious welcome dinner for me and the rest of the 'family'.  I intentionally planned my arrival on Thanksgiving day, so that I could be with friends on this holiday.  Back home I would have travelled to Wisconsin to see my family.  We would have eaten good food, drank some wine, laughed, watched football and played cards all day long, until we were forced to part ways due to the late hour of the day.  In Xiamen I was happy to experience a similar Thanksgiving: the meal was exquisite, the wine flowed, we played cards (scopa, not sheephead), and laughter was perpetual until the wee hours of the next morning.  Yes, my friends succeeded in giving me the Thanksgiving away from home that I had hoped for.

The next day, I learned, there was another Thanksgiving celebration to which I was invited.  It was the 17th annual Thanksgiving party thrown for a circle of foreigners in Xiamen, hosted by Mr. Michael Bruno, of Nautilus fame and fortune. The local network of friends and business associates was large, as over 200 people filled the formal banquet room of the Millenium Hotel, with me being the only backpacker.  No worries; we headed for the open bar and started to mingle with the others as we made our way to our table.  After meeting a few dozen people and drinking a few glasses of wine, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner was served, right down to the homemade pumpkin pie for dessert.  Before the band started, Michael gave his speech and announced that this would be the last year that he and his family would host the event, as they were moving back to USA.  So we danced and mingled a bit before deciding to go to a happening local club, The Key, to continue our evening.  After thanking Michael and getting into the taxi, it made me quite happy to be a part of this final show of American generosity in China.  The night progressed with bohemian flair, as we we danced and drank, eventually moving from The Key to another friend's (Alvaro's) establishment, Havanah.  Here we had a nightcap with a few freshly grilled fish to satisy our early morning hunger.  Not a bad way to end an extremely fun evening.

Sunday is scopa day in the family circle.  So after a relaxing afternoon at Hendrik's apartment (where, by the way, I was lucky enough to be invited to stay during my entire time in Xiamen...own bedroom, own bathroom, internet, maid/laundry service three times a week...yeah, not so bad), we met Anthony and Emma, as well as Sergio, another local from Spain, and headed off to Marco's.  Another delicious dinner was prepared and the cards were soon dealt.  It took nine games until a winner was declared, with Ksenia edging out yours truly in the last match.

Monday was spent primarily with Anthony and Emma.  We took care of practical matters like phone cards and money changing before seeing a few sights around town.  Anthony showed me a rather famous location that features high magnetic energy levels that allow one to defy gravity.  It was amazing!  I couldn't believe it as we approached in our car, stopped on the hill, put it in neutral and actually went uphill!  I had to try it on a bicycle as well.  It was such a strange feeling...starting from a dead stop, not pedaling, and actually picking up speed while travelling uphill.  Too cool!  Full coke cans were also a good item with which to practive this experiment.  From there he showed me a moderately hidden temple on the outskirts of town where we could hike to the top of the hill and view traditional grave and worship sites.  Afterward we picked up Emma and took a ferry to nearby Gulangyu Island, a more touristy yet more natural island than Xiamen.  We walked along the beautiful streets and took in as many sights as we could before returning to Xiamen.  By now it was dinner time and we headed over to the new Super Walmart.  I'm not a huge fan of this store back home, but it was unbelievably interesting to walk through a Chinese Walmart.  Raw meat in the center aisles, a huge array of vegatables I've never even seen before, and items such as dried chicken feet hanging near the checkout to tempt your taste buds.  But we kept it simple, getting the ingredients for a delicious pork roast with stir fried vegetables.  The three of us went back to their apartment and had a relaxing evening of dining and watching movies, the perfect end to a fun-filled day.

The next few days were relaxing.  I'd meet Hendrik for lunch at some local joints before catching up on internet responsibilities throughout the afternoons.  Evenings were primarily spent at Hendrik's second home: the Londoner, a small English pub where friends meet to drink and play pool.  We even got Marco to come out after football Thursday night.  Good fun and good banter filled the walls of this tiny pub, and the only setback was losing my brand new camera in the cab.  Shite.  Didn't even have it for two weeks before but it slipped out of the pocket of my borrowed jacket on the way home one night.  Calling the taxi company immediately after realizing what happened, they conveniently knew nothing about it, even after contacting the drivers who were supposed to be in the area where we were picked up.  Cheeky bastards. 

So Thursday I went out to get a new camera...easiest sale the Canon rep ever made.  But this is China and nothing is easy in China.  First they didn't have the color I wanted.  So when I said I'd buy it somewhere else, the correct color suddenly appeared.  Then they didn't have the proper case that fit this particular camera.  The same threat by me resulted in the same miraculous find by them.  Finally, they could not accept a credit card.  In fact, they said that there were zero credit card machines in the entire complex, a complex comparable to a large Best Buy store that is five stories tall.  Are you kidding me?!?  Do you think somebody buying a high end computer is actually going to bring 10,000RMB in cash to the store?!?  Of course you can accept credit cards. But not until some aggressive 'negotiating' by Emma did our oh-so-friendly Canon rep walk me across the hall just 100 feet to the credit card machine.  The woman plugged it in and three seconds later I was signing the bill.  That wasn't so complicated, was it?  I've concluded that the Chinese in general are lazy and cheeky, nerver wanting to accept a simple solution if they have to extend themselves even a little bit.

Friday we decided to lay low a bit and hang out at Marco's to play RISK.  Yup, Hendrik found an English version of the game and everybody was anxious to play.  So we put on some tunes, poured the wine and set off to conquer the world.  My African contingency didn't last long and Marco quickly dispatched my last holdout in Northern Europe.  So I watched from the sidelines as Hendrik won the game, barely snatching it from Marco's hungry war-horse jaws.

Another Saturday night was upon us and another party ensued.  This one was a birthday celebration for the wife of yet another Italian expat, 'little' Marco.  About thirty guests filled their beautiful home for drinks, conversation and cake.  Now, as I soon found out, birthday cake in my Xiamen circle of friends had two uses.  The first was quite traditional: you ate it.  The second was rather juvenile: you had a food fight with it!  I couldn't believe my eyes as little Marco launched a catapult full of cake at Hendrik.  What the heck?  Hendrik quickly returned fire and soon there were a dozen people in the mix, hurling cake at one another.  I opted to retreat to the balcony, along with five or six others.  After all, this cake was good...I wanted to eat it!  But it didn't take long until our location was spotted and a full-on assault was launched at us.  We held the doors for quite a while before they breeched the opposite side and attacked with a vengence.  We were plastered with cake and frosting.  So now I felt compelled to get into the heat of battle, and Marco and Hendrik were my primary targets.  I succeeded in getting both of them with handfulls of sticky goodness, and even managed a 'facewash' on Marco.  By party's end, we were covered in frosting, and despite our best attempts to wash it off, our clothing and hair were, well, 'caked' with it.  The apartment, too, took a beating, as cake completely covered the floor, with significant amounts on the walls and couches.  I felt so bad for our birthday girl host, but she was unphased by the scene, being content to leave til Monday morning when the maid could clean it up.  So we all went off to the Londoner, hair greasy with icing, to continue the celebration.  Yes, these people certainly know how to throw a wild party.

My last Sunday night in Xiamen was a bit atypical: nobody wanted to play scopa due to the over-indulgence the previous evening.  But Hendrik convinced me to hit the Londoner, by way of foot massage.  The ninety minute massage was so relaxing that it almost put me to sleep.  Yes, that is what I needed!  Monday I managed to break away and see some more culture, highlighted by the magnifient Nan Putuo Buddhist temple.  Set against the mountainside, the temple is a wonderful blend of natural and manmade structures.  The hike to the top of the mountain rewarded me with fantastic views of the city and nearby islands.

Monday finally arrived and I was prepared to take the evening train to Beijing.  The whole gang came over to Hendrik's for a couple hours before my departure to hang out and reminisce about the past twelve days...wow, they sure were fun!  We all piled into Anthon'y car and headed for the train station.  I was content to have them drop me off at the station and take off, but they insisted on parking the car and walking me to the check in.  A final goodbye hug to everybody brought me near tears, as these people truly have become excellent, and probably lifelong, friends.  I would like to thank them again for all the kindness, consideration and help they had given to me during my stay in Xiamen...I very much look forward to returning the favor.