When in the city, everyone goes to the Zhongshan Lu Pedestrian Street. They say that over a billion people pass by this street every single year. Over a billion, to just one street. The Boy from Babhnan had to go.
He was in Xiamen, formerly Amoy, one of the coolest cities in South China. A city which got its name changed and restored so many times as few others in the world would have. A Ming rebel Zheng Chenggong had set a military base here and changed its name into Siming- meaning remembering the Ming in 1650. Later, when the Qings took the city back, it was back to be Xiamen. After the Xinhai Revolution that established the republic in 1912, it was back to Siming. Come 1933, it was back to, again, what it is now. Interesting, no?
This is a city that sits just across Taiwan and one can in fact see the rebel island across the strait from its beautiful Gulang Island. Gulang island was a beautiful vehicle free escape from the urban rush, alas, the island is now getting crushed under tourists’ weight.
Back to the Pedestrian Street. Dating back to 1925, Zhongshan Lu is the oldest commercial street in Xiamen. The over a kilometer long walking street is filled with pretty shops, big department stores, chic cafes, restaurants specialising in the cuisine from world over, and so on.
Most interesting part though, is that smoking in not allowed in the street! The boy was surprised to the core! He had seen smoking to be the normal even in these times across the South East Asia including China. There still remain restaurants one could enter with a lit cigarette even now. He had always associated this with seafaring being one of the very basis of economy here. So ban on smoking in a public street was surprising for sure!
The street is one of the ultimate examples of the East Meets West cliche- with McDonalds sitting next to traditional Chinese eateries and shops selling tea- a hundred kinds of teas. One could buy them in whichever form they want- as loose tea leaves to prepacked ones. Ditto for the food items- be they dried crab, squid, fish, pork floss, or otherwise, nuts, durian, pineapple and mango candies, mooncakes of different flavours, roast duck and more.
Tired, the boy went to grab a quick bite of the street food. Fujian province has its own cuisine markedly different from the rest of the Chinese variants. The boy had noted that the focus on seafood in Fujian sits along lots of vegetarian options- a wonder in China. Rarely had he been happier while travelling in the South East Asia.
The signature experience in the street, though, is many of the jewellery stores making necklaces made of pearls harvested from live oysters right in front of you. He decided not to have this one.
Another thing that strikes about Zhongshan Lu is beautiful amalgamation of architecture styles- Victorian, Venetian and traditional Chinese. Many of them were in fact shop houses, or Tong Laus, as they are called in Cantonese. In these, the ground floor used to be for shops, while the merchants and the family lived above. The boy remembered Babhnan- his Kasba with similar houses. Of course very basic, not grand. Babhnan is no treaty port after all, it is a blurry kasba even within the district! He then remembered the Tong Lau(s) of his new home- Hong Kong, fast disappearing.
Home, he thought of.