We’ve now been here in China for about two weeks. Everything has fallen into a rhythm. But sometimes it’s weird how normal everything feels to me, even though I’ve never been to Xiamen before. It’s not that I’m not excited to be here, but even when we first landed, I mean, except for having just spent 14 hours on a plane, it felt almost as if I had landed somewhere else in the United States. There’s not much left in China that’s new or surprising to me, and it’s sometimes a little nostalgic for me when the students are so in awe of things I hardly notice anymore. In a way, it’s definitely nice to feel so well-adjusted in a foreign country (and it’s certainly been a privilege to have so many opportunities to become well-adjusted!), but on the other hand, I sometimes wish I could still have those feelings of amazement that I used to have.
In any case, we’ve done a lot in the two weeks we’ve been here. We visited a local high school – Xiamen Foreign Language School, where the NSLI-Yers were able to meet some Chinese high school students and show off some of their talents in a short performance. We also spent a day visiting the nearby town of Quanzhou (泉州). It’s a relatively small city (by Chinese standards, anyway), but it has a lot of historical significance – it used to be a prosperous port city on the ancient Maritime Silk Road. I thought it was really interesting that Quanzhou was able to maintain its prosperity and avoid war for about 1000 years by paying off potential invaders. This only ended when a military commander named Zheng Chenggong led his troops on a retreat south from Nanjing and brought war with them. But because of Quanzhou’s centuries of being a hub for international trade, there was also a lot of cultural exchange. Western merchants brought their religions and languages to Quanzhou, and many of them even settled down in the city, married local people, and started families, creating an ethnic group unique to the Quanzhou area.
In Quanzhou, we first visited the Maritime Museum (pictured above), which chronicles much of the cultural exchange from the Maritime Silk Road, as well as China’s more general boat-related history, from the earliest riverboats to the voyages of Zheng He. The museum also housed an Islamic Culture Exhibit, all about the Arab and Persian merchants and their cultures that came to Quanzhou via the Maritime Silk Road. Next, we visited the Qingjing Mosque (photo below), which is the oldest Arab-style mosque in China.
We also visited two Buddhist temples in Quanzhou: the Tonghuai Guanyue Temple (photo below) and the Kaiyuan Temple (where I somehow neglected to take more than one photo?? I must have been distracted by the guy dressed as the Monkey King…)
In other news, there’s also some cool stuff on campus. As it turns out, there’s a small family of cats that lives between my dorm and the dining hall, so I see them just about every day, and sometimes we bring them food. One of the cats is pregnant and looks like she might have her kittens soon. Everyone is excited and is hoping she might have the kittens before we leave Xiamen.
There’s also the super cool Furong Tunnel (芙蓉隧道). I visited it the other night after dinner, and it actually felt almost otherworldly, like maybe time stops when you go in or something. The whole tunnel (as far as I could tell, I haven’t had time to walk the whole thing yet) is graffiti-ed on both sides, and you can’t see all the way through the tunnel at once, and there are so many people, and despite the sign that clearly says you’re not allowed to ride your bike, several people do of course ride both regular bikes and electric scooters through the tunnel. They honk the horns as they go, and the noise echos off the concrete walls and gets amplified. So it’s loud and crowded and lit only by electric light and seems to go on forever. Some students who went early in the morning said it was very empty then, but not being a morning person, I don’t think I expect to ever see it in that state… But I would like to go back and walk farther through the tunnel, as well as stop and look in the little cafe/shop they have in there. Here are a few photos from inside the tunnel: