This island, close to the coast at Xiamen, is something rather different in China. While it spawns many internationally famous musicians, it is also beautiful in its own right and its relatively small area holds many different kinds of attractions.
Gulangyu – Piano Island
A visit to Gulangyu, Xiamen, is a must for any music lover in China. Even its name is musical. The word Gulang means drum waves, while yu is an island. This name was conferred on the isle in the Ming Dynasty because of the sound generated by the sea’s waves hitting the holes in its rocky reefs.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, many western colonials resided here and some set up music schools that were to become famous, with an enviable reputation. Xamen’s Music Academy is still located here and is known worldwide to produce excellent musicians. A number of world-renowned pianists and other musicians hail from Gulangyu. The piano was always taught and is still a popular instrument on the island, forming a necessary part of the furniture in many of its homes. Wherever you walk, you are likely to hear the tinkling of the ivories wafting from shuttered windows. The island even boasts a museum dedicated to the piano where two exhibition halls house instruments of all shapes and sizes showing how they evolved, and how they’ve been used through the years.
A Peaceful Scenic Spot
But Gulangyu has more than music going for it. It is one of China’s National Scenic Spots and is high on Fujian’s list of top scenic areas. Situated just a short ferry ride from Xiamen’s harborside, and covered with trees, greenery and colorful flowers, it is like a peaceful oasis amid the bustle of the city and its shoreline.
If you’re a lucky tourist, you could book a room at one of the several inns on the island. And if you can go midweek, you’ll miss the regular influx of Chinese weekenders. No vehicles are allowed, or only a few that are electrically powered, plus some bicycles. Able-bodied visitors have to walk, but that’s no hardship on this tiny island with its quaint, narrow lanes.
You won’t find much in the way of traditional Chinese architecture, but you’ll get a good idea of how wealthy western incomers lived from all the colonial style buildings around, both residential and communal.
If you climb the steps to the top of this high point, noting the Chinese poems chipped into various stones as you pass, you can get the weight off your feet for a while by taking a cable car across to the far side of Qinyuan Gardens below. On the way, you can just sit back and enjoy fantastic views over the island and across to the Xiamen island/peninsular and the mainland.
At the far side is the island’s aviary where many species of birds fly or roam freely under a roof of netting; only those that might possibly cause harm to visitors are caged. Make sure you have a camera to capture the poses of peacocks, cranes, storks, egrets and herons.
You don’t have to use the cable car to get there. Some people refer to roam the hillside on foot among the boulders engraved with Chinese characters and the sculptures of horses and soldiers scattered around. In any case, you shouldn’t miss the Memorial Hall of Zheng Chenggong, a local hero, which sits at the foot of the rock.
If you just buy a ticket for Sunlight Rock, after enjoying its spectacular viewpoint you will most likely find yourself shepherded to descend on its far side. At the bottom you will find the pleasant Gangzihou Beach, with its small area suitable for swimmers.
A Clever Garden
On the way, stop off at the Shuzhuang Park, which is the home of the piano museum. Originally the garden of a wealthy Taiwanese businessman, it was opened to the public in 1955. A remarkable example of the peace and harmony of a space designed according to the rules of Feng Shui, it is divided into the Garden Hiding the Sea and the Garden of making-Up Hills, while achieving three desired objectives.
The first objective is the art of hiding; you don’t see the ocean until you are very close to it. The objective is the art of combining movements; the garden contains a maze of winding paths on a rocky slope, with built up walls and tunnels. Look carefully at these walls to find depictions of the 12 astrological animals. The third objective is the art of borrowing from the natural surroundings; think of a wooden zig-zag bridge over the sea, hugging the rocky shore, where you can get different views of the ocean and nearby beach as well as the garden.
Don’t forget to visit the piano museum. If you are lucky you might be treated to a brief recital played by a member of staff.
A Giant Statue
In the nearby Haoyue (Bright Moon) Garden, you can’t miss the grand statue of Zheng Chenggong, or Koxinga, as he is widely known. He was the commander who ousted the Dutch conquerors from Taiwan in 1662, well before it became part of the Republic of China, as opposed to the People’s Republic of China. Koxinga is still revered in both countries. His 15 meter high statue stands looking out to sea from the top of Fuding Rock in this garden.
Gulangyu from the Sea
To view Koxinga from the sea, and see the rest of the island’s attractions from this vantage point, you can opt for a one-hour, round-island trip. Other boat trips can also be accessed from Xiamen harbor. One passes Gulangyu on the way to Jinmen, the nearest island of Taiwan. A boat from China may not land there but you will be close enough to see the guards on land making sure that you remain out to sea.
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