Road less taken: Xia’pu

My dad has some friends that live in China. So upon coming here, a lot of them were more than generous to open their time and homes to us. We took a 6 hour fast-train from Shanghai to Xia’pu, which is a small fishing town of 500,000 population, located in the northern province of Fu-Jian. We will be on the road to Fu-zhou this afternoon, the province which my dad’s side of the family is from. People’s physical appearance and mannerisms are so different from town to town. And I love immersing myself in and learning the variety.

I didn’t find Xia’pu in my Lonely planet guide book. I haven’t seen one tourist here at all. But definitely a HIDDEN GEM! It’s a villagey coastal town which is what I imagine the big cities in China to have looked like 30 years ago. On the east is the pacific ocean, with dozens of fish boats scattered throughout the shore. On the west are green hills leading to a mountaintop 3000 meters up. I would learn that the majority of the town’s economy is based on fishing and seafood. And so fresh & delicious it is!

We arrived 3 pm at a family friends 2 story office overlooking the beach. He owns a multi-million dollar coproration that import/exports automotive parts. Hes been running this business for over 20 years and now decided to semi retire and establish a portion of his life here in this quaint, peaceful town. Great choice.

He and some friends welcomed us into is conference room upstairs. Like any traditional Chinese visits, they had tea ready on the table for us, and would always be more than half filled by their maid. Soon, the ripe lychee and plums would be served, along with mounds of other cookies and snacks. The Chinese will never allow you to go hungry when you’re in their home.

We sat an hour chatting about our life in the US as I’ve mentioned is always a common interest for them, and discussed our itinerary in China. The ocean breeze brisking through as birds chirp in the far distance was a very welcomng balance after 2 days in the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and our stop and go train ride.

After some chit chattng, they drove us in their Audis and Range Rovers to check in our hotel. (I note the car brands because in China, these cars cost way more than our price in the US and only the very rich can afford it. The Average citizen with the income of $4000 a year could never afford that even at retirement. In the US, individuals can afford that in their 20s after a stable job if they really wanted to, or throw it on their credit which is barely known of nor respected here).

Not So Conservative China

The hotel was quite a savvy joint for this town (at least what it was perceived at first). As I slung my backpack from the trunk of the car across my back, I glanced across the street and noticed a small what seemed like a barber shop with pretty, hair done/nail done, stylishly dressed females sitting around, giggling and gossiping on the couch. I suspected it to be a brothel and would later be confirmed of this. Next to the shop is a liquor store that sells “bing-long” which is betel nut, a feathery palm from the areca tree thats widely used in South China, Taiwan, Japan, India, and parts of Africa. This is used typically among the lower class and gangsters, but not limited to. It contains a tobacco and gives similar highs as cigarettes. Its used by chewing the small plant wrapped in a leave, and then spit out once the juice has been chewed and sucked through. This habit causes the streets to be stained with a red dye and can stain the users teeth. Its cancerous as well in the throat and mouth. It was appropriate that this shop would be linked next to a brothel.

I went across the street and picked up a box for less than $1. I tried this a decade ago in Taiwan but dont remember how it tasted. I remembered it to be foul, but I wanted to try again. I also nonchalantly peaked in the brothel, curious to what they do while waiting for customers. And yes you guessed it, the ladies were playing mahjong! We went in our hotel to change and settle in. On the way in I noticed on the wall of the hallway were free condoms. In our room was a box of condoms and other stimulants. Im going to assume this is a hotel for businessmen passing through town to stay. No wonder our hosts knew this hotel so well.

On a more zen note, our family friend host drove us 20 minutes up a very windy, unpaved rocky rode to the top of the mountain where he owned a vacation home. From the bottom of the mountain we had noticed a gorgeous buddhist temple and a statue of Guan-yin pusa which is a female Buddha associated with Compassion. My sister and I joked around and said I bet this guy owns that! It turns out as we arrived, that he did. He had just finished building this in 2009. Its a sight worth seeing if youre ever passing through this town on the way down south to Fujian off your train stop.

We met a jovial older monk that had resided there since the temples opening. We enjoyed even more cups of tea on the patio of this house atop the highest peak in Xia’pu, overlooking the ocean and city.

By around 6, we drove down the mountain for dinner. On the way, we encountered a goat strolling by. I immediately made the driver stop the car and ran out to hang with my favorite creature in the world. As i followed this little fella into this dilapidated brick structure, i found a little farm with half a more dozen goats inside!! Too damn adorable.

After some tugging and pulling me away from this euphoric scene, we finally made Our way down to the restaurant. This was your typical Chinese banquet style restaurant. Each group to their own private room and a 10 course meal. We had about 7 people at the table, and the host cracked open an expensive bottle of “gao-liang jio”, a rice liquor consisting of 58% alcohol. He insisted we all drink, as if not doing so would be a dishonor as a guest. There was about 4 different kinds of fish served, and other seafood such as shrimp, squid, clams. I was impressed and in culinary heaven at how fresh it all was. I would believe they had just walked down the street in the morning to pick it up. Yumm.

My sis and i wanted to finally catch up on sleep as we’d been on 3 hours a night. There were a few KTVs (kareoke) and bars around but we werent in the mood. The next morning we would be treated to a big bowl of soup noodles with pork base and a fried egg on top. It was at a hole in the wall around the corner, the young guy serving it right in front of the shop. I normally dont have noodles for breakfast but this was delicious and soothing after a night of heavy seafood-binging.

I would highly recommend a stop in this untraveled hidden gem if you were ever on your way to Fujian and noticed this city on a stop. Its a good day and night visit. Xia’pu is leaning towards the countryside living standards. The basic electricity is met and there are some cars but mainly motorbikes and colorful tuk tuks.

There are no beggars to bug you (probably because there are no tourists here). This is one thing i like about China. I dont think there are people going hungry or homeless here. That is a part of their justification for being Communist. That was Che Gueverras support for communism too as he rode through Peru. Im not here to say i approve of it, but i can see how it could work. In many developing countries, there Are beggars and homeless and crippled dying on the streets. Another reason for the lack of homelessness is the family values the Chinese have. Its perfectly normal to live amongst 4 generations in a house. The Confucious taught of “filial piety” (respect to parents, the elders and amcestor) will never allow your parents to go on the street. You put them first over yourself and the kids grow up to work to support them. To give back what they gave us. It is more rare even in the states to throw your parents in a convalescent home and visit them once a year.

Our last stop before we head en route to Fuzhou was another beautiful Buddhist temple with an ocean view. I believe this is a good town to meditate and zen your mind after a few days. There were monks (females and males) chanting in the main temple as we sat outside enjoying this pacifying sound. We hiked up a bit more to the top of the temple, enjoyed the ocean view and finally made our way down, saying goodbye to this hidden town and its people.

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