Fusion of old and new

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am


Xiamen is probably one of China's best-kept secrets. The city is widely considered by foreign and domestic visitors as one of the cleanest and most comfortable places to live and visit, and the modernisation drive that has turned this ancient trading powerhouse into a modern business hub is taking the 'livability' issue very seriously.

One of the keys to Xiamen's comfortable feel is the large presence of returnees, Amoy Chinese. They migrated across the globe for business reasons and have returned to bring their experience, ideas and wealth to bear upon the development of their hometown. A good place to learn the history of China's diaspora is the Overseas Chinese Museum, founded by Tan Kah Kee, who also founded the nearby Xiamen University. Tan, known as the 'Henry Ford of Asia', is typical of many Chinese who left Fujian to make their fortunes and then returned to give back to their original home. The museum has more than 7,000 artefacts dating to the Bronze Age, including two mummies recovered in Xinjiang province.

Within walking distance of the museum and the campus is the Nanputuo Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple dating back more than 1,500 years. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly over the centuries, but today's version boasts several halls and statues from antiquity, and some of the best-kept and most serene temple grounds you will find anywhere. At the back of the temple is Wulao Feng - the Peak of Five Old Men - which affords spectacular views of the South China Sea and the university campus.

Xiamen has a well-known taste for nightlife. The whole city is awash with blinking lights and it seems as though the sea breeze of the day becomes even more sultry and alluring as the sun goes down. The Binlang Road Bar Street and Haiwan Park have several fine options, from nightclubs such as Labomba and True Love filled with flashing lights and young bodies, to mellow bars such as the Oriental, London Bar or 1972.

Xiamen attracts young people from all over China for work, but also for education at the university, and for the city's reputation for nightlife comparable with Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Although the city does not boast as many Western-style dance clubs and bars as these major cities, venues available cater to the young and adventurous, so in many ways the nightlife in Xiamen represents the New China.

This young, hip crowd is most visible during the day at places such as The Coffee Club and the many coffee houses along the banks of Lake Yuandang. The people here look good, drive flashy cars and want to be seen.

This is perhaps the real modern-day Xiamen, more so than the quaint lanes of Gulangyu or the Hakka and Amoy heritage: ambitious, beautiful and confident.