City's warm welcome enchants foreigners
With its friendly people and colonial past, Xiamen has attracted a sizeable expatriate community coming to the city to study, work or look for business opportunities. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 expatriates living in the city, including those from Europe, Middle East, Africa, India, Southeast Asia and North America.
The biggest attraction is the people, says Bill Brown from the United States, a professor of graduate business at the Xiamen University who has lived in Xiamen for the past 24 years. He was the first foreigner to obtain permanent residency in Fujian province, and was awarded the title of honorary citizen by the Xiamen city government for his contribution to the city's promotion overseas.
'Even over 100 years ago, foreigners in Amoy [Xiamen's old name] remarked that Xiamen people, unlike other Chinese, were open to outsiders, whether Chinese or foreign,' Brown says. 'This was because most overseas Chinese came from this area, so for centuries they've been open to people coming and going.'
He says that apart from the people, Xiamen has the beautiful island of Gulangyu with its hundreds of elegant old villas.
'One hundred years ago, three foreign authors said it was the 'richest square mile on the planet'. A miniature Hong Kong, it was so wealthy because of the mix of foreign and Chinese talent and money.'
To explore Xiamen, Brown advises foreigners to pick up some Chinese. 'Even a few words of Chinese will win friends,' he says. 'Chinese are happy when people try to learn their language, and don't make them feel like fools while learning it.'
Foreigners can meet other expatriates at the Association of Ex-Pats, and foreign hangouts such as the Millennium Hotel, the restaurant area along the lake near the Marco Polo hotel, or at the Xiamen International Christian Fellowship.
For weekends and holidays, expatriates like to go to the beaches for windsurfing or sailing, hiking in the beautiful mountains behind the Xiamen University, visiting the botanical gardens and exploring Gulangyu. Many also hang out at the restaurant area by the Yuandang lagoon, or Zhongshan Park, or the promenade.
Xiamen is well-known for birdwatching and music. For short trips, foreigners like to visit Quanzhou (an hour to the north by bullet train), the former start of the Maritime Silk Route, with a Unesco-sponsored maritime museum, and the walled city of Chongwu. Quanzhou is famous as the home of Chinese marionettes.
Brown says unlike in the past, Xiamen is a good place to live now that most foreigners have no problem fitting in. There is an international school for their children and health care facilities are improving. Websites in English provide useful information such as www.amoymagic.com, which was started by Brown and his wife, Sue, 10 years ago.