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Pronounced Shaw-man, Xiamen is China’s up-and-coming Hong Kong. At least, that’s what they’re aiming for on this quickly modernizing tropical Chinese island.

Xiamen is a strange mix of traditional architecture and culture and evolving modern luxury. I just returned from living there for 2 years. What an experience to live among the Chinese without even knowing the language!

For the most part, the Chinese are friendly in Xiamen. It’s a great place to develop import/export contacts, teach English and experience traditional Chinese culture while witnessing a revolution of modernization and money flow in every way imaginable. They’re even currently building the largest luxury marina in all of China – complete with multimillion-dollar homes on small man-made islands, imported Italian yachts and international shopping stores to be completed in a few years.

L.A.’s superficial ways have nothing on the desires of up-and-coming wealthy Chinese (or the teens growing up with the best of everything as the only child in the family). Cars are always shining in this incredibly dusty city as pride in new money flows. But thieves still run rampant, so hold onto everything!

What to do for fun in Xiamen? The beach is a nice choice, but don’t expect to go swimming, bikini watching or surfing – unless it’s kite surfing! Look for sun umbrellas instead! Water is calm…and polluted. Biking along the coast is a great way to enjoy the views. Shopping is a BIG thing in Xiamen, with famous brand stores from every part of the world. You can still enjoy traditional Chinese shopping in the small villages. Hiking a mountain usually means walking up stone steps that are landscaped along the way and then enjoying the views. Beautiful temples appear out of nowhere on hikes and in villages.

There’s a strong expat community on one side of the island with modern eclectic and European coffee shops and restaurants – but if you want authentic Xiamen, you’ll want to go to the middle or opposite side of the island and enjoy Chinese BBQ or a hot pot. Don’t be surprised if a Chinese store owner invites you for traditional tea.


Xiamen, China

Shopping on the island of Xiamen - China's "up-and-coming Hong Kong."

Shopping on the island of Xiamen - China's "up-and-coming Hong Kong."

I loved the fabric market where there are over 100 fabric vendors selling wholesale along with all the trimmings. The oil painting district has hundreds of talented painters who can paint anything you want, CHEAP! And I was the only foreigner to ever have a traditional Chinese portrait taken!

It was a memorable occasion where they put my makeup on, wigs, traditional Chinese Dynasty clothing!

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GaryT June 2, 2010 @ 11:22 p.m.

Thanks for sharing this... it would have been interesting to hear about some of the funny things that you probably experienced in China, since you lived there for two years without learning much Chinese. I lived in Taipei for four years and formally studied Mandarin for seven, so indulge me in correcting your "Western" pronunciation of Xiamen. In Mandarin it's correctly pronounced "Hsiah-mun." "X" is not quite an "sh"... more aspirated, and there is no "aw" sound in Chinese.


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