The roar of the waves breaks on the rocks. Impressive melodies surround and linger on this island made famous because of its piano-laden past. As a place of residence for Westerners during Xiamen's colonial past, Gulangyu is famous for its architecture and for being home to China's largest piano museum.
Covering a total area of 1.78 square kilometers, Gulangyu Island is located off the coast of Xiamen City in Fujian Province. The Chinese name also has musical roots, as gu lang means "drum waves," so-called because of the sound generated by the ocean waves hitting the reefs. Yu means "islet."
Gulangyu Island is known as the piano island because people here love the piano. As early as 1913, students in schools run by foreigners started learning the piano. The enthusiasm for music later spread to more ordinary people on the island. Many piano families have since then come into being and produced accomplished musicians.
Located five minutes by boat from Xiamen, Gulangyu is really a Shangri-la-like tourist attraction. No road vehicles are allowed here, bicycles are the only means of transportation. In recent years, some battery-powered sightseeing vehicles commute from the beach to the port, as more and more people come to Gulangyu sanatorium to recuperate.
No tourist can afford to miss one attraction located on the island -- the nation's largest piano museum.
Divided into two exhibition halls, the museum guides visitors through a vivid history of the instrument with displays and illustrations. All different types of pianos such as miniature pianos, automatic pianos, accordion pianos and round-shaped pianos, are on display. It is difficult not to start playing the instrument when faced with such an amazing variety of instruments. But be careful. It is forbidden to touch them, as these pianos are cherished collections of overseas Chinese, who hope to allow more people to see and be inspired by these displays.
Riguang Rock is a scenic spot on the island where you can get a bird's-eye view of the whole of Xiamen City. Hundreds of flowers grow on Riguang Rock, which is a 90-meter-high peak on Gulangyu Island. With a gentle sea breeze, it's a quite cool place during the hot summer. On the hillside nestles Riguang Monastery, where the early rising sunlight penetrates. Ascending to the top of the rock, one can see the sea.
At the foot of the rock, there's the Memorial Hall to honor national naval hero general Zheng Chenggong of the late Ming Dynasty. In the vicinity, one can find the site where general Zheng directed his fleet.
From the baroque building to the Gothic cathedral, from the Shanghai-style alley to the Fujian-style courtyard, Gulangyu is filled with different architectural styles. That's why it is often described as a showcase island of architecture, attracting architecture students from across the nation and the world every year to find their source of inspiration.
For people living in the hustle and bustle of today's metropolis, citizens on this island seem to live in a paradise with a relaxing, healthy and placid lifestyle. Unfortunately, more and more youngsters leave the island to work in Xiamen, but they still prefer to return every day because of the sound of nature on the island.
· You can go to Xiamen by plane or by bus. The flight will take one hour and the price is 790 yuan (US$95) per person. Sometimes there are discounts available from the airlines of up to 50 percent off.
·Buses can be taken at Shenzhen's Luohu Bus Station and Qiaoshe Bus Station. About 10 buses head to Xiamen each day from the two bus stations and the price for each person is 180-210 yuan as the buses are of different types. It will take about eight hours to go by bus.
·To go to Gulangyu Island from the city area of Xiamen, you can take ferries at the ferry terminal. The ticket fare is three yuan per person.
·Some recommended hotels: Tianxian Hotel, Education Hotel, Guesthouse of Xiamen University.
·Do not miss the local food in Xiamen, for example the fish balls, meat pie and spring rolls.
·Popular souvenirs include embroideries dotted with pearls, carvings, sculptures and seafood.
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(Shenzhen Daily October 25, 2004)