Adventures on a Xiamen Bus

It seems like the only bus rides I ever get to experience is outside of the Philippines, China being the place where I’ve had the most bus-ride experiences. From my first China bus ride in Xiamen in 2004, to the few times I had ridden a public bus back in Zhuhai in 2008, bus rides in Beijing when I had to go to school or when I went around a bit, to bus rides in Shanghai and Hangzhou, and even to bus rides here in Xiamen, riding a bus has proved to contain an invaluable amount of experiences. I’ve had my fair share of good bus rides, bad bus rides, and uncomfortable bus rides.

So far, I’d say that Xiamen bus rides have proved to be the most interesting. In Beijing, a subway option was always available for distant locations so the only times I was on a bus was when I would go to school, or the few times I had to go to 中关村 or some other places not directly accessible by subway. Here in Xiamen, there are only 3 options for me when traveling, which is walking, taking a taxi, and taking a bus. Because I’ve been doing part-time work, I’ve had to commute a lot to get to and from various places, often coinciding with people coming back from work. Also, when taxis prove to be too expensive or too hard to get, buses are of course the only other alternative, especially when you need to get to places that are quite far.

During the last couple of months I’ve been here, I’ve realized that no matter how frustrating bus rides can get at times, there are always days where you find out interesting things on a bus.

An example of an annoying bus ride was about two weeks ago when it was the national holidays, which meant one whole week without classes. Because I live near Xiamen University and the Nanputuo Temple, tourists on the weekends, and most especially on holidays, can go up to over 2000, or even more. The worst part being that my area is kind of cut off from the main part of the city, so that no matter how far you walked to get away from the busy area, you’d still be pretty much stuck in the busy area. So during the national holidays, I still had to go to work, but the thing was that finding buses with space was so difficult because of all the out-of-town tourists,  and taxis weren’t available, so you had to literally squeeze yourself into the buses if you wanted to go somewhere. One of the buses I take to work passes by a tunnel, and most people who try to squeeze into the bus at my station get off at the next stop (the stop after the tunnel) so as long as you make an effort to endure squeezing your way to the door of the bus, and endure the bus ride through the tunnel which can get somewhat suffocating when people around you carry a certain *ahemsmellahem*, it’s all pretty good and well.

But of course, despite bad days like that, I’ve had good experiences on the bus too. Like a couple of weeks back, I bumped into a bunch of Westerners on the bus, who I got to talk to. I’ve bumped into them a few more times on my way home from work since we take the same bus. I also love the old people who say thank you when I give up my seat for them to take, and how I sometimes meet someone who is much older than me and when I offer them a free seat they turn it down nicely saying that they’re getting off at the next stop. I’ve even had experiences where I offer my seat up to someone older, and they happen to get down earlier than me, so they call my attention and give me back my seat. Even though some Chinese people are really rude, like REALLY rude, I am amazed and touched at the few instances that I see young people being polite, like I’ve seen a couple of them give their seats to pregnant women, or parents with kids, or older people. Another thing that amazes me is the paki-pasa system that Filipinos have in jeepneys, paki-pasa roughly translated as please pass this on. Oftentimes, buses here are so full at the entrance that the only way to get in is to get through the exit, so people inform the driver that they’re getting in at the back and then ask the people between the exit and entrance to swipe their bus card for them, or to deposit their 1rmb into the money slot. 

Once, on a bus ride, I spotted a Pinoy yaya (maid) and her alaga (it’s a noun that refers to the child she’s taking care of) who were seated beside where I was standing. The entire time, I was just looking at the adorable kid and wanted to ask if the yaya was Pinoy but couldn’t muster the courage to ask until we were one stop away from my station. She introduced me to her alaga and talked to me about Xiamen, asked me about myself, among other things. It was really insightful and made me realize how Filipino yayas are one of the best yayas in the world because they really know how to take care of a household.

Oh bus rides, even when at times I wish I just had my own car here in Xiamen (even though it would go to waste since I don’t know how to drive, and there’s not many places I go to anyway), taking the bus is so much more cheaper and more convenient, and I get to meet so many different people along the way. It’s not always good, especially when I’m beside someone who smells like they haven’t had a bath in a few days, or when I’m beside someone who is wearing a sleeveless tee and happens to have a lot of hair in their you-know-what, but all-in-all I feel like I’m truly basking in the independent life. Who knows, I might just bump into my next adventure on a bus ride. 🙂

She’s the kind of girl who loves Autumn

I’ve loved autumn since I first discovered that the leaves turn yellow and red and the weather becomes cooler, and the fashion requires people to wear coats and boots, a long long time before I actually experienced it for the first time in Beijing. Coming from a country that only has wet and dry weather, it was something out-of-the-ordinary, something amazing. So according to the change in weather, Autumn this year started more or less on September 23, and Xiamen despite being in the South, is still affected by such seasonal changes.

When I first arrived in Xiamen in February, it was transitioning from Winter-Spring, and then I was in Xiamen the entire time it was Summer, and now it’s transitioning into Autumn. The thing I’ve realized about Fall in Xiamen is that despite the relatively hot weather in the afternoons, the past few evenings have been abnormally cool, and when I mean abnormal it means that the difference between afternoon and evening temperatures feels so different that you’d have a hard time imagining how a few hours can change the temperature so drastically. I guess one thing different about Beijing and Xiamen (weather-wise) is that Beijing is relatively dry, and Xiamen is relatively humid – not to mention how it’s beside the sea so sea breezes are ever-present.

Dad was here just last week, so along with the few winter items I had with me when I first arrived, and some of the items I had brought soon after I realized that all my outfits were Summer-ish and it was still Winter in February, dad brought along some scarves and thicker outfits that will hopefully keep me from buying too many winter clothes for winter, since it’s not suppose to be as cold as Beijing anyway. I wonder how much time I have left to wear shorts and sandals, and be able to go out without wearing a jacket or bringing along something to keep the cold at bay….

She’s the Kind of Girl tee from No. 3 Storehouse Xiamen; Light Blue shorts from Manila; Bowler Bag from Taobao; Brown boots from Taobao; Red Urbanears headphones from Mom

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Almost Robbed

And to think, the only time I remember being robbed outright was back in 2006 when I was still studying in Ateneo and while I was with my blockmates, my laptop was stolen. Considering that I’ve lived in China for over a year and a half, this is the first time that someone has attempted to rob me. There is a small lingering doubt about the incident in my head, almost like I can’t believe that it happened so it must have been false, but instinct tells me otherwise.

Last Saturday evening, after  dinner at a sushi restaurant and some bazaar shopping with my friend, we decided to head home to call it a night. As we were making our way to the bus stop (中山路站 – Zhong Shan Lu stop), me and my friend were in a deep conversation about a lot of things. In my left hand, I held a shopping bag. My right hand was somewhere near my hand bag. As we were already by the bus stop, I readied myself for any incoming buses headed towards the school by turning to my bag to take out my bus card. With the bag I was wearing at the time, I usually keep the bus card by the front pocket for easy access, but since my friend noted earlier that evening that the button seemed to be coming off. Instead of just feeling for the card like I usually do, I decided to look at my bag while I was taking it out. It was at that moment that I noticed that my bag’s zipper was already 1/3 of the way open. What’s more, I noticed a hand pull away  and a man who was close behind me ducking behind the advertisement board.

I immediately told my friend that I thought I had almost been robbed.

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Xiamen: Preparing for the medical exam

If you’re a foreigner looking to take the medical exam (because you want to get a residence permit for a multiple entry student [X] or working visa [Z]), living in China for an extended period of time requires you to take the medical examination. When I lived in Beijing for a year, I didn’t need to take the medical examination since my first stay was originally for only 6 months and when I extended my stay, they only extended my visa and I didn’t apply for a multiply entry visa. This is actually the first time that I took the exam, which initially was something I wanted to avoid at all costs, until something came up that well….required me to face this.

Because my visa(allotted to me by the Chinese embassy in Manila) expires about a few days (they only gave me 150days) before my final examination is to take place, and because I need to go home next month and need to have extra entries back into China in case an emergency happens, I decided to go for the medical exam.

A couple of months back, when I was still in Beijing, I wanted to take the exam but heard lots of horror stories from friends, especially about the blood-drawing part of the exam. I’m not a big fan of needles but I’ve been better at the thought of blood drawing since I’ve routinely been having blood tests every 6months back in Manila, for regular check-ups and the like. My friend was suppose to come with me, but last minute she wasn’t feeling well so I ended up going to the place on my own.

Here’s where it starts:

Things you’ll need to have with you:

> 3 copies of your China-passport-sized picture

> passport

> (as of this entry) 503rmb [a few weeks back it was only something like 450rmb and it’s gone up by 50rmb, so check with your school or workplace for cost updates]

> no breakfast-stomach (this is pretty standard, speaks for itself; have an empty stomach for at least 12hrs before you come in)

Xiamen International Travel Healthcare Center [厦门国际旅行卫生保健中心 (Xiàmén guójì lǚxíng wèishēng bǎojiàn zhōngxīn)]

Add: 116号 Dongdu Road  Huli, Xiamen, Fujian, China, 361012

Open: Mondays-Fridays; 8-12nn, 2-5pm

By bus: Take a bus to the 商检 (Shāngjiǎn) Station. The building will be behind the Xiamen Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau (厦门出入境检验检疫局)

Buses that pass by this station: 4路空调, 11路, 22路, 22路空调, 26路空调, 43路, 67路快线, 84路, 102路空调, 107路, 139路, 520路, 520路空调, 522路, 522路空调, 533路, 655路, 841路, 842路, 853路, 856路, 858路, 954路, 958路, 旅游1线

Procedure upon arrival:

When I arrived, I asked a form from the desk and proceeded to fill out the form. After you’ve filled out the form, you have to line up at one of the aisles that say “Accept”. Prepare your passport and the form, and when everything is okay, the person at the counter will ask for your passport and the payment (503rmb). This part will take a while because they have to check out your information on the computer and then they’ll print something and ask you to check if your name is correctly spelled out. Check your name’s spelling carefully! They will give you a receipt and a bunch of small papers, so keep everything with you. After, they will tell you to go inside and go through the 1st-3rd floors for your check-ups. Take the door to the left of the counter.

Medical Exams:

Based on personal experience, these are the exams that you will have to go through. I talked to my friends about the exam and it seems I might have missed an exam or two, but I’m not sure since the guy at the counter said everything was a’okay. It could just be that my friend had a different count the last time she was there, and I myself had a different count. Based on my trip, these are the exams you have to go through~

> X-ray, ECG, Eye test, Ultrasound, Blood test, Urine Test, Blood Pressure + Weight and Height (same room)

When I get my results later, I’ll check out what else I’m missing, hopefully I did everything okay and this is all that’s needed as I don’t want to repeat the entire thing another time.

Tips for the Exam:

> Wear a sort of loose t-shirt as you’ll be required to pull it up during some exams.

> Also bring a book with you or some other form of light entertainment (ipod, ipad, psp, etc) as I heard that sometimes there are long lines for the exam (though that wasn’t the case with when I went).

> If you aren’t sure with the exams and which ones you are suppose to take, just go through the rooms with open doors and ask if you need the exam, most likely (if not most certainly), you do.

> With the blood exam, if you are afraid like me, tell the A-yi ahead of time that you are a bit afraid. She consoled me and told me not to be afraid and that it won’t hurt. I looked away when she was putting the needle through my skin, but it’s actually not as bad as I imagined it to be, just a small prick really….kind of like how it feels back home.

Overall, if there are no lines, the whole procedure should take about 30mins-1hour. As you are required to do the tests without breakfast, the best time to do the exam is in the morning.

Hope this helps!

My next big adventure – Xiamen

Grey autumn jacket from ONLY Beijing;Three-ringed ring from the best friend; Red empire-cut top from aunt’s christmas gift; black knee-high leather boots from Beijing

Recently, I’ve been so busy and so bewildered. I’m in Xiamen right now, and as this is my first Xiamen entry (for my studies here), I’d like to try to introduce where I am right now.

I arrived alone from Manila, my first international trip by myself. Xiamen is a much quieter city than Beijing which always seems to be bustling with life. Unlike my old neighbourhood, there are less restaurants about, there are less foreigners, and there are no bars in the area where I’m living (which is good as it reduces noise pollution, but a bit disappointing as there isn’t much to do in the evenings). I live pretty near my school, I can even see one of the gates of my university from my window. In fact, I live next to this small park which has a small lake behind it, and yes, I can also see the lake from here though it’s not very clear as trees are blocking the way. Another thing I see from my window is KFC, and I know that right behind that is Mcdonalds, so I guess that’s sort of good news for me (convenience-wise, not health-wise, haha).

The school is smaller than my school back in Beijing though just as beautiful. Xiamen University has wonderful architecture, there’s this really nice European-Chinese styled building with stone-like walls that I pass on my way to class. A few of the buildings here have European influences, like this dorm building I passed by a few days ago. There’s a beautiful lake that I fell in love with back in 2004. The jogging track is near my area, so at least I’ll be encouraged to go running, though I’ll wait for the weather to get a little warmer.  And unlike Beijing where everything is flat, getting to my classes here will be a challenge, as it requires going up a mountain. As I mentioned, Beijing is flat, Xiamen is hilly and mountainous. So getting to the classrooms requires walking up and down stairs every day (apart from walking to and from my flat), and getting to the office for foreign students is even harder as it’s located on a much higher hill/mountain.

Since there aren’t any subways close to where I live, and this area is pretty much a university area plus a temple area, going places requires bus and taxi rides. This kind of thing makes me miss taking the subways in Beijing, but I guess things like that are environment dependent, so buses and cars are more practical here than subways. I love the tunnels that go though mountains though, which Beijing probably has but which isn’t as noticeable. And the air here is cleaner, and the sea is about 10minutes away by foot (an estimate as I’ve not really walked from here to the seaside).

I haven’t taken the time to go around, though my family here has been kind enough to take me around when they bring me out to eat. Maybe when I’m not so busy, I’ll stroll around on my own one day. But for now, I’m getting used to living alone and deciding so many things on my own(I miss my roommates),  I miss talking to someone while I do chores or am on the internet (which is why I’m tempted to get a pet fish or turtle or something), and making my flat as charming as possible without splurging excessively.

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Red is the color of love

Red dress from Metrowalk Manila; Mickey Mouse jacket from UNIQLO Beijing; Blue Jeggings from UNIQLO Beijing; Black soft boots from Westlink Beijing; White Fujifilm Instax Mini25 from Taobao.com

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I am in love. I am in love with the fact that I’m home. It feels different from Beijing, but somehow it’s soothing to the soul. It feels like home. Despite being a bit jittery over the fact that Beijing is much rowdier and Xiamen is more quiet, part of me loves being back.

Because all our things to do (TTD) were finished, dad let me spend the day doing what I wanted. My aunts and uncles came over to the hotel suite to talk to my dad, and gush over the fact that I’m so much bigger (they don’t mean fat) as compared to the last time they saw me either in Beijing, or from 2004. One of my aunts offered to take me shopping in 中山路(ZhongShanLu), this place near the ferry area where they sell lots of street food and also have a lot of small shops and malls. It reminded me somewhat of 前门(QianMen) back in Beijing, except with a lot more people, smaller streets, and less expensive shops. My aunt took me to one of the malls where my other aunt works, but it was more or less empty as it was still a new mall and it didn’t have a lot of open shops. Now that I think about it, those malls didn’t have a lot of people, but the streets more or less did. The smaller streets reminded me of  南锣鼓巷(NanLuGuXiang) which had a lot of small shops selling various knick-knacks from cutesy items for girls to clothes to shoes and whatnot.

After our shopping trip, me and my aunt headed back to the hotel and I got ready to head to anticipated mass with my dad. Apparently, there are 2 Catholic churches in Xiamen. The one I’m familiar with is the one on 鼓浪屿(Gulangyv) Island which I visited back in 2004, which has masses only on Sunday mornings. This one dad took me to is on the Xiamen island and is said entirely in Chinese. The church itself isn’t large or grand, nor is it something that you can see from the main streets. It’s hidden among some old buildings, and what surrounds it are old buildings from a time when foreigners probably lived in the area as the structures aren’t very Chinese-ish.

Old church?

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Homeland Bound

Stripes Top from Beijing; Blue and Brown bag from H&M Beijing; Soft black boots from Westlink Beijing

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Hello Manila and Hello Xiamen. After 7 years of being away from my ancestral hometown….I am back and taking Xiamen by storm. Kidding! I’m sort-of back and figuring out how things will go from now on. A look into my possible future, as I have mentioned in some of my earlier posts. After having a sort-of good night’s sleep, due to my being unable to sleep well in a really big bed alone because of habit, I woke up prepared to head out with my uncle’s friend to Xiamen University.

A long time ago when I was really young, my dad told me how my angkong (paternal grandfather) was born in the Philippines but raised in China. My angkong grew up in Xiamen and eventually went to study at Xiamen University, so back in 2004 when I came to Xiamen with my dad, I was excited to go and visit the university where my grandfather went to study. Back then my Mandarin was pretty bad, and I was excited only to visit my friend who was studying there at that time (on a summer program) so I didn’t take notice of the university much. Fast forward to 7 years later, the things I do remember about Xiamen University, they are still there….almost as fresh as when I first encountered them before.

The beautiful lake, still as breathtaking as ever.

The building by which I spotted my friend, from my visit in 2004.

A lot of people have been asking me what I was doing in Xiamen. Some thought I was here for another semester or year and some thought I was here for work. I guess it’s hard to say exactly what I was doing in Xiamen. Besides helping out my dad and just bonding with my relatives whom I haven’t seen in a while, I had no exact plan as to what I wanted to do while I was in Xiamen. 4 days isn’t a lot of time so though I had wanted to go to Gulangyu Island to go around, it seemed impossible to actually go about doing that since it would take about half a day, or an entire day, to go around the island and sight-see. So a few days before our trip was finally finalized and everything was set in place, dad told me that my uncle had found a friend to take me around campus to check it out. Apparently, this friend prior to our arriving in Xiamen, had already asked about the language program at Xiamen University…

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Haven’t been back since 2004

Going off to Xiamen in a few hours. I’m very excited since I haven’t been back there since 2004, which was my first trip to China. I’ll only be staying for a few days, so no worries with regard to what’s happening with my life and when I’m coming back. I shall be back….next week.

I was talking to my cousin on 人人网 a few hours ago and it made me realize that if I stay a bit longer, I could actually make it to the 10/1 National Holidays….but that would mean missing a lot of things planned for next week here in Manila. Nonetheless, I’m excited, to be sort-of going home. Xiamen has definitely changed in the 7 years I’ve not been back. Last night as I was going through Google Maps, I was a bit confused as to how the place actually looked, it looks a heck of a lot different from the last time I had seen it so it took a bit of adjusting to. Back in 2004, I didn’t really go around the city much, besides staying in my uncle’s apartment, going to SM, going downtown (for a bit) and going to Xiamen Univesity and Gulangyu, visiting JiMei University and some temple that apparently is pretty famous in Xiamen. A lot of what I remember about Xiamen is vague so this trip will definitely either bring back a lot of memories, or will be spent making new memories.

Also, since my last trip, my Mandarin and Hokkien has improved by leaps and bounds….so I’m excited to sort-of break the barrier when talking to my family there. One of my uncles from there has seen my improvement over the years since my dad would let me chat with him on the phone a few times. He used to have a hard time talking to me since he was used to speaking mostly Hokkien and back then, I had almost close to nil skills in 闽南语. Now, it’s much better. He still talks to me in Hokkien, though I can ask him to switch to Mandarin when his Hokkien starts getting too fast or too complicated for my basic level Hokkien.

This trip will definitely be 1) an eye-opener, 2) family reunion of sorts and 3) a possible look into my future. And yes, my Mandarin skills have probably rusted a little in the last 2 and a half months since I’ve been back…so hopefully that’ll work out okay. Besides that, I have my trustworthy Chinese dictionary to keep me company and to help me when the language barrier arises.

And of course, my copy of A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin is coming with me. I’m already on p260 out of 708 so at I’ll at least have something to keep me company when there’s nothing to do or when I’ll be alone somewhere and would be too afraid to talk to the locals. Haha. Always have to have a back-up plan, or companion!