This is the fourth and final post that’s part of a larger series about my trip to Xiamen, China. Other posts in this series include A Weekend Trip to Xiamen China, Xiamen Street Food – From Oyster Pancakes to Worm Jellies! and Visiting the Che Family Home and a Home-cooked Feast
It’s tough trying to travel to a popular vacation spot in a country as big and populous as China during one of their national holidays. Basically, the whole country goes on vacation at the same time, which means the entire country is trying to cram into the best vacation spots all at once. Xiamen is well-known for its warm weather, great beaches, and good street food. As a result, the city was mobbed during our visit.
It’s times like this that I want to take the off-the-beaten-path and pursue the road less traveled. After a couple days in Xiamen city proper (including a day visiting Bryan’s old family home in China), we took a three-hour bus ride to Hui’An, a county about 30km outside the city center of Quanzhou, Fujian in Southern China.
Hui’An “maidens” are famous for their unique dress and culture. Although they are not a minority group per se, their colorful costumes and unique head covering are reminiscent of some of China’s minority tribes. The women wear thin, short jackets that don’t use enough cloth to completely cover the belly (“thrifty jackets”) yet they wear these huge billowy pants that seem to “waste cloth.”
Legend has it that the women dress this way because back in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a village girl was forced to marry a court official. When she grew up and her own daughter got married, she dressed her daughter in an outfit that represented her own unhappy marriage. The short jacket and exposed belly expressed dishevelment and the color bands represent the ropes that bound her down.
Married Hui’An women wear a silver chain around their waists. The richer the husband, the more silver is on your chain.
We spent some time at the Hui’an Women’s Folklore Garden in Dazuo, a village in Hui’An county. This park is dedicated to sharing the history and culture of Hui’An women. We had the opportunity to rent an authentic Hui’An costume and walk around in it for the day.
Ha ha, apparently renting a costume includes full transformation into a Hui’An maiden. Because the most beautiful Hui’An maidens have bangs, they made sure we had bangs via a creative hair clip.
It was so peaceful and quiet here in Hui’An, far away from the crowds of people in Xiamen. My friend and I walked around the rocky coast (reminded me a bit of Maine in the US!) and took some fun photos, fake bangs and all.
Afterwards, we tasted some traditional snacks that the Hui’An ladies were cooking outside. It is a vegetable pancake wrapped in seaweed and deep fried. It was quite tasty, actually, and we enjoyed it with some Hui’An tea.
For lunch we had a fantastic meal at a simple seaside restaurant which had tanks full of all different types of seafood. We chose stir fried “flower” clams (with just a touch of chili), rice vermicelli with vegetables and pork, and hollow heart vegetable. Honestly the food was fantastic. The clams were fresh and sweet, the vegetables were crisp, and I really enjoyed the noodles.
In fact, I think it was one of the best meals I had the entire trip! The ocean view plus the quiet, relaxing surroundings made it really special. It really felt like a retreat away from the crazy crowds in Xiamen.
We visited the museum, which taught us a bit about Hui’An history and tradition. We saw the transformation of their costume through the years as well what a bride’s bedroom looked like, complete with all the wedding decorations.
Hui’An families have a very unique marriage custom where the wife actually continues living with her parents after she gets married. The wife only visits the husband and his family three times a year during holidays up until the birth of their first child. In very traditional customs, the husband and wife are not even allowed to speak to each other when they meet. In many ways, they are like strangers to each other.
This practice is less common nowadays, with the younger generation’s exposure to outside influences.
After leaving the Hui’an Women’s Folklore Garden, we explored the city of Hui’An a bit. The region’s main industry is quarrying granite and making stone structures. We saw so many statue “farms” with all sorts of different types of statues for sale. I got a kick out of this Hello Kitty-esque stone statue right in the middle of one of their roads, so I snapped a photo from the bus.
After a short visit to the beach, we hopped onto the afternoon bus back to Xiamen.
I can’t mention Hui’An county without mentioning Chongwu Ancient City, probably the most famous attraction in the area. The 14th century walled city contains interesting architecture that is unique to this region. Due to the large amount of stones in the area, most ancient homes were made of irregularly shaped pieces of granite. Due to time constraints we ended up only driving past the walled city and not actually exploring its interior. However, if I ever came back, that’s where I would visit.
And that’s the end of our Xiamen series!
Stay tuned as we will continue traveling around the world, with series about Sonoma wine country and Tokyo coming up next! Of course, some Hong Kong posts will be sprinkled throughout as well.