On of the best things about Xiamen Island – the next ‘Singapore’, they say – is cycling. You can cycle on pavements, even on highways going the wrong way against the traffic (if you must). George (Shaobo) Qiao, a graduate of Xiamen University, took a couple of mates on a ride, on their Giant bikes, around town to have a look at his alma mater.
The gal included, the sports enthusiasts had their image recorded for posterity in front of a statue of the University founder, Tan Kah Kee. On the way back one of the party got sandwiched between a parked car and a concrete wall, which fortunately resulted only in a slight graze.
George Qiao is GM of the Hotel Indigo Xiamen Harbour, and what a fun place it is, full of colour. Every one of the 128 rooms is slightly different, but all stress the brand’s colours: day-glo pink, green, turquoise and yellow. Some like the rooms in the ‘01’ series, end of the 14-floor building with two-angle views. I loved 1404, on the top floor with a big wood deck overlooking the busy harbour.
About a quarter of a mile away, across the water, is Gulangyo Island, in the diary for tomorrow. Room 1404 has a ten-foot desk with a Chinese-style chair. The wall to the right is nearly covered by an Andy Warhol-type painting of twelve pen nibs on top of ‘writing paper’.
On the desk is a bright fuchsia ceramic pot in the shape of a Mandarin. Open this up and inside are lots of coloured crayons. Nearby stands a music easel with plain paper. Draw what you want (someone has already done a caricature of me, taken from Google).
Everything makes you smile here in this modern-style luxury hotel. This is not for those who crave Murano chandeliers. This is for the forever-30 set. Every now and again you find a post-it. At night you might get a Courvoisier, if you are a guy, or a Bailey’s Irish Cream, if you are a gal.
A little named note, from your housekeeper, says please enjoy. After the already-mentioned cycling mishap, I found bandaids and a note saying how sorry they were about my injury, please get well soon.
Smile, yet again. Order up room service, from the menu in a bright purple loose-leaf file that also suggests local things to see and do, and your requested meal, brought by a woman in grey, comes on a bright green tray.
Yes, there is colour everywhere, or nearly everywhere. A Chinese tea set, with all-white china, sits on a bright orange tray that matches a ziggurat-top box that holds the tea sachets.
The toilet cubicle, with thankfully all-frosted glass (the Chinese like clear glass, normally, so their spouses can obviously see’em ‘at work’) even has a right green leaf arrangement in a white vase, next to the wall-set telephone that can easily be reached from the Japanese-style I’m in charge toilet, the kind that opens its mouth (sorry, lid) as soon as it senses you are approaching.
The bathtub and showers are in a glassed-off wet area overlooking the terrace and ocean so no need for colour there, but turn to the dry area of the bathroom and your ‘things’, including two types of tanning lotion, are on a bright green tray.
This tray matches holders for bath salts, and for Kleenex. It also matches some of the tall table-stands that are set variously on corridors on upper floors. Some of these hold old-fashioned bakelite telephones, the kind with circular dials. Others have little statues (I am assured they are glued on so they cannot ‘walk’).
Everywhere, thanks to Australian designer Joseph Pang, there are sparks of colour, sparks of locale. Here there are bright open tiles, Xiamen-style only fuchsia and orange, Indigo-style. This is luxury lifestyle for the fun crowd that wants a sense of place.
Here, on the fourth floor and rising through two stories, an entire wall is a turquoise-sprayed façade of an old building deliberately set askew, with a gold star at its summit. This is a reminder of the old hotel next door, owned, like this hotel, by a Singaporean with Fujian roots, C.J. Ng (the old hotel’s genuine façade now fronts fast food joints).
Next to the turquoise ‘façade’, a single-floor area has its walls and ceiings lined with genuine old photos. The only way to see the ones above you is to lie down, flat, which is what I did – for once without falling asleep. Get up, vertical again, and head to your left and you find the communal lounge area, which always does have some sleeping guests who have not made it back to their rooms.
Next to this is the work area, with four biggest-sized Macs, for free connectivity (like the entire hotel). Not surprisingly all are generally in use. Turn to your right and walk a few yards and you find yourself in Quay, the all-purpose restaurant.
Love this dining area. You can eat in the lounge part, even sitting on sofas, or in the main bistro, with its sports television at one end, or outside, on a terrace where the Chinese love to smoke (wonder what happens when Chinese go to Peru where smoking is as alien as a man from Mars?).
At breakfast, the juice is so fresh you know it has come from the presser right there. The coffee is as good as in Naples. Open glass-fronted refrigerators and help yourself to yoghurt. The top chef, the lovely John Xu, is on duty even at 0700. Look up, as you eat in the main bistro, and you see overhead a large W-shaped trough holding, guess what, Chinese teapots, all in the Indigo-set turquoise.
George Qiao had, incidentally, invited three young ladies from his alma mater to come and visit. Although they are majoring in such money-potential subjects as philosophy, all are also majoring in the art of Chinese tea. They laid on a ceremony for us, which included arm dancing and waving that was as graceful as a ballet.
Try it at home and you need a flat box with slatted top, to hold poured water, and a teapot and assorted pots, including shot-shaped china jars that are ‘smelling cups’, for aroma before the tea is poured into thimble-sized cups for actual drinking. It is all so exquisitely graceful. This must be one of the world’s ten best traditional beverage services.
Every hour is a learning experience here. Head up to the gym and you look out over Xiamen harbour, and watch all the passing boat traffic, with ferries leaving every five minutes for Gu Langyo Island – yes, this is on tomorrow’s agenda. Head back to your room and you find really intelligent reading material, like Shanghai Business News.
Head back down to the lobby, on your departure, and you realize that art works include a stack of real old suitcases, sprayed turquoise, and a lifesize sculpture, formed literally of nuts and bolts, of a seated woman. This symbolises the womenfolk who, in past times, waited, sometimes forever, for the fishermen to return.