I spent last weekend in Jinmen (historical and common English names: Kinmen or Quemoy).
The history here is important: it was historically fairly isolated but also had some rich residents that had traveled to SE Asia. Basically this produced some of the best examples of classical Fujianese architecture and South-east Asian Colonial architecture, patterned after British colonial houses in Singapore and Malaysia but with Chinese influence as well.
On the other hand, it was the front line, literally, for the war between Chinese capitalists (the Nationalists, the Republic of China) and communists (the People’s Republic of China), for many years, with it situated 2km from Mainland. It was bombed, invaded, shelled with propaganda fliers for over two decades.
So it ends up being a really interesting place–old buildings, old buildings in a semi-Western style, bombed out buildings, fields of sorghum with spike-topped anti-parachute landing spikes, beautiful beaches with anti-amphibious landing spikes, military bases, fishing vessels, and quaint villages.
I found it very interesting and photogenic. I took a lot of photos but they’re all on film, so I’ll scan them when I back in the U.S.
It was easily the hardest place I’ve been this trip or this year–possibly even ever–in terms of getting around and not knowing the language. (Scratch that–Tanzania in 2004 would have been harder but I had a friend that spoke KiSwahili.) It started out fine–all the announcements at the airports and on the flight were also in English, despite the fact that I appeared to be the only westerner at either the airport or on the plane. But then I was picked up at the airport by someone who didn’t speak English (identifying each other by the other person with the cell phone up to their ear looking very confused), and brought to a scooter rental shop that didn’t speak any English. It wasn’t until I got to my guesthouse that someone spoke some English. For dinner at a seafood restaurant, I ordered “fish” because that was all that was mutually understood. It ended up being steamed and in a sauce and marginally undercooked. I ate it; I didn’t have the ability to complain. In the end, I saw things I wanted to see; I ate food; I was able to get there and return; I didn’t die. I consider it a success.
Perhaps seeing that I was in a little over my head, a couple people did some really nice things for me (not to get into the overly sappy I-love-everyone blogosphere realm). I went to a restaurant the first day for lunch that served Kinmen’s signature handmade noodles. All the tables were taken so I was just hovering near the entrance. I indicated to the woman working the food area that I wanted one of what she was making, so when she pointed to one bowl on a tray and brought it to a table, I followed her. Turns out I had just invited myself to sit at someone else’s table. (That’s fine in Asia from what I’ve found–in fact this table already had two groups–two guys and an older woman at it.) When I got my food, one of the two guys pushed over the spicey sauce: “good.” I added some. When they got some fried chicken, squid and tofu, he added while making a circling motion with his hand “together.” So I had a few pieces. When they paid, the proprietress gave me an odd look. Turns out the guy paid for my lunch.
The next day, I wasn’t sure how to get back to the scooter rental shop, so the other guest at the guest house let me follow them there. They hadn’t been planning to go out; they got in their car solely to show me how to get to the shop and then they headed back to the guest house.