A Hidden Gem: Fujian

Fuzhou, Fujian, China.

Fujian(福建), literally meaning Blissfully Created, is a province located on the eastern coast of China P.R., to the west of Taiwan. Dubbed as the cradle of overseas Chinese communities in China, it is estimated that about 12 millions Fujianese, the rough size of Greece’s population, live abroad. Fujianese are scattered all over the world, across 176 countries and regions. Larger clusters are found in South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Having come from Fujian and spent many years here in Singapore, I have realized that many of my peers have never been to Fujian before even though their ancestral roots are there. That has motivated me to write this article introducing Fujian, offering my friends and all the curious souls a glimpse of this blissfully created land. The first stop would be Fuzhou, the capital city of the province.

Fuzhou City

Fuzhou is the capital city of Fujian province. For years, it has been eclipsed by its neighboring capital cities like Hangzhou and Guangzhou in terms of development. Fortunately, this has changed much in recent years. Some ongoing developments include various subway lines, newly-built skyscrapers like bamboo shoots after a spring rain, and its very own CBD in the making – all of which convey the ambitions of Fuzhou. Among the various attractions that the city has to offer, there are just a few highlights.

1). Three Lanes and Seven Alleys (三坊七巷)

三坊七巷

Photo Credit: http://fz.wenming.cn

Three Lanes and Seven Alleys

Reputed as one of the Top Ten Historical Streets in China, Three Lanes and Seven Alleys is an expansive residential area seated right in the heart of downtown Fuzhou. It is an open-air museum with Chinese traditional wooden structures dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties – an excellent preservation of the traditional Chinese neighborhood system (里坊制度).

The Three Lanes and Seven Alleys area seems to encapsulate the best features of the city. The complex houses a large assortment of museums – the Fujian Provincial Folks Culture Museum(福建民俗博物馆), Arts Museum(三坊七巷美术馆), Shoushan Stone Carving Museum (壽山石雕刻博物館), just to name a few. Moreover, the mansions of many renowned Chinese historical characters such as Lin Zexu and Lin Juemin are also located there. In addition, Three Lanes and Seven Alleys is also a one-stop destination for foodies who are looking for authentic local cuisine. Many local stalls, some generations old, have set up shop here, showcasing the best tastes of Fuzhou to both locals and tourists. The must-try specialties here include Fuzhou Yong He Fish Ball (福州永和魚丸),Fuzhou Tong Li Meat Dumpling(福州同利肉燕),Fuzhou Pan Pastes (福州鍋邊糊),and Peanut Soup (花生湯). If you wish to bring something from Fuzhou back with you, do not fret – there are many shops at Three Lanes and Seven Alleys that sell local snacks, tea and handicrafts such as the famous Fuzhou Horn Comb (福州牛角梳).

Riverside Fuzhou

If you are craving for some fine dining or cocktails, head down the main commercial street to the Macau Bridge (澳門橋) straddling a city river. On both sides of the river, discover trendy establishments: restaurants, cafés, bookshops, bars and even nightclubs.

2). Mountain Gu (鼓山)

Mountain Gu

Gu (鼓) literally means drum in Chinese. Mountain Gu has a gigantic stone atop that resembles a drum and makes drum-like sounds during thunderstorms – thus justifying its name. .Located only 8 kilometres from the city centre, the mountain serves a sanctuary for its inhabitants. Throughout the year, natives flock to Mountain Gu to exercise or worship at the Yongquan Temple (涌泉寺)on the hillside. During summer, the mountain is especially popular because of the fresher air and cooler temperature in the area. The trail to the peak could be also culturally rewarding as it is dotted with many stone inscriptions of Chinese poems and calligraphy. These inscriptions and natural scenic spots number more than 160. Eighteen of them have been hailed ‘The 18 Scenes of Mountain Gu”(鼓山18景).

3). Jiangbin Park or Riverside Park. (江濱公園)

Jiangbin Park at night

Known for being the longest urban park in the whole of China, Jiangbin Park spans 10.5 kilometres along the Ming River and covers a total area of 103 hectares. Similar to East Cost Park in Singapore, a smorgasbord of activities could be found here, including cycling, kite-flying and skating. A night stroll along the park could be extremely relaxing and refreshing too, the perfect exercise to mark the end of a day.

4). NO.1 Shaoyuan (芍園一號)

Formally the site of the Fujian NO.1 Furniture Factory, the NO.1 Shaoyuan is now a platform for the local artists to showcase their talents and creativity. Modeled after the 798 Art District in Beijing, it houses a flourishing artistic community in Fuzhou. Besides arts studios and galleries, chic cafes and restaurants could also be found here. The place is particularly popular with local youth in their 20s and 30s.

Beyond the few places that I have introduced above, Fuzhou City has a lot more interesting places to offer. The above mentioned are my personal favorites, and are also places where you will get to interact with locals. Lin Zexu, the acclaimed Chinese scholar and official who spearheaded the campaign against imports of British opiums, has nicely summed up the spirit of the city-  Thousands of rivers and streams merge in the open sea, that’s what gives birth to the ocean. (海納百川,有容乃大)

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