Despite its small area of only 1.77 square kilometers, Gulangyu enjoys a great reputation. Separated from the downtown area of Xiamen by straits less than a kilometer wide, the islet is a scenic spot under the jurisdiction of Xiamen City, Fujian Province. Xiamen itself is a much bigger island and has been referred to as a peninsula since the building of a causeway in 1956. In recent years, a succession of cross-sea bridges has been completed and these extend like tentacles in all directions. Seen from the air, Xiamen looks like a huge octopus or a brilliant
Most people mistakenly assume that Gulangyu(literally Drum Wave Islet)was named after the all-year-round drumming of waves;in fact,the name originated from the Gulang Rock in front of the Gulangyu Villa.In the past,on the incoming tide, the waves would hit on the rock on the reef beach,as if they were loudly beating a drum.With the seaward advance of the sandy shore,waves can no longer reach the Gulang Rock,but it is said that if you put your ear to the rock on a blustery night you can hear faint muffled drumbeats.
If it has not snowed for a long time, northern Chinese will long for snowy days.This is not sheer romanticism but born of their local environment.Similarly,southerners streaming with sweat in the intense heat will be anxious and yearn for a typhoon if there has been no news of one for some time.
Gulangyu is a completely pedestrianized area;even bikes are forbidden by law.The undulate asphalt roads spread out in all directions,turning the islet into a bewildering labyrinth.
Gulangyu has a resident population of about 20,000 but at weekends and holidays it can receive as many as 400,000 visits.
The islet has only one or two long avenues in the real sense of the word. The rest are meandering paths or confusing lanes,some narrower than others,but all tidy and clean. The few fallen leaves,flowers and fruits only enhance rather than detract from their idyllic appeal. In the stillness of the day,Lujiao Road in the former legation district, and Zhangzhou Road and Fuxing Road in the residential villa district, seem long and remote; at night, stretching far out into the dark. they look mysterious and unfathomable. Every footstep of every rare passerby is quite distinct; the sound of a leaf or two falling mingles with those steps in syncopation. The old banyans stand slanting and the bougainvilleas' dense branches, tipped with brilliant flower balls, sweep down like long hair. Though there are no gorgeous "sprays of red apricot blossoms over-stretching the walls" as one ancient poet put it,there are loquats, longans, papayas, parambola and other fine southern plants, reaching over the high walls along the roads to delight the eye.
A network of mossy lanes threads between low buildings, single storey houses and grand black-tile mansions,comprising stone steps and brick paths, interlaced with asphalt roads. Some parts are wide enough for three women to walk back side by side from their morning exercise. The narrowest allows in just a palm-sized patch
of sunshine, just enough for the lazy cats to bask in by the door.
Gulangyu is best known for its wide variety of architecture. It is an overstatement to call it "a museum of world architecture" but it is an indisputable historical fact that the islet had a dozen or more consulates.
Among them are pure European-style villas. Although their vine-entangled portico columns and archways are now mottled and dilapidated, their exquisite lily carvings and magnificent classical Greek style can still be seen. The breeze gently sways the loose louver shutters, seeming to offer a glimpse of time back then...the fireplace, candlelight,fine porcelain, silver tableware and white satin dance shoes, carried away by the dance music on the phonograph...
There are the secluded grand residences of officials and of private citizens. In such mansions the brass door knocker may be pitted and corroded but it still sounds loud and true; in the inner red-brick-paved courtyard grow sweet-scented osmanthus, orchids and Chinese roses;water drips from eaves onto bluestone, worn and pitted over years and years.The long landscape scroll hung in the middle hall,the antique gold-traced celadon pot on the sandalwood table,even the shoulders of the old courtyard sweeper...all seem filmed with the dust of centuries,with the
dust of history.
Hybrid Chinese-western style villas can also be found;in these the main body is Western,including a damp-proof basement with the last word in sanitary facilities,but the roofs have overhanging eaves and upswept corners,the door 1intels are highly decorated,there are bow brackets and basket-shaped column capital.In
the gardens,groups of fountains line up with rockeries and eight-sided pavilions. In the Bagualou(Eight Trigrams)Building,stylistic elements from mosque,Greek temple, Roman church and classic Chinese architecture are combined;this now serves as the Xiamen Museum.
The names of those villas are really evocative. Just hearing names such as Yang's
Garden(YangJjiayuan), Rich Old Woman's Building(Panpolou),Spring Grass Hall (Chuncaotang),Viewing the Sea Villa(Guanhaibieshu), Small Western European Building(Xi'ouxiaozhu), and Contentment Mountain Villa(Yizushanzhuang)conjures up a picture. The names indeed match the reality:every one of them, whether sumptuous or simple from the outside, contains a true family history of Chinese who emigrated to Southeast Asia. Many such grand old mansions,deep down in the paths and lanes, have remained hidden away for years.