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Fate, play, love

By Emma-Lee Moss (China Daily Africa) Updated:2018-02-09

A musician went looking for Xiamen - and found herself (and a puppy)

I had always imagined myself, as one born in Hong Kong, arriving on the Chinese mainland for the first time and fitting in straightaway. In all my fantasies, my Cantonese slid naturally into perfectly intelligible Mandarin, and everyone I met became my brother or sister.

Last spring, a four-week music residency in Xiamen, Fujian province, gave me a chance to test that theory. Arriving on a steamy April day, I was taken to Gulangyu (鼓浪屿, gǔ làng yǔ), a small, picturesque island next to the metropolis, where I would be given a space to set up a studio. The residency was part of the British Council and PRS Foundation's Musicians in Residence China program.


Approximately 6 kilometers from downtown Xiamen, Gulangyu is a famous resort and a World Heritage site. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Gulangyu is a remarkable site, known for its unique colonial architecture, left over from Xiamen's days as a British treaty port. Despite its tiny size of two square kilometers, the island plays host to up to 65,000 tourists daily. As I took my first steps on the mainland, I fought through those crowds, dragging my equipment and sweating monstrously. Did I mention there are no cars allowed on Gulangyu? Dreaming of my first step there, I hadn't imagined it would take 5,000 of them just to get to my hotel.

All around me was the landscape I'd longed to discover, but instead of instantly clicking, it felt utterly foreign. Mandarin was not, as I'd assumed, just two degrees north of Cantonese. I didn't understand what people were saying. On arrival at my studio, I hungrily switched on my phone, only to discover an entirely different internet. When I asked for a glass of water to cool down, it arrived hot, and in a thimble.

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