Want something to do? Tough shit.
“Kinmen is a little boring,” is probably the most commonly spoken English language phrase on this island.
I don’t really agree, but I understand why someone would say this. If you’re not really interested in engaging with random people, the cross-straits drama, and walking around in the countryside checking out cool/strange/fascinating stuff then there really isn’t much to do.
That’s fine — it keeps the crowds away.
But attracting those crowds is exactly what the local government and related operatives have been trying to do for the past decade or so.
Kinmen is a pair of sizable islands just off the coast of mainland China that are virtually undeveloped. The “next big thing” mentality has been prevelant here for years, and many investors have been lured in by miles and miles of beautiful empty beaches and more land than anyone here knows what to do with. But they tend to always fail. Successive waves of entrepreneurship rise and fall here, and — at least in the five years that I have been coming — nothing much ever seems to change.
Good. I like this place the way it is. It’s special that way. If it was developed it would be just like Xiamen and everywhere else in the world and there would be absolutely no good reason for anyone to ever visit again.
That’s my personal take. But I also know that my personal take is irrelevant. People often want their homes to be modern, developed, and rich, and Kinmen is little different.
What bothers me is ineffective development initiatives and top-down planning that shows little regard for the end user — who ultimately determines the success of a commercial initiative or not.
The Taiwan government pumped massive amounts of resources into restorating an array of traditional villages, converting old, broken down homes into absolutely beautiful, strong and sturdy guesthouse. Their work in this regard — from my perspective — has been outstanding.
The only problem is that guesthouses seems to be where the initiative ends. So you have this network of beautiful accommodation spanning the island and that’s it. There are no restaurants in these villages, no cafes, no bars, and, more often than not, no stores.
The thinking, apparently, is that you will get everything you need from your respective guesthouse — which is good for like half a day. What if you don’t want to eat what the guesthouse is serving? Tough shit. What if you want to sit with your friends in a cafe? Too bad. What if you want to go out to some place to socialize with other people? It ain’t going to happen. What if you’re out walking around and you want a bottle of water? Well, you’re going to have to go all the way into town for that (a trip that could take hours given the horrid bus schedule).
They essentially loaded the island with incredible guesthouses with zero supporting tourism infrastructure and then wonder why many find the place so boring. Sure, you can walk around for a half hour and take pictures of the traditional style houses, but what’s next?
We decided to leave the unfortunately rat invested non-restorated traditional house and moved into a beautiful guesthouse in the village of Jinning. We arrived around seven at night. The owner wasn’t in. We were hungry but there was nobody to order food from. There was a kitchen but no supermarket to buy anything to cook. There wasn’t even a small, hole in the wall style restaurant anywhere nearby.
I walked through the streets with my daughter, desperately looking for any place to buy anything to eat. We were fortunate: the village had a little mom and pop shop that sold eggs, ramen noodles, and potato chips. Most villages here that tourists are being encouraged to visit don’t even have this.