For some, the essence of the word “cool” can be can be found in a hipster’s bespoke beard, fortified by single-origin coffee and soundtracked by expensive vinyl records featuring songs available free online.
For others, the opposite of contrived hipsterdom is what it’s all about – to not acknowledge cool is to truly be cool.
Regardless of how it’s defined, cool has been used a heck of a lot recently to describe Xiamen, the island city in China’s southeast Fujian province, right next to the Taiwan Strait.
The city used to be largely known as a fishing hub, but a few years ago CNN deemed it the country’s “new capital of cool”, followed by the New York Times and fashion bible Vogue reporting on Xiamen becoming hallowed ground for fashionistas rather than fishermen.
But is the cacophony of cool claims about a city of 3.5 million justified? I head to Xiamen to test its temperature and meet its creative community.
David Krings: Fat Fat Beer Horse
Shapowei Art Zone’s flagship bar, Fat Fat Beer Horse has certainly helped raise Xiamen’s cool reputation since opening in 2015.
Its steampunk-style architecture derives from the bar being converted from a fish processing plant – customers sip crisp pilsner beneath enormous metal tubes that used to dispense cascades of ice.
“Xiamen has a very different cool to, say, Berlin or Beijing. Those cities are big and rough and have strong cultural scenes,” the bar’s owner, David Krings, explains, knocking back ale at the bar as he chats.
The 40-something German has been living in Xiamen for six years. “Xiamen is smaller. The pressure isn’t so high. People who have ideas can come here to fulfil them.”
Situ Zhiwei & Cotton Yu: Thank You bar
After downing a couple of pints, I head south of Shapowei, traversing through a tidal wave of students gushing down the coffee shop-lined Daxue Road, to put Krings’ comment to Situ Zhiwei, the founder of café and bar Thank You.
The place is even trendier than Fat Fat Beer Horse: colorful records are piled up behind the DJ booth, vintage furniture has been brought in from Tokyo and it is here that I’m served one of the best whisky sours I’ve ever had.
“People here are more chill and less competitive,” says Situ, who is from the buzz-bustle metropolis of Guangzhou.
Speaking from beneath his beanie hat after sliding a second cocktail my way, the 40-something adds that the geography of the island is a big reason for this breezy mentality.
“Everything in my mind changed when I moved to Xiamen. When I feel depressed and catch sight of the open sea, everything negative drops, and you relax.”
It’s hard to imagine the permanently smiling Situ being depressed about anything, aside from perhaps scratching one of his records.
The friendly, open mentality that he and his wife, fashion designer Cotton Yu, who runs the label Mymymy, have poured into Thank You has made it the main meeting point for the city’s young creative types.