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March 03, 2005

Hainan Or Bust!


From Let’s Go Travel Guide:

Praised for it’s legendary beauty, Hainan is China’s smallest, southernmost and newest province, boasting lush tropical forests, hot springs and gorgeous beaches. Part of Guangdong until it became a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1988, Hainan province officially encompasses the isle of Hainan and the South China Sea archipelagos of Nansha, Xisha and Zhongsha-although China’s claims on all but Hainan are hotly disputed by a host of neighbors. But why bother with these reef bed islands when you have Hainan, which boasts some 1500 km of glittering beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. The city of Sanya – so far south that it is know as the “end of the Earth” – attracts countless Chinese tourists with its’ promise of sandy bliss.

While most of Hainan’s residents are Han Chinese, the island is home to three other large minority groups, the Li, Hui, and Miao. Many Li continue to live in the thatch-roofed, mud-walled cottages that dot the highlands around Tongza. With such diverse cultures and natural splendour, it’s no wonder why some people call Hainan Island a paradise.

Breezy, balmy Haikou is the unofficial gateway to Hainan [and the capital city]. Haikou’s recent claim to fame is as the home of the Chinese air base that hosted a US spy plan for several months in 2001, after it collided with a Chinese jet fighter near it’s coast, killing the Chinese pilot, and emergency landed there. For a while, the incident made Haikou and Hainan the focus of international politics as the US government negotiated with the Chinese to release the plane and it’s flight crew.

Sanya is known as the “Hawaii of the Orient” and the moniker is appropriate. Fringed by kilometre after kilometre of sublime white sand that fades into crystal-clear turquoise ocean, the city is a top tourist destination year-round. All the trappings of resort living are here: golf courses, tennis courts, saunas, and swimming pools, not to mention scuba diving, deep sea fishing, windsurfing and parasailing. Try hard enough, though, and you can escape – or ignore – the sun-seeking crowds and enjoy poor man’s pleasures like swimming and street side seafood. Sanya just might be the perfect place to dig your toes into some toasty white sand, lie back and enjoy the sun.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

After three weeks of Winter Intensive courses, the school was treating us to an all-expense paid vacation. This included English teachers, administrative staff and course consultants. We wanted to go to the island of Hainan because it was currently the hottest spot weather-wise in China and we had to stay inside it’s borders. Travelling to Hainan would mean airfare and that was just a little too expensive for the school to absorb. We offered to pay for that part which was 750 yuan ($125 CDN). Everything else would be paid for………hotel rooms, three meals a day, transportation and admission to various sights. There were a few optional sights that would be extra.

Sunday was a hectic day of getting packed and ready for our trip. Swim suits, shorts, sandals………what else will I need? There was no suntan lotion to be found in Changsha. I was hoping to find some in Hainan but never did. Not once did I see a person on the beach putting on sunscreen. Weird! North Americans are obsessed with their SPF number and rightly so I might add. (My sister has had three spots of skin cancer removed in the last year.) The only “protection” I saw was a few older women using umbrellas in the sun.

We met at the school at 6:30 pm and left shortly after for the Changsha International Airport which is about a 45 minute drive. The travel agency had provided us with carry-all bags and red baseball hats. (Which no one wore.) The Chinese staff turned up with only their carry-all bags for a 4 day trip and the teachers showed up with regular sized suitcases full to the brim AND our carryall bags AND large purses! We do know how to ‘be prepared’ as the Girl Guides say. The bus had a small luggage compartment so we loaded up the aisle with our “excess” luggage. You’d think we were going for a month!

We flew via China Southern airlines, which is the same airline that I flew with 3 months ago (to the day!) from Beijing to Changsha. So I was familiar with them and knew it would not be some Mickey Mouse type of outfit. You never know with Charter flights!

We were flying to Sanya, Hainan which is located on the southern coast of the island. The flight left on time at 8:20 and lasted an hour and 40 minutes. We were all seated together and gabbed all the way anticipating our arrival to warmer weather. There was no meal or snack or movie – no time on such a short flight was our guess.

Our tour guide met us at the Huanghua International Airport and we jumped on the bus that would be our “home away from home” for the next four days. We travelled through the city of Sanya amidst the palm trees and warm night air. It was wonderful! It looked like Miami or any typical city in Florida -minus the Americans of course.

The City Plaza Hotel was located in a busy downtown area. I enjoyed the pleasure of having a room to myself. The rooms were clean and comfortable. There were packets of “bubble bath foam” in the bathroom………..but no bathtub………was that just to tease me? We have a saying for things like that: TIC (This is China!) After a quick unpacking (because we were staying there 3 nights) we wandered the streets looking for food.

It was late Sunday night and things were quiet. We found a sidewalk stall that cooked up skewers of goat meat, cuttlefish and a few other things I didn’t recognize. Although others tried it, Marrie and I opted for a plate of fried rice and egg. What? No red, hot chilli peppers? We were used to the oily, hot, spicy food of Hunan. This was a welcome change. You could eat it right away without having to pick out the red bits with your chopsticks. It was very tasty and salty. I miss salt. It would fill the gap until breakfast the next morning. Little did we know that would be one of the best dishes we ate over the next few days.

The phone rang at 7 am………”It’s time to get up” said the recorded Chinese voice in English. After a quick shower I threw on capri pants and t-shirt. We headed down to the dining room for breakfast. I took one look at the breakfast buffet which consisted of plain cooked noodles, white sticky rice, steamed dumplings and a broth soup – typical Chinese breakfast. My stomach turned and I headed out to the nearest convenience store to find something worth eating! I settled for what looked like cake but turned out to be greasy, fried bread in a cellophane wrapper. I took one bite and threw it out. Thank goodness I had packed some packets of coffee that I had made in my room earlier. You only get tea for breakfast in China. So off we went on the bus after the Chinese people had finished eating. From that point forward none of the English teachers joined them for breakfast. We went on a mission each evening to find muffins or bread or something resembling breakfast as we know it. And we filled the gaps with various snacks of candy and fruit during the day.

We soon realized that our two tour guides (I never did get to know their names), did not speak a word of English. This was not going to be good……….we had to rely on the interpretations of our Chinese staff from school. Experience had told us, it was not always accurate! Hmmm………..we had no idea where we were headed or what was in store for us that day.

We rode through city the admiring the scenery. The clean streets and clean air were a welcome change from Changsha. It lived up to it’s nickname of the Oriental Hawaii. We passed the building where the Miss World pageant had been held in 2004. The sign was in English so we put two and two together along with the information I had read in my Let’s Go travel book.

After an hour drive through the countryside passing rice paddies and fields of soybeans, we arrived at the foot of a mountain. The road leading into the area was lined with stalls selling what I thought were giant fireworks. These turned out be huge iincense sticks that people bought to light and burn at the Buddhist monastery on the mountain tour. There was some confusion over whether or not “wagourens” (us=foreigners) would be allowed inside the monastery. It cost 138 yuan to go up the mountain and no one could tell us what else was up there……….so we opted to wait and browse the many stalls selling souvenirs and perhaps find something to eat. We were told that lunch was next on the agenda.

I bought a whole watermelon that was cut into pieces and we all shared it. I get teased about putting salt on my watermelon but lo and behold the vendor had salt! We watched a man making homemade noodles and shared a plate to tide us over.

I bought a small turtle paperweight and new purse. (The zipper broke at the airport on the way home – you get what you pay for as the old adage says – but it served it’s purpose for the few days. I can bring it home to Canada where I don’t worry about it being zipped all the time. In fact I never zipped my purse shut until I came to China. If you don’t people will approach you on the street and tell you to close it in case of pickpockets. I had this happen twice in my first week!)

Normally the wait would be boring but sitting in the shade of a canopied food stall, chatting and playing with the kids in the warm air was a welcome change to the cold and damp. And people-watching became an enjoyable past-time. This lady was selling Chinese newspapers to tourists – but only those who looked like they could read it – thus she never approached us.

Our bus trip continued to the next stop – lunch! We travelled for about half and hour and pulled into a restaurant. Our first lunch was really good: oysters in the shell, fish, roasted duck and the mainstays of rice, bean sprouts, rice noodles, tofu, sticky rice, cabbage and the infamous “seaweed” soup. Little did we know that it would be downhill from there on and lunch would be minus the oysters and roasted duck.

Let me tell you a little about the Chinese tour groups. It seemed the whole island was on the same schedule. Busloads travel from sight to sight and meet at the same restaurants for lunch and dinner. These restaurants were solely for the tour groups. People were herded in and fed then left on their bus for the next stop. We did not pay for the food but after a few days of the ‘same old thing’ it got very boring. We did not realize you could buy beer………..obviously some people already knew that………by the pile of empties I saw on my way back to the bus.

Each time we got back on the bus we asked the Chinese where we were going next. You couldn’t venture as far as “What are we doing today?” in the morning as it never turned out to be what they said or in that order. So we did it one step at a time.

Next stop – Sea world. Hmmmm……..not Sea World as compared to Florida’s or Niagara Falls. Two men dragged two large turtles out of a pool. One sat on his and hounded people to do it for a price and a photo. We saw a parrot riding a bicycle on a tightrope then fly into the audience to take money out of people’s hands. Hmm…….ok, what’s next? We walked through the park to the water and were put on a boat…….to where? The boat pulled out of the dock, went down the beach and pulled in…….there was no dock there…………what were we supposed to be looking at? Then it backed out, headed out to sea………around some large rocks…….back to the beach area with no dock……….then back to the docking area. OH!
Those rocks were the “Southernmost part of China!” This “lost in translation” feeling was getting to be too much. Touts on the beach hounded us to buy shells and pieces of coral they had collected. Get me back on the bus, quick!

As we headed to our next stop we were told we were going to the beach. We could swim if we wanted…………….what? Swim? We didn’t bring out bathing suits! Are you kidding? Why didn’t someone tell us this? We were not prepared. This was the place where you could snorkel, scuba dive, swim, parasail…………….and here we were not prepared. How long are we staying here? Three hours?

We made the best of it……….walked in the water…………and got wet in spite of rolled up pant legs………and what else is there to do but EAT! Wonderful BBQ’d chicken on a skewer, sausages and ice cream! Marrie and I posed on the beach with our course consultant, Michelle. Chinese people love to pose for photos and almost always do the "V" sign. Why? I don't know!

Wayne, Cathy and Nancy went scuba diving. Kim went parasailing and the rest of us gathered on the beach to wait. The sun was going down when the divers finally returned. We watched the beach start to close up for the day. The pleasure boats were driven at high speeds onto the sand and then 20-30 men hauled them up further so they would not drift out during the night. They were like a chain gang and yelled: yi, r, san (1,2,3) before each push.

We arrived at our hotel in time to clean up for dinner and have a couple glasses of beer which we purchased at the corner store. Dinner consisted of………you guessed it……..noodles, rice, seaweed soup, tofu and cabbage.

Kim, Heather, Bella, Marrie and I went for a walk after dinner looking for a bar. We just wanted to sit and relax and have a drink. We never found one………..instead we wandered through a supermarket, a pharmacy type store (where I purchased two boxes of Ampicillin tablets for future use……if need be……..) and a “Coconut” store which gave out free samples of coconut milk, coconut coffee and coconut tea. We bought some of everything to bring home……except the tea. After our wandering tour we headed back to the hotel. Seems my room would be the gathering place for the next three days. I kept the door open unless I was “ indisposed” and everyone wandered in and out…….drank beer or coconut coffee……laughed about our escapades of the day……..gave each other back massages……..and decided our plan of attack for the next day.

(The Chinese people were in their rooms washing their clothes in the bathroom sink……that’s how they can travel so light…………I don’t do laundry on vacation.)

We opted to sleep in the next morning and skip the tour of a park. We wanted to do some serious shopping. The Chinese would go to the park, come back for us at noon and we would go shopping for the afternoon. That was the plan……………

When everyone left, I flipped through the tv channels…… English………so I read until I fell asleep………..hoping I would be better prepared for the adventures of the next day.

Posted by Janice on March 3, 2005 10:19 AM
Category: Hainan - Day 1


Posted by: Lisa on March 4, 2005 10:23 PM

Happy to have a new entry. FYI....check your pictures, the one that says Chinese "men" is a woman, also the noodle one shows a tree....could be few others that are mixed up!

Also the "v" sign means peace....I assume it does in Chinese also? And why is Michelle wearing a turtleneck?

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: LISA on March 4, 2005 10:25 PM

Japanese ppl always do the V-sign to. I don't understand either.
Glad you got another entry up! FYI A couple of those pictures are absolutely huge though... (men wearing pjs (cute kid!) and noodles).

Posted by: Liz on March 4, 2005 11:17 PM

Lisa: Thanks, I changed the pics.

Posted by: Janice on March 5, 2005 07:54 AM

Be thankful you got away from the daily grind! Did you get to have a hot shower atleast? I figured you would have mentioned that one. Also, the "fish" for supper picture, those little black things look like flies!

Posted by: Renate on March 8, 2005 05:23 AM

Renate: Does it sound like I'm complaining? We did have a great time and enjoyed the warm weather. We laughed through all the misunderstandings and "went with the flow." The black things on the fish are some kind of spice.

Posted by: Janice on March 8, 2005 10:09 AM
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