Hainan is not what most people think about when they think of China: tropical beaches, clean air, massive parks and people not spitting loogies. Earlier this month, I went on a visa run to Haikou, the capital of the island province of Hainan, and other than the dreary government offices in which I spent most of my time, it resembled nothing of mainland China.
The lifestyle is more relaxed, and the people are much more diverse. I overheard conversations in more languages than I could count. People slept all afternoon on any surface they could find under shade. The chill atmosphere disappeared on the streets and sidewalks however, where motorbikes dominate (literally) all other modes of transportation. There are massive waves of loud, aggressive motorbike drivers on every surface that can support a bike. They are at the top of the transportation food chain, and they stop for nothing.
The parks were a pleasant surprise. I visited two massive parks in the downtown area that are built on a scale I’d never imagine seeing inside a city. The parks have full amusement parks built in, fitness equipment, running paths, man-made lakes (with rowboats and bumper boats!), legions of vendor shops, picnic groves, festival-size performance stages, and enough open green space to land a space shuttle. Despite all this, I saw maybe 10 people in each park, not counting the 200+ employees doing security, performing maintenance, selling food to the masses of people who never came and operating the rides that nobody was riding. It was beautiful and eerie.
The beaches were a more Chinese affair. Skinny alpha males horsing around in the water, showing off to the tittering, head-to-foot-covered females watching from the water’s edge. In the evening, they filled with people watching the sunset and occasionally letting off lanterns into the sky. The crowds dispersed about 10:30 to eat barbecue and drink beer at one of the thousands of BBQ stands that pop up in almost every parking lot around the city after dark. Not a bad way to end the day.
I had a free weekend, so Lian and I hit the road to the Bamboo Sea, outside of Yibin, about five hours by bus outside of Chengdu. If it looks familiar, they shot some scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon here. The place felt a lot like the hiking trails in the Cascade foothills outside of Seattle, only with bamboo instead of pines and firs.
There were some dramatic cliffside vistas, and a few of the cliffs had trails and temples carved into them. It was good to get far out of the city for some activity.
Last Sunday seemed like a good day to get out of town, so I hopped a bus to Luodai, one of the dozen or so “ancient towns” just outside of Chengdu. They’re basically tourist traps for Chinese looking to get out of the city, and they’re all pretty much the same: A long street built to look as it would have looked 400 years ago. These streets always consist of nothing but shops selling identical merchandise to all the other shops, and restaurants with the same food. The storefront architecture and decor is required to mimic the ancient theme, but apparently Dico’s got a conspicuous exemption.
What makes Luodai a little different is that it’s the Sichuan base of the Hakka (migrant) people, so there was a cool museum that was pretty much deserted except for myself since the Chinese stayed pretty much exclusively on the tourist street. There was also a similarly deserted temple and monastery that were absolutely tranquil. I’d heard there was an uphill hiking trail just outside the city, so I went to find that. Since there’s no gondola to the top, I was right in assuming I’d have the entire trail to myself after the first 200 meters. You can see that being only 40 minutes from Chengdu, you can’t escape the smog, but as you get to the top of the hill, you can pretend it’s fog or mist.
"Why be a king when you can be a god?"
Quite ambitious, coming from a mid-range high school in a backward province in a relatively-impoverished country. Shoot for the stars, I guess.
I spent a day in the suburbs with the Li family and we came across an abandoned church inside a luxury housing compound. It was a great space with an industrial feel. We went up in the belltower and down through the basement exploring. An afternoon well spent.
In the medical world, that’s what they call a fractured fifth metacarpal in my right hand, but I just call it 4-6 weeks of casted, slinged misery.
Poor dog. Probably doesn’t even know he’s explosive.
The fat guys are rolling up their shirts, and that can mean only one thing: Summer has arrived in Chengdu!
Thanks for the 偷拍, Lauren.
I found out today that one of my favorite students cuts herself. Where did she learn that? Maybe I was naive to think that that kind of depression and adolescent helplessness were limited to the United States, or at least Western countries.
I wish we shared enough of a common language for me try to verbally bitch-slap her into reality, but that probably misses the point completely. Rough day.