Excursing the seascape


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August 24th 2013
Published: August 24th 2013
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Elaine, Welcome to HainanElaine, Welcome to HainanElaine, Welcome to Hainan

Yalong Bay, near Sanya
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…..you can rely on the Chinese to introduce words into English that were previously lacking, like the “excursing” in the title, from a shopfront on Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, in Fujian province. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This short account covers the whole 2 months of the summer break, the Summer Camp at the school, a visit to see a now pregnant Miss Piggy, a trip to tropical Hainan island & another to Xiamen. I return to Yangzhou to find the incredible illuminated roof on the nearby Canal City Convention Centre increasingly problematic for its designers as more of the 3,000 to 4,000 lights on the roof malfunction & now look ironically, like camouflage markings, on a building which, when lit up, must be visible from Mars.....

…..with misgivings I agree, despite a lack of ANY details, to teach at the Middle School Summer Camp, with the proviso that I don't teach the zoo that was last year's Grade 6 again! What happens? That's what I get, plus timetables with classes that don't exist, or wrong entries or... Get me out of here! I manage to transfer to the Elementary school camp,
Summer CampSummer CampSummer Camp

My Class
not actually much better organised & I have to be there from the 8am morning meeting until around 8pm, with breaks for lunch & dinner. I only have to teach about 2 or 3 hours a day but just being there with the kids in this humidity & heat is pretty wearing. It's the start of one of China's longest heatwaves, mid 30's most days, sometimes closer to 40C. It's never lower than 24C minimum at night & often over 30C at midnight. Oh well, the kids have a good time & it's almost a month's pay for 2 week's work.....

…..Smartphone … huh! Forget it. Suddenly my phone is out of credit. More than ¥100, about $16, which normally lasts 2 or 3 months, has disappeared. Although I can explain the problem to China Mobile my Chinese is not up to understanding the finer points of the answer. I enlist a Chinese friend to help out. Now I don't use the phone for the internet, nor playing online games, nor watch streaming videos. I generally don't even use it for QQ messaging. It turns out that a couple of photos sent & received with SMS messages, along with
Summer Camp, Phoenix IslandSummer Camp, Phoenix IslandSummer Camp, Phoenix Island

Excursion to a pretty dodgy amusement park
a short excursion onto the net to check my e-mail, really just to check that the system would work if I needed it, was enough! Disable it! I don't need it at that price. So much for moving into the 21st century. I'm sure there must be cheaper options available but, even in Australia, trying to make sense of phone plans is too much effort. Trying to do it in Chinese, no! I can still use wi-fi if I need to & when it's available.....

…..hot nights. Local families without air-con roll out their bamboo mats & play cards or sleep on the Wenchang Bridge footpath. Some stay for the night. The great thing about China is they feel perfectly safe enough to do it. I have a bamboo mat on my bed now, no covers & the fan going all night.....

…..on a card from one of my departing Summer Camp students; "You English is very good. But the Chinese is not good. I hope you Chinese up and up".....

…..a QQ message to Miss Piggy, I arrange to go on the weekend before I go to Hainan. Then a call on Wednesday. “Do you have time tomorrow & Friday?” “Er, no, I have to finish an online assignment, Why?” “My boss change my work, tell me work Saturday and Sunday!” “I'll have to visit when I get back from Hainan”, I reply. Miss Piggy, (in a sad voice), “OK” Saturday morning 8am. A phone call from Miss Piggy. “You have free time today?” “Er, well, I, er...” She says, “I go to my work. All closed. No people work”. So, it's not only my school that operates on random, uncommunicated decisions. Reassuring...? Not really.....

….I buy a ticket & go to Taizhou on Saturday afternoon. She picks me up from the bus station in her new car & takes me to the new apartment where she & her new husband live. He's away working in the north for a couple of months. Her in-laws are living there too at the moment, mum, dad & grandma. They look after me pretty well until Sunday afternoon but really, at 5 months pregnant she's understandably tired, it's too hot to go anywhere & the in-laws don't understand all of my Chinese & vice versa. It may be better to return in cooler weather.....

…..Beijing to Guangzhou.
Century Bridge, Haikou, HainanCentury Bridge, Haikou, HainanCentury Bridge, Haikou, Hainan

Impressive by day or night
8 trains per day including 3 Gaotie 300km/hr trains which will cover the 2,100km in about 8 hours. That's Adelaide to Brisbane, a bit more than New York to Miami by road, or London to Minsk. I spend the night over the river in Zhenjiang so I can catch the fast train, (200km/hr), 3 & a half hours to Wuhan, where I marvel at the colossal new railway station, which looks as though it could swallow the international airport terminal in Adelaide, for an hour until I catch the train to Guangzhou, another 4 & a half hours. Ha! The slow, overnight train to Haikou in Hainan takes 11 hours for the remaining 600km. How do they get it across the 29km straight to Hainan island? They load the train onto the ferry & sail across. It was cheaper than building a tunnel.....

…..Elaine, our good friend who is studying at Yangzhou university, has been keen to show off her home & has enlisted her uncle to drive to Haikou station to meet me, along with a friend. They've organised a hotel for me, pretty swish but her mum works for the government & knows people. Haikou is OK
Huo Shan Cun, Haikou, HainanHuo Shan Cun, Haikou, HainanHuo Shan Cun, Haikou, Hainan

Local resident near the volcanic village
but Hainan is known for the beaches further south, mainly the city of Sanya on the southern tip of Hainan.....

…..in between catching up with her friends in Haikou. Elaine has time to show me around a few places, including a park centred around an extinct & overgrown volcano with a nearby abandoned village constructed from the volcanic rock & a series of volcanic caves. The overenthusiatic guide waves his largely unnecessary burning torch, (the caves are not very long), at EXACTLY the best position to photograph the view at EVERY corner.....

…..we roll back to Haikou for dinner with Elaine's mum which, in true Chinese fashion, she insists on paying for. She understandably wants to check this unknown foreigner.To her credit while being very protective of her 21 year old offspring she is confident enough in her independent but very mature & sensible daughter to let her be my guide in Hainan. Elaine tells me it's on condition she takes another friend with her. No problems, as far as I'm concerned.....

…..Shu Shu, (uncle), Elaine & her best friend, Wen Zi Lin drive me down to Bo'ao on the east coast of Hainan. They point out
Baohong Hotel, Sanya, HainanBaohong Hotel, Sanya, HainanBaohong Hotel, Sanya, Hainan

Normally out of my price range but, thanks to Elaine's mum...
that it has become a well known centre since Aussie Prime Minister Bob Hawke suggested it as a centre for the Asia Forum. Her mum, (again), has organised a pretty expensive looking self-contained 2 bedroom apartment at a resort, again at a bargain price, ¥400 a night, (about $60). It's a pretty little town, under extensive development but with dozens of little restaurants & seaside bars. Elaine's a great proponent of Hainan & is keen to show me the local food. The girls sleep late the next day so I creep out of my room at about 5am & make an attempt to catch the sunrise on a hired bike & pedal slowly along the seafront. By afternoon it's time to catch the train to Sanya.....

…..the fast train only takes 40 minutes to reach Sanya, a small city for China, under 1,000,000 people but exclusively concentrated on holiday developments, resorts & hotels under construction everywhere. Beachside bars, restaurants, amusements, everything signed in Chinese, English & … Russian, as more & more Russians discover that this part of China is a relatively cheap option for a tropical holiday.....

…..this is the off season as it's too hot & humid for the bulk of people to visit the tropics in the middle of summer. Still, as you'll see from the pictures, the beaches are pretty full by Australian standards. Nice beaches though, the only ones I've seen in China. I can only imagine what the place must be like in the high season, which coincides with the tail end of winter & China's New Year Holiday. Standing room only.....

…..the Baohong hotel is another result of mum using her guanxi, (connections), to get 2 rooms in a 5 star hotel for less than ¥400 a night. My room is on the 9th floor. No view of the sea though, that's blocked by the skyscraper holiday apartment blocks to the south.....

…..it's too hot to wander round the huge park at Yalong bay but, with the aid of the shuttle buses found in all large Chinese parks we try to avoid the megaphone wielding tour guides & their accompanying herds of tourists & sweat our way around for some amazing views higher up, including from a rope bridge made famous, (in China), in a movie, “If you are the one”. Wen Zi Lin is a timid girl &
SunshineSunshineSunshine

at a Temple, Xiamen, Fujian
not keen to cross but, although we couldn't persuade her to take a ride on a jet ski she made it across. Well done Zi Lin!.....

…..back to Haikou where Elaine's dad meets us at the station & drives us to dinner. He's an immediately likeable man &, once Elaine tells him to slow down, I manage with her help, to converse with him pretty well. I negotiate with him to pay for dinner as a “thank you” for all the family's help & goodwill on the trip. He reluctantly agrees, her mum however will not have a bar of it & scoots off to pay before I get a chance! Ah, China. They even tell Elaine off for letting me pay for her rooms during the trip but really, it's the only way I can make some attempt to be fair.....

.....I would have stayed longer but I need to get back to Yangzhou to catch up on my 2nd semester studies & do an online linguistics test before going to Xiamen. I got 80%!i(MISSING)n the test, not as good as I would have liked but some areas of linguistics seem a bit airy-fairy after a
Seafood, Gulangyu, Xiamen, FujianSeafood, Gulangyu, Xiamen, FujianSeafood, Gulangyu, Xiamen, Fujian

Shellfish, rice and garlic, (lots)...hmmm.
lifetime in engineering.....

…..I have heard good things about Xiamen. We have a friend from Yangzhou, Sunshine, who used to occasionally sing with me, lives there now & has been asking us to visit. My Californian colleague, Mike, is hoping to make it but gets sidetracked into a tour to Guilin with the family of one of his private students. Xiamen's on the east coast, in Fujian Province. It doesn't look that far on the map but the fast, “D” train takes 11 hours from Zhenjiang, 8.30am 'til about 7.30pm. It's comfortable, air conditioned, plenty of leg room & I can read, study or just watch the countryside & the mountains in Fujian, which is a welcome change from city views.....

…..from Xiamen North station, yet another huge, new infrastructure addition, (see photos), take the BRT, a fast-transit bus system where, instead of using the Australian method of reserving a couple of lanes only for buses during peak hours, a road is constructed 10m up in the air on concrete pylons. Very impressive but still too many people on it to get a seat.....

…..Sunshine meets me & takes me to a hotel she has organised for me only a few minutes walk from where she lives. She's a lovely girl, very independent, living quietly & teaching art to kindergarden kids after breaking up with her Turkish boyfriend in Yangzhou. A Turkish Muslim, who doesn't like China or Chinese food & doesn't want to let his girlfriend out of his sight is not an ideal match for a self-willed Chinese girl who recently spent a month travelling by herself in Tibet.....

…..Xiamen is a cool place, apart from the hot, humid weather! Mid 30's, really humid, I get used to walking round in wet clothes all day & drinking litres of water. It's clean & modern, some interesting new & old buildings, outside cafes & restaurants, a real seaside option to Hainan in the winter. I catch up with Paul, the Filipino keyboard player who now works with a seafront band in Xiamen. He's really pleased I made it.....

…..the elevated roads that don't just run along the seashore but swoop out over the sea look like some of the posters we used to see when I was a kid, of what life would look like in the 21st century! Then there's Gulangyu Dao, an island a few minutes by ferry off the main island of Xiamen city. It's a car free tourist zone full of strangely colonial European style buildings, a million restaurants, craft stalls & art studios. However when we go to get tickets on Sunday afternoon there's a huge queue. They helpfully display an electronic board which tells us that the comfortable tourist population on Gulangyu is 25,000 but currently stands at 50,000! I decide to go the next day while Sunshine is at work so she takes me to a warren of old lanes & shops where I manage to snap THAT photo of the girl with attitude in THAT T-shirt.....

…..Gulangyu is great. Plenty of shade, still too hot, with some novel crafts I hadn't seen before, including black tiles from which the surface is chipped & scraped to produce images taken from photos, paintings or, I guess, the artist's imagination. I discover it's Sunshine's 25th birthday a couple of days after I leave so I buy her one of the tiles as a gift. They offer to write her name on the back. I write out, “To Sunshine”, they copy it by sticking the paper on the back
T-Shirt_Life is Short, Xiamen, FujianT-Shirt_Life is Short, Xiamen, FujianT-Shirt_Life is Short, Xiamen, Fujian

Now tell us what you really think...
& chipping through to give a facsimile of my writing!.....

…..there is every variety of seafood you could name, & many more that I certainly am not able to, including something that looks like one of those trilobites that I thought were extinct about 200 million years ago! Some of it looks better than it tastes, including my ¥50 seafood served in a huge shell, which was way too garlicky, (sorry, is that a word? Well, it is now). Even on a Monday it's still pretty crowded but, this is China......

…..a couple of great dinners with Sunshine after she's finished work including a fantastic dish involving thinly sliced potatoes, lotus roots &, (sorry, can my sister please skip the next word), frog, we have eaten so much we have to go our separate ways & retire early!.....

…..I make a new friend as I'm wandering round the Botanic gardens on my last day, Zhou Guo Fei, a fella from Hunan visiting Xiamen. Despite my poor Chinese we strike up a conversation & he is really happy to try out my telephoto lens on his camera.....

…..apart from the long train trips Mike is envious. His
Wen Zi Lin and ElaineWen Zi Lin and ElaineWen Zi Lin and Elaine

Yalong Bay, Hainan
trip with his student's family was a Chinese style tour, highly structured, herded along, ushered round in large, loud groups with no real time to relax & take in the ambience. The family was so attentive it was driving him crazy. Maybe I don't see as much but it's a small price to pay for not having to walk behind someone with a chainsaw voice & a megaphone all day!.....

…..finally got knocked off the bike today by a bloody idiot on an old trike, hogging the wrong side of the bike lane. I waited for a while but of course he waited until I was going past before, without warning, of course, decided to change direction. The huge, overhanging load of cardboard caught me & I came off. Grazes, bruised side & a tyre mark on my back as someone didn't quite stop behind me. How do you leave the 10m clearance these dumb, inattentive, inconsiderate morons need when the bike lane is only 5m wide?.....


Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


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Portrait Studio, Gulangyu, Xiamen, FujianPortrait Studio, Gulangyu, Xiamen, Fujian
Portrait Studio, Gulangyu, Xiamen, Fujian

One of many. Y300 ($50), for a portrait.
Sunshine with that Frog DishSunshine with that Frog Dish
Sunshine with that Frog Dish

One of the great dishes.
New friends, Zhou Guo Fei and DaveNew friends, Zhou Guo Fei and Dave
New friends, Zhou Guo Fei and Dave

Botanic Garden, Xiamen, Fujian


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