Happy Chinese New Year from Hainan!

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March 1st 2015
Published: March 10th 2015
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Becky and I spent our Chinese Spring Festival holiday around Sanya, Hainan Province. Hainan is the largest Chinese island and is located off the coast of northern Vietnam. The Chinese nickname Hainan the “Chinese Hawaii.” I think it’s actually more like the “Chinese Florida” because there are thousands (millions? Hard to say, really!) of retired people (mostly from Dong Bei = China’s Northwest) who spend their winters along the coastline somewhere between Haikou and Sanya. We were actually meeting Becky’s parents in Sanya. They live in Xinjiang Province where temperatures often drop below -20 degrees Celsius so they were delighted to spend a month on the beach. Becky and I only had 12 days off (which is actually a long holiday according to Chinese standards) but it was enough time to visit the area around Sanya, to fully relax, to get a tan and enjoy the exotic fruits and seafood… and anyway 12 days with Becky’s Mom is enough! Chuckle! ;-)

It was my 4th time in Hainan but my first 3 trips were years ago (2004-2008) when Sanya used to be a quiet fishing town… I knew Sanya would be a lot different these days so my expectations were very low. In addition, traveling in China during Spring Festival is never a good idea… It gets crowded everywhere; prices go up, hotels are fully booked, flights are delayed… So I asked Becky to ship our bikes to Sanya in order to have more options if Sanya turned out to be a nightmare.

Yes, most of the old city has been torn down and the brick houses and narrow pedestrian streets have been replaced by tall apartment buildings and supersized shopping malls. The wooden fishing boats that used to cover the Sanya River have given place to pricey yachts. But the beautiful beaches are still there. The water is still crystal clear, turquoise and warm and the sand has remained as fine as ever. We stayed along Sanya Bay, on the western side of town, not far from the airport: 20 km of beach lined up by coconut trees and a picturesque park where we went cycling and jogging almost every day. We loved it!

The best thing about China is that wherever you are there is always something happening: whether it is old people doing tai ji on a public square, peddlers pushing their rolling carts of
Selling Betel nuts in HainanSelling Betel nuts in HainanSelling Betel nuts in Hainan

Locals chew the nut and spit red everywhere on the streets.
smelly tofu or other local snacks on the sidewalk, elderly men playing ping pong or mahjong in the parks, taxi drivers having an argument in the middle of the road and therefore stopping traffic either way… or some guy riding a rickshaw while banging a bowl with a ceramic spoon to attract everyone’s attention to the fact that he’s selling noodles or picking up recyclable items from your homes… China is not a boring country for us foreigners. There is always something to look at, to smell, to hear, to surprise you, to shock you, annoy or gross you out! Well, in Sanya we’d walk downstairs from our flat (5 minutes from the beach) in the middle of a forest of apartment buildings with bamboo scaffolding on most facades and we were walking among trucks of watermelon badly parked on the sidewalk with megaphones on a wicker basket blasting the price of the fruit out… peddlers selling mango, barbecued fish, barbecued octopus, jade necklaces, Appipas sandals (!!), colorful Hawaiian shirts…then we’d reach the park along the beach (we cycled there a lot) and we’d see young couples getting their wedding pictures taken in the most colorful outfits, old men playing the saxophone, gardeners taking a nap under a palm tree with Hainan wicker hats protecting their faces from the sun, a group of people practicing yoga or martial arts (with swords!), entire families wearing Hawaiian-patterned-matching shirts and shorts (priceless!), and of course the fishermen with their long fishing poles and nets… THIS is China: a real spectacle at anytime of the day!

Sanya was crowded. Traffic was very bad; there were a lot of people on the beach but somehow we were always able to cycle away, to walk farther so as to get away from the crowds. I’m very happy we had the bikes. Chinese people are funny: they think that if a place is extremely crowded it must be because it is a good place to be, so people will stick around instead of going farther down the road. So yes, we cycled a bit and found quiet beaches; we sneaked in a couple of fancy hotels and enjoyed absolutely deserted shores. Chinese people don’t like the sun and they are afraid of getting a tan (although things are slowly changing). In China only farmers have a tan… So on the beach women walk under their umbrellas,
Making new friends: Check out their clothes! Matching shirts!Making new friends: Check out their clothes! Matching shirts!Making new friends: Check out their clothes! Matching shirts!

With a family enjoying their Spring Festival Holiday in Hainan, Feb 2015 at TianyaHaijiao
and few men actually change into a swimsuit. They usually stay in the shade. The Chinese walk along the beach, they build sand castles (fully dressed), or if they are wearing their Speedo… they bury themselves in sand but Becky (who is Chinese) and I and a few other Russian tourists were the only ones to actually lie down in our bathing suits and sunbathe on the beach.

We spent a day at Yanoda (it means 1,2,3 in the local dialect), a kind of entertainment/conservation park in the rainforest, 40 km north of Sanya. At first Becky and I felt disgusted by the place. We lined up forever waiting for guides, tickets, electric buses… and we had to wear a smelly helmet and listen to ridiculous guides on safety issues before we reached the river in the middle of the forest. Once there it was Disneyland in the rainforest with silly rope jumps, jumping on top of tires in the water as if we were in the army, and a horde of people everywhere: a nightmare! But somehow we managed to walk away from everyone (did we go too fast? Did we go too slow? I’m not sure) and
Now THIS is a tree!Now THIS is a tree!Now THIS is a tree!

Yanoda, Hainan
the mountain is so huge that we found the 2 of us alone among the jungle and it was wonderful. We were surrounded by big banyan trees, big stones, waterfalls and creepers. It felt so peaceful and reminded me of the mountains in Fujian Province where I used to live. We spent the afternoon hiking around the hills, enjoying the scenery of the rainforest and other manmade beautiful gardens. The village of Yanoda is surrounded by forests and farm land and I think it would be very nice to cycle farther north to Baoting in the future.

We got up early almost every day to cycle to the central market (40 min) to buy fresh sea food that Becky’s Mom would cook for lunch or dinner (She is a good cook!). Chinese market places are so amazing! Lively, colorful, messy… It was a kaleidoscope of colors, boxes, fish tanks, farm products, seafood of all kinds, and people of all sorts! I could have stayed there for hours staring at people cutting up fish, cleaning up their tanks, calling at customers to buy their shrimp and oysters. Once again, the show was on! I’ve been in China for years but I still enjoy the spectacle Chinese streets offer.

Talking of a spectacle, Spring Festival is a very special moment to be visiting China. People decorate their homes with large red scrolls on every side of their doors, delicate paper-cuttings on their windows, and big bright lanterns on their balconies. Kids play with firecrackers all day long that echo from one alley to another until they are replaced by fireworks at night. The last 2 days of the lunar year people rush to market places in the early morning to buy food (at an expensive price) as if they feared New Year’s Eve was the last day on Earth! You gotta fight to buy your fish in the morning! Houses are cleaned up, dumplings are made, bottles of Bai Jiu (rice wine) pile up and every TV in the country is on! Because on New Year’s Eve everyone watches a TV program called the CCTV Gala on the national channel: it’s an institution in China. Famous hosts, singers, actors, comedians, acrobats and even athletes join to perform in front of the whole country. And every year people complain that the show was boring but they keep on watching it year after year! A little before midnight Becky and I hurried to the beach to watch the fireworks all over Sanya Bay. It felt good (and romantic) to start the New Year on the beach!

It was hard to leave Hainan. We felt so relaxed; life was so nice and easy on the beach. We also spent a day with one of my students and her Mom who were also vacationing in Sanya. Spending time with Becky’s family, enjoying a home-made meal on a daily basis (it’s not always the case for us in Beijing), making friends in our neighborhood, getting a routine, we almost felt at home in Sanya. It’s only been a few days but Becky already misses the mango and watermelon. I miss the sun and my afternoon nap under a palm tree! Now that I think about it, Becky hadn’t had such a long holiday (12 days) in a year! (Chinese people work like crazy!). In Sanya I had forgotten about work, about stress and pollution from Beijing… It was snowing when we landed in Beijing. Argh! I shouldn’t complain as we really had a mild winter this year and spring will be here shortly. Where shall we go next?

If you ever go to Hainan and you have any question, feel free to contact me. I think I could give you useful advice on where to stay, and how to get around… Next time we go we’ll bring the bikes again and the tent as it is definitely possible to camp on the beach or along the park by Sanya Bay. Hainan is extremely safe and there are showers and public toilets every kilometer along the beach. The bus system is also very convenient and taxis are still cheap. Some of you might ask if snorkeling or diving is any good there. I think the underwater life around Hainan must be pretty disappointing… but you can taste it ALL at the local market!

Chers Famille et Amis,

Je vous presente tous mes voeux de bonheur pour cette nouvelle annee. Ici en Chine, c’est l’annee de la Chevre (je mangerais bien un peu de Chavroux tout d’un coup!) ou du Mouton… comme bon vous semble! Les personnes nees en 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003sont en principe de caractere amical, juste, poli et compatissant. J’espere donc que les natifs de l’annee de la
Great Holiday!!Great Holiday!!Great Holiday!!

Feb 2015: we'll be back!
Chevre auront une forte influence sur nous tous.

Becky et moi venons de passer 12 jours a Hainan, la grosse ile chinoise au sud du pays, proche du Vietnam. Et nous nous sommes regale de soleil, de plage, de fruits de mer, de fruits exotiques, de merveilleux couchers de soleil et de sport! Nous avions loue un petit appartement pour les parents de Becky (qui habitent a Urumuqi, dans le nord-ouest de la Chine ou il fait -20 en hiver) pendant un mois. On en a donc profite quelques jours et Becky a pu passer du temps avec sa maman… pendant que je me faisais une petite sieste sous les cocotiers!

On aurait dit que tous les retraités du nord de la Chine etaient en vacances a Hainan pendant le Nouvel An Chinois! L’avantage des personnes du 3e age en Chine c’est qu’elles restent toujours ensemble et qu’ils sont a l’aise ou il y a de la foule. Cela veut dire que quand une plage est bondee, tous ces gens qui arrivent a la plage vont aller se coller au milieu des autres car ils pensent que s’il y a autant de monde ici, c’est forcement que c’est
down by the docksdown by the docksdown by the docks

This is Sanya
un bon endroit! Et donc ils n’essaient meme pas d’aller voir plus loin si la plage est plus jolie ou plus agreable… Becky et moi avions les velos (qu’on avait postés depuis Pekin) et nous avons donc pu aisement nous eloigner de la foule pour se la couler douce sur des jolies plages tranquilles. Vous allez voir les photos, Hainan, c’est pas mal! Il y a quelques annees de cela, mes parents etaient venus me rendre visite et après un mois a vagabonder dans les campagnes du sud, nous avions fini a Sanya, Hainan, et on avait tous les 3 adoré!

Bien des choses ont change a Sanya depuis: la vieille ville a plus ou moins ete entierement detruite, comme partout ailleurs en Chine. De grands immeubles et des centres commerciaux ont remplace les petites rues etroites et les marchés. Et biensur le prix de la vie a augmenté. Mais les plages sont toujours aussi belles et le sable toujours aussi fin.

Nous avons passé une journee dans la foret tropicale. Nous avons suivi un cours d’eau dans la jungle et on s’est retrouve au milieu de nulle part, en toute quietude. Le paysage etait superbe et tellement reposant. C’est a refaire.

A l’opposé du bruit des petards et des feux d’artifice en ville qui n’ont cessé d’exploser avant, pendant, et après le Nouvel An Chinois! Que de bruit! Le Nouvel An Chinois est une vraie experience a vivre: les gens se levent tres tot pour decorer leurs maisons de lanternes et de tapisseries rouges autour des portes, puis ils doivent aller au marche pour acheter des produits frais qu’ils passeront la journee a preparer pour le repas du soir. Les enfants innondent la ville de petards et recoltent des envelopes rouges remplies d’argent de poche. Des groupes de musique montent sur un camion et font le tour de la ville en jouant des symbales et du tambour… (le bruit chasse les mauvais esprits). Tout le monde mange en regardant un programme de varieties a la télé diffusé chaque annee et a minuit… chaque famille sort les feux d’artifices.

Il neigeait a Pekin lorsqu’on est rentre… Il fait toujours froid (autour de 0 degres) d’ailleurs en mars, mais grace au vent, nous avons le soleil tous les jours et peu de pollution jusque la. Pourvu que ca dure!

Je vous embrasse fort et vous dis
Sunset timeSunset timeSunset time

Sanya Bay: life is great!
a tres bientot!

Additional photos below
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In Chinese literature, the cape is mentioned in many famous poems, such as "I will follow you to Tian-Ya-Hai-Jiao", which means the couple will never be separated.
Feels great to leave everything behind. Feels great to leave everything behind.
Feels great to leave everything behind.

Becky's parents live in Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, far away from Beijing where we work.

10th March 2015
Beautiful setting at Yanoda

What a scene!
You have such a great attitude toward what might be, for me, massive overload. How great that you were able to enjoy the constant circus and also get out by yourselves on the beaches and mountain! Best wishes for another longish holiday, and Happy New Year!
11th March 2015
Beautiful setting at Yanoda

Happy Year of the Ram, Tara!
It's always nice to hear from you. How have you been? Certain beaches were super crowded in Hainan but I knew they would be. We managed to get away from it all. It was sunny, it was warm, we ate well, we had ice cream and tons of fruit every day, I got to practice my Chinese every day and see Becky finally relax... Life was great in Hainan!
12th March 2015
Happy in Sanya

Sacré Jérémy ! où que tu sois, tu trouves toujours des plages de rêve... et des jolies filles ! ;) merci pour tes nouvelles, c'est toujours un plaisir de te lire, bises de tes cousins d'Auvergne

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