Tourism is a booming industry, but in terms of the #GetAtHome intention of making oneself really at home in this world, it is a very odd one:
Tourist trips, rushing to see everything, can only ever scratch the surface.
Staying at home tends to breed only boredom and not deeper engagement, though.
In between, there lies the idea of going somewhere to live there like, or at least see it like, a local.
What is China like for a Chinese, nowadays, on vacation but not entirely?
Having relatives who live in Haikou, the in-laws having just recently bought an apartment there themselves, our week on Hainan was “live like a local” to a t.
Living like a Chinese local (without a need to work…) in a place like Haikou is a very odd thing to do and experience, though.
Frankly, a lot of it involves nothing more than lounging around lazily in the heat.
Moving only when it is time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Having almost too much of the tropical fruit that one can get, if not always cheaply, at least fresh and ripe.
Venturing out only by car, to places to eat and hardly ever to see anything.
Going out for a walk, preferably, only after sunset when the heat is less intense.
That last is how we even went to the beach…
Hainan, China’s Hawaii, Tropical Beach Paradise
Haikou is not the most popular place for the beach, that would be Sanya on the other, southern, side of the island. But, it is trying to be more touristy and it does have some beaches to offer, especially along Binhai Avenue.
We did go there, too.
Once, and only at night.
Most Chinese wouldn’t go out with the ridiculous “facekini” Western media are so fond of showing, after all.
Instead, if you don’t want to get sunburnt and dark like a, well, less-classy person, you only go for a stroll at the beach at night. You can still enjoy the sand under your toes, the waves lapping against your feet, and you get the comfortable sea air and breeze…
You can also see rats scurrying along the paths, looking for scraps left from those people who do come during the day, but let’s not focus there.
There is also a promenade and park more central to the city, and we went there another night. The singing and dancing show that was being put on was too much even for the Chinese relatives. Maybe it wasn’t even all that exciting for the performers, going by the texting that was going on backstage…
The scenery was something to think about, yet again, though.
People out for a stroll, people going for a jog, people using the near-ubiquitous “adult playground” equipment for physical exercise… It is all quite a mixture of somewhat traditional Chinese concerns and pastimes and more modern, partly even ‘Western’ ones.
And all before the backdrop of high-rise buildings illuminating a skyline vying to rival the waterfronts of Shanghai and Hong Kong. Or so we felt about them.
Hainan, the Backwater, the Food Paradise
Having mentioned food already: Food is a major pastime and concern, on Hainan like anywhere else in China.
It is particularly interesting a case on Hainan just how different some of it is from many other parts of China.
Of course, Hainan being an island in the South China Sea, seafood plays a much greater role. Even just the breakfast noodle soup that would be pork and chile pepper-based in Hunan is seafood-based on Hainan.
What looks like, and is accompanied by, an amusement park on the outskirts of Haikou is, in fact, *the* new place to have seafood. Thousands of people, by the looks of it, descend here to select what they’ll have of fish and shellfish and mussels and shrimp, accompanied with some vegetables – and there is quite an interesting variety even of those – to get it cooked and brought to the table at the adjacent eating areas.
Haikou presents itself as the “Coconut City”, and those too figure prominently.
Green coconuts are easier to get here, for a quick drink, than most places. And the coconut water is good like that, even better for it being a fitting and normal part of the food scene rather than the expensive trend of questionable quality it is becoming in Europe just now.
Where I am not so sure about Hainan is in some of the foods that are typical of the area, after a fashion.
For example, there is a chicken soup made of young coconut flesh and water and chicken, which is sweet and meaty (with, in my opinion, slimy-cooked coconut) and nothing I’d much care about. But, well, I don’t care much about the Hainan chicken rice that is considered the national dish of Singapore (however that went…), either.
Where Hainan is more interesting is in how habanero chile was introduced there somehow, a chile pepper sauce made from that is considered a typical food to bring as present – and indeed, it is not just for the tourists, it can be found served in eateries that are not completely touristy.
We found it that way at the place we went for a lunch of that coconut chicken soup, at least, near the Volcano Geopark.
There, they also had a Tabasco-like chile pepper growing, and quite a selection of tropical fruit trees.
Hainan is also, with a bit of input from neighboring countries and their fruit growing, the Chinese paradise of tropical fruit.
Mangoes, lychee, longyan, star fruit, jackfruit, and probably a plethora of others grow there; what doesn’t grow there or is out of season gets imported fresh. Durian are very popular, too, by the way.
It is amazing if you are a fan of such fruit.
The only problem is that you will never again want to eat most of those fruits in ‘the West’ as the quality is so much worse there, thanks to the unripe harvest to get it all delivered while it still looks okay (but has never been).
We celebrate that bounty now, but Hainan used to be the place of exile where officials who had fallen into disgrace were sent…
Heroes of Hainan
… and so, let’s get into Hainan trying hard to fit well into overall Chinese history.
I wrote about Su Dongpo (Su Shi) and his interesting life (and banishment to Hainan) before and paid another visit to his and other highly regarded officials’ temple again.
That temple, the Wugong Ci, the Five-Officials Temple, is a memorial to these historical figures who played major roles in the development of this island that ancient Chinese considered the end of the (certainly civilized) world.
Between him/them and my stumbling on a memorial to Hairui, another loyal and non-corrupt official, this time from Hainan itself, there actually was a little something touristy for me to present:
Tourism, Modern Chinese Style
Even more living like a local-touristy little trip was in order, too. A funny one: Again, just like last year, our relatives with rather better jobs and incomes invited us to a Hilton hotel.
Or, to be exact, it was a Doubletree Resort (by Hilton) this time. In Chengmai, to the west of Haikou.
Uncle went there to play golf, but couldn’t, with the lots of rain we’d been having. (Whole books could be written on the topic of golf in China…). He and aunty just like to go on hotel weekends sometimes.
The development there in Chengmai is yet another example of the crazy mixtures now so common in China: A lot of it is pretty modern, including in the way it intends to be an ecological development, to combine modern amenities and concern for health, nature and technology.
Of course, as so common in such developments everywhere, the development part of it all was easy to find. The nature part is much harder: Had I not had a map display on my watch, I would not have known that the mangrove forest nearby was not a fluke, but rather a very-inland part of a bay.
Much of the forest, or any nature, was not left intact anymore; most of it was just remainders of earlier agriculture and, maybe, wilderness. At least there are trees everywhere, but the flamingoes introduced in a mini-zoo-like park to make for yet another attraction shows the Disney-ification that is all too common in modern approaches to nature.
Not just in China. Anywhere.
The mixture of nature and human occupation is also of interest in the next place we went, where it particularly fascinates me: Hong Kong.