Going to the beach is not exactly a lesson in cultural identity and intercultural issues – except that, as the summer of 2016 came around, with the burkini ban in France, beachwear did show its political, cross-cultural side.
While this debate was raging, we went to the beach in Haikou, Hainan.
This being China, things were a bit different from what one might expect, here, too.
Haikou, Binhai Beach
One, we first went to Binhai Beach – but only for night walks in the sand. After all, who’d want to get burnt by the hot days’ sun?
Haikou, Binhai Beach Walk
People do also come here during the day to paddle in the water a bit, but it’s nothing like the international tourist behavior one finds on beaches with lots of, well, international tourists (which one could already find in Sanya, on the Southern coast of Hainan).
Then, we also got invited (by relatives) to go stay by the beach, in the Hilton Haikou Meilan.
Supposedly five-star, apparently expensive, it is a palace by the sea in an area that seems to be getting newly built up – and remaining old and pre-modern, and falling to pieces, all at the same time.
(I say “supposedly five-star” because the rooms were not quite as clean and well-managed as a 5-star hotel’s rooms should be. The breakfast buffet was good though – in our opinion. The others had to complain that it didn’t have everything they thought there should have been…)
Haikou (Xinbu) Beach, Early Morning
Hardly anyone is visiting the beach there, either, and even the hotel pools were hardly being used.
It was still, if not all the more, interesting to be the one person who went out on the beach in the morning to go for a run there:
Haikou (Xinbu) Beach Running
Haikou (Xinbu) Beach, Fishermen, Tourist, Photographer
China’s tropical island paradise, Hainan, may easily be one of the most interesting places for getting to know the craziness that is China.
Especially if you look at it with an awareness of Chinese history, it is quite paradoxical – and all the more interesting for it.
Hainan, after all, used to be one of the places where people who had fallen out of the imperial court’s favor were sent into exile; Sanya’s coast was considered the end of the world.
Su Shi (Su Dongpo), one of China’s great poets and polymaths, for example, ended up here.
He is memorialized in (the area of/beside, to be exact) the Wugong Ci, the Five Officials’ Temple/Memorial in Haikou.
There, among other things, he is shown as this exile who still did great things even in this backwater hellhole of a place, introducing the poor backwards islanders to agriculture and learning of a higher kind.
Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple
Islanders who otherwise collected tropical fruits, for example. Of which Hainan still offers a lot of kinds and for which, certainly with my wife and me, it is now one of the favorite holiday destinations … and by the example of which, in my opinion, one can learn quite a bit about this our world, i.e. do some at-home-making:
Where there are fruits, there are markets.
Even as malls and entire cities seem to be getting ever more the same no matter where you are, at least with all the same global brands advertising their wares, local markets still have some ‘color’ reflecting their location.
In China, and in a place such as Haikou, particularly so…
But then, even as Haikou is much less popular a beach vacation destination than Sanya on the opposite, Southern coast of Hainan, there are also beaches.
This being China, you may visit them very differently from how other people do if you go with Chinese and like a local… and with a “real” visit to the beach (in more Western terms) being different yet again. See more on that here.
Finally, of course, with the rising popularity, the usual Chinese housing boom has come.
In my travels, this was a chance both to see how locals proudly present their latest property purchase to relatives – and a chance to just have some fun with photography. See more here.