Hanging in Hainan

Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Making of a Vacation: Xmas Camp

With only 10 vacation days for the year any opportunity to earn more days off is a good one. In November, my friend Jun asked if I'd be willing to work Monday-Sunday, including a weekend Xmas camp. I jumped at the idea and earned myself three extra vacation days..woo-hoo! After Helen (Korean girlfriend, for those that don't know) and I searched for the cheapest warm weather vacation package, our trip to Hainan, China was born.

Hainan is the largest Chinese island located south of the mainland. It was famous for being the destination of excommunicated Communist politicians. Now it's famous for being a tropical destination that generates all kinds of tourist dollars for the country.

We left two weeks after finishing the Xmas Camp, which was a smashing success. The kids were wonderful and everyone had a great time singing Xmas songs, making Xmas gifts and learning English.

Departure day was a Saturday. Both Helen and I were working Saturday program at that point, so we headed to the airport after our shift ended at 6 p.m. We grabbed some Korean food before leaving. This was very important for Helen because Chinese food is often too greasy for Koreans. Often, they bring along their own kimchi to combat the grease. Unfortunately, the overpriced Korean airport food upset her stomach before we even boarded the plan to "greaseland."

Her stomach was so upset, in fact, that she got sick on the plane and made good use of the bathroom. When we arrived in China she was feeling better, but not great.

Let the Confusion Begin

My first mistake was agreeing to a Korean package tour. I can understand a bit of Korean, but when surrounded by it, I'm mostly confused and after awhile frustrated. Considering I was the only foreigner with a guide who could not speak English, I was in constant need of translation from Helen . To compound the language barrier the Chinese (at least in Hainan) did not speak very good English. More often than not their Russian or Korean was better than their English. Surprisingly, Russians far outnumbered any other foreign group on the island.

Eventhough I understood the potential hardships, I agreed to it considering the cheap price and nice weather (trips with guides are way cheaper). We arrived at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. The weather was wonderfully hot and humid (it was freezing in Korea at the time). Our group of 11 Koreans and I headed into our van for the hotel. Our guide briefed us on the trip in Korean and I listened to my MP3. Shortly after arriving at our well-landscaped hotel, we hit the hay.

Beach Day 1

We were granted some rare free time to sleep in and explore the hotel Sunday morning. We indulged in the free breakfast buffet. The food was greasy, but not exactly delicious, something we got used to after a couple meals. It was a cool morning, so we declined the swimming pool, but we did dip our feet into the doctor fish pool. That's right, these fish don't have degrees, but they do eat all the dead skin on your feet, creating a strange tickling sensation. It's pretty fun. You stay as still as you can and watch as the fish swarm from one set of feet to the next. After cleaning our feet we relaxed in the hammocks and met the group.

We vanned it to lunch where we were seated at a 12 person round table. This would have been fine if I could carry on a conversation with someone other than Helen. Unfortunately, this was not the case,  and plenty of awkwardness ensued. Unfortunately, this was only minimally eased by some Tsingtao. Similar to breakfast, the meal was OK and greasy, not a good trend.

Next stop was Dodonghai beach. This was the reason for coming to Hainan. The sky was blue, weather hot and the beach gorgeous (similar to Phuket's). We topped off our sunbathing and cold-water swimming (water was suprisingly cold considering the air temp) experience with some parasailing over scenic vistas. Although one of the guides seemed drunk (he dropped money in the ocean at one point), he took some fabulous pictures of us and our Russian compadres.

Once thoroughly relaxed we headed to Luhuitou Park for some fabulous mountain vistas. We bought some coconut milk and laughed at one of the strangest English translations I've ever seen: 'Skyline Unexhaustible Sentiment Gather Mountainsea Legend Luhuitou.' This was the big blue sign at the park entrance you can see in the photos.

We had some older folks in our group and they wanted a massage. So, next stop was a massive, maze-like massage house with tons of Chinese girls running around in green Japanese-style uniforms. It was pretty cool. For an hour my masseuse twisted, pulled and pounded the crap out of my body. I enjoyed every moment. Whoever said Chinese women aren't very attractive (which I would actually agree with in most occasions) had never been to this massage house.
Relaxed, we did some quick shopping and headed back to our hotel and promptly passed out.

Animals and a Folk Village

Monday began like the day before with a buffet and relaxing until noon. This day was warmer than the last, so we got to go swimming. We joined the two college-aged guys from our group for a swim race and some photos. Then, it was off to Aniworld after another greasy sub-par lunch.

We arrived and were immediately followed by boys with plastic bags of shells repeating the same phrases of Chinese. I asked him in English if he liked sports and responded with more incessanct shell selling lingo. In the park, we were escorted around in a golf cart. The first stop was an elevated crocodile habitat where you could dangle fish from wooden poles. It was fun to tease crocodiles knowing that I wasn't going to get eaten. I wouldn't recommend it otherwise.

From there we checked out an Elephant show, which included hula hoops, bball dunking and soccer shooting. I didn't know elephants were capable. Next, the pig show, was a massive let down. The pigs ran up a ramp into the water and then scampered off stage. I believe this might have been a practical joke by bored zookeepers. Maybe?

The tiger show was a little sad. The tigers really didn't look happy and they had to jump through hoops of fire. I mean who wants to be subjected to that. I was secretly rooting for a tiger attack, but no such luck. Finally, two crocodile tamers put their heads inside crocs' open mouths and survived. I guess the crocs weren't hungry.

Once the brainless animal watching ceased, we headed for some culture, a traditional Lejo folk village. We entered through a tunnel of women who touched our ears (custom). This was one of the most oddly pleasing experiences I have ever had. They were especially interested in my white skin and hairy arms (also a Korean child staple). We walked around their mud-hut village and watched a dance show. We also bought some trinkety gifts.

Free at Last

For dinner, we convinced our guide to let us go to a night market (she was worried for our safety). After some extensive discussion, we were granted the green light and dropped off downtown without the rest of our group. The market was a huge multi-level maze of small stores, reminiscent of Korea. We couldn't find Helen a Chinese style dress, but we did find an arcade and a nice coffee shop with a great view. The cafe menu was in Russian, English and then Chinese to cater to their consumer base. We cabbed it home and Helen's poor stomach started feeling sick again. We went to bed early hoping to recover for the next day.

It would take a Korean lunch for Helen to fully recover. I was even happy to have a break from Chinese. After satisfying all the Korean stomachs', we convinced our guide to drop off us at the same beach. The guide sent her boyfriend in a taxi to chauffeur us to the beach (we still had to pay though). Meanwhile, the rest of the group went to explore a distant island. After spending some of our best hours soaking up rays, we met up at another Korean restaurant for dinner. Wow, was I ready for something other than Chinese or Korean.

Heading Back

Exhausted with too much time and too little to do (flight was to leave at 3:30 a.m.), we took a nap in the van while the others hit a night market. Our last activity in China was probably the strangest: a drag show. Walking in, everyone was handed noise makers. You were encouraged to use these at anytime during the many song and dance numbers, none of which were particularly appealing. I will say that the lady boys looked pretty ladylike. Although no pictures can prove this (forbidden), I occassionally found them to be fairly attractive "women."

The next stop was the airport. With many hours to kill, Helen and I headed to an abandoned cafe selling mostly noodles and ice cream. After finishing my "feast," I played some rounds of pool with the guy in charge. He seemed way more focused on beating me than serving customers. He often ignored new customers in favor of his impending shot. Looking back, he was the Chinese person I interacted with the most. Often, the tour guide encouraged us to avoid contact and Chinese English was often too bad to engage in any meaningful interaction anyway.

I boarded the plane ready to come home to Korea. On the flight, I passed out early and remained that way until landing. Back in Korea, I was able to go home for a couple hours before starting a new week of work. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, it was one of the strangest trips I have ever been on. The tone of this entry would definitely attest to that. I would definitely like to go to Shanghai/Beijing to "actually experience China," as others have said. My friend is doing a train trip on the Trans-Siberian from Tibet to Europe, and I would love to meet him in China. I will keep you posted if this materializes.

If you have any comments or questions about this entry, please let me know. Or, if you want to tell me how you are doing or anything else, please email.

As always, all the best, Bill

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