China II: Week 6

Like with all addictions, a small fix of a particular vice can go some way to relieving the cravings caused by a period abstinence. But the reminder of this euphoric feeling can only increase the addict’s desire for more.

I am an addict, but I don’t know what I am addicted to. Am I addicted to adventure, unfamiliarity risk, or just travel? or all of them? Whatever it is, this week provided me with a small dose of it for the first time since leaving Beijing in February.
It all began on Sunday evening straight after work. Iain met me in Foshan and together we went back to my apartment to eat some dumplings that Danny had prepared earlier in the day. As it approached 8pm, a little anxious about missing the Arsenal s Man Utd match (anxiety that later seemed unnecessary) , we made our way by bus to the train station. Momo had decided that she wanted to join us on our adventure, so she also came along.

The overcrowding of the station, the stench of rotten feet from the eloquently barefoot Chinese women and constant stream of noise gave me some kind of nostalgic feeling about what China has offered me and continues to offer me now. Eventually we got on our train bound for Haikou. We had managed to get hard beds as tickets are a lot easier to come by now that it is no longer Spring Festival. This was quite fortunate as the journey was to last 11 hours. In fact, this worked out quite well as it meant we left just before 10pm, about the right time to tuck into a couple of beers and watch The Inbetweeners, and arrived in Haikou just before 9am…after a good and stressless night of sleep. Well there was one small incident; I told Iain the Arsenal score when I found out and his reaction was to hit the ceiling of the train very hard, causing everyone around us to gasp and stare. I’m not sure why he got so angry but he did. From what people have told me, I have not created a pleasant picture of Iain in the past, but in truth he has become a very good friend and his quirky outbursts make him all the more appealing to me. He’s a good man and I actually love train travel in China.

Once in Haikou the heat hit me immediately. Hainan Province is reknowned for its climate and Sanya, our eventual destination, referred to as the ‘Oriental Hawaii’. I think that all nice places have that carefree smell about them. Anyway, before leaving the train station we booked our onward tickets to Sanya for the evening. Momo, being Chinese, took the lead…which I hated. I think deep down I wanted to do it all myself, and take all the glory :p. She asked what time I would like to leave Haikou to get to Sanya, to which I responded ‘about 4pm’….she booked the train for 5:30…grrrrr. We began our trip around Haikou in the blistering heat, and I loved it. It was a new environment and it was truly sunny…with no sign of a polluted layer of sky above us. Momo, on the other hand, complained about the heat as she held her over-sized umbrella aloft, giving regular outbursts of ‘I’m black!’ We had to warn her that she should not shout things like that if she leaves China.

We had made contact with a man from Haikou who showed us many of the attractions in the centre of the city, of which there weren’t many, but my favourite had to be the backstreet coconuts. We all bought a coconut each and drank it whilst we walked down the street…I could not wait to do the same sitting on the beach! (of course Momo drank her coconut from a plastic bag as holding the coconut itself is ‘too dangerous’).

After a massive lunch of all the Hainan specialities we continued our tour around Haikou, which is a lovely city and I am sure it has a lot more to offer if we had more time. If Haikou was anything to go by, then Sanya would surely be a paradise. However, at this particular time we were walking around looking for an air conditioned plaza for temporary relief from the heat, what’s wrong with a bit of sun??? We managed to find our way into a big bookstore, to the annoyance of myself and Iain but we were both too polite to say anything. Whilst Momo and the man looked around at the Chinese books we looked for books with pictures and were naturally drawn to the yoga books…supple. We then stumbled across a gem! In the English language section we found a children’s English C.D called ‘Ball Bag English’ and its true to say that it I have not stopped smiling since.

Momo conceded that there was little to do in Haikou and that we should make our way to the train station (it was 3:30 and I could not help but express my smugness about my request for a ‘4pm’ train without saying the words ‘I told you so’). We didn’t manage to change our tickets but eventually got to Sanya for early evening…excited!

And Sanya did not disappoint! We had booked a hotel in a reclusive area outside of the main tourist area. The hotel was a quaint blue building situated literally ON the beach. The front garden was the beach! We were in paradise! In no time I had put my bag in the room, showered, and sat on the white sandy beach with a beer. As the night wore on Momo and Iain both retired to bed but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the beach. Instead I think the romance of the seaside grabbed me, I sat on the beach until almost 2am with a constant stream of TsingTao beer…..I was incredibly content.

Despite staying up relatively late, I decided to make an effort to get up early (I think I suddenly became a child when we got to the seaside). So, at 7 am I snuck out of my room and walked along the empty but beautiful beach as the sun rose….overwhelmed a little. Instead of returning to bed I slept on the sand with the generic wicker hat on my face. Eventually Iain got up and we went straight into the sea. At this point we didn’t have a ball to play with, so we improvised with a flip flop and had far too much fun for far too long….we were stupidly unaware of how powerful the sun is.

Eventually Momo showed up and characteristically requested we grab something to eat. We agreed and walked to a local ‘pick your fish and we will kill it in front of you’ restaurant. We had a nice lunch and it was probably wise to have a few minutes out of the suns range. The heat in Sanya is incredible, but a different kind of heat to that I have felt in Europe before but I couldn’t put my finger on the difference…it’s almost as though a bonfire is burning around you wherever you go. Or the menopause…I guess…

After lunch we headed to a different beach, named Da Dong Hai. This one was spectacular; as beautiful as the last was peaceful. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons the beaches in Venezuela. However, before we could enjoy it we made a wise decision to coat ourselves in suncream…but we needed to buy it first. Being poor and everything I decided to buy the cheapest suncream at factor 28. Both me and Iain covered ourselves in it before heading back into the South China Sea. It was not until later that either the suncream wasn’t waterproof or the chinese man who sold it to us had just filled up and empty bottle with curdled milk….either way, we were both destined for a few days of pain…but it would be worth it.

There is only so much ‘playing in the sea’ a grown man (a category I may or may not fall into) can do. So we later resorted to volleyball; but the sand was hotter than the sun and meant we had to return to the sea every 30 seconds to cool down. We then decided to live the dream….

We sat on the southernmost tip of China, in perfect weather and with no cares except for the coconut in our hands. This was it! Living the dream!

As our bodies had taken a beating from the sun we decided to retire to the hotel for a shower and some food before out night train. It was here that we managed to see the sunset from the beach. It’s a shame we couldn’t have stayed longer.
Once we were refreshed we explored the city a little, trying out the fruits and stuff available in Hainan Island. In the end we sat outside with some fresh mango ice-cream :). I noticed that we got far fewer stares here than in other cities in China, and that is probably because there are more Westerners here (all burnt). I can’t help but think that Sanya will become a major tourist destination in years to come….if only it didn’t come with Chinese visa requirements. If in ten years’ time Sanya is regularly heard in the same breath as Honolulu then it was said here first!

We finally arrived at the train station an hour before we were due to leave, but were immediately told we had a 170 minute delay (which meant waiting in the train station for 4 hours!). This was not quite a welcome delay but we tried to catch some sleep in the station nonetheless. However, Sanya train station is apparently a hotbed for Mosquitos and I spent more time creating a massacre than trying to get some sleep. Our train eventually left Sanya at 3am and all 3 of us immediately fell asleep. I woke about 1pm the next day very sore and red…never had I been so desperate for moisturiser! Why hadn’t I taken an umbrella to the beach? I guess the Chinese know best 😛

So we were back in Foshan…adventure complete. I had a fantastic time in Sanya and so glad I decided to go despite the lack of funds…as it turned out I didn’t need much to enjoy myself.

The rest of the week was very much about nursing my sunburn and then the helping off the dead skin…yuck.
Whatever happends, I appear to remain very well fed. The last act of the week was returning from a day in the kindergarten (where children seem to know by instinct that I am sunburned) after eating out. Momo asked if I was hungry, which I told her I wasn’t. As a result she cooked me dinner, which I couldn’t finish. She asked;
‘are you still hungry?’,
‘No, Momo, please no more food, I am very full!’
‘Ok….have a mango.’
‘No more food thanks’
‘Mango is not food…it is fruit!’….doesn’t stop eating.

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