Star Date: April 2006
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Chur La Ma!
(Mandarin - Familiar greeting: Have you eaten?)
"Nothing and no one can destroy the Chinese people. They are relentless survivors. They are the oldest civilized people on earth. Their civilization passes through phases but its basic characteristics remain the same. They yield, they bend to the wind, but they never break."
(Pearl Buck 1892-1979 U.S. Novelist "China, Past and Present")
"Ah well, perhaps one has to be very old before one learns how to be amused rather than shocked."
("On China" - Pearl Buck )
After nine months in China we are perpetually amused or amazed; and shocked less and less. You simply never know what you are going to see around the next corner. China is alive, vibrant, and bursting at the seams with uniqueness. This menagerie of laughing faces, sounds, smells and inimitable sights is continually welcoming the traveler to explore its diversity.
After our relaxing stay at Dong Jiao Yelin it was hard to hit the road again but we had the rest of Hainan Island to explore. With the increasingly consistent warm weather we knew spring was around the corner. We followed the east coast of the island south to Qiongha, Boao, then down to Xincun. Hainan Island is home to 39 minority groups including the original inhabitants, the Li and Miao (or H'mong). It is thought that the Li migrated to the island from Fujian over 3000 years ago. Although they have a history of rebellion against the Chinese, the Li aided the communist guerillas against the occupying Japanese troops and the island's mountainous center was made an autonomous region, following the post war communist take over.
Springtime! Love is in the air! As some of the first morning guests to arrive at the Nanwan Monkey Island (via a quite spectacular gondola ride) we were able to walk freely amongst the large groups of mischievous macaque monkeys. More than 1500 wild monkeys live and play on this appealing, peaceful peninsula near Xincun. The trick once again is simply to avoid the peak tourist times. Within 5 minutes of our arrival the 3 ft amorous "King of the Monkeys", as the caretakers called him, had singled the large imposing form of Joseph out and pulled off a kamikaze leg mating attack to show his followers that he was still in charge. Joseph felt more surprised than violated and after he peeled 'Lover Boy' off is leg we laughingly each picked up a rock. This is a trick he had figured out in India. Just carry a rock and when a monkey gets too aggressive simply show him the rock. They know that rocks are hard and unforgiving and they immediately retreat. It is never necessary to throw it or to hurt them. A good travel tip to remember - works every time! They had little shows of trained monkeys but once the tour groups started to arrive we had as much fun watching them watch the monkeys as anything else. The macaques are extra affable during this spring mating season and I even had the surprise honor of wearing a female monkey as a hat while I rested for a minute. Estoy enamorado!!
Sanya is the southernmost city on Hainan Island and is being built up as a Hawaiian like tourist mecca for China and the world. Yalong Bay is almost indistinguishable from a beautiful stretch of beach anywhere in Hawaii. Five star hotels and resorts line the ocean and it is possible to stay in classy, quality places for a fraction of the price. We spent one day walking the beach, smoozing through fancy hotels and having a flavorful Thai dinner on the beach at sunset. Although we had fun it gave the feeling of plastic people waiting to be noticed by other plastic people, all moving around in a man made version of loveliness. Back on the bus to the smaller beach in Dadonghai we realized that this is where the action is. A want-to-be Waikiki, it is a fun place to hang out for a few days. We met a sweet, lively girl, named Jan, who helped us find a room in a small local guesthouse, across from the youth hostel (50Y). Many couples and retired people from northern China hang out here during the winter months. After a few days we were part of the gang and felt very welcome. A juice bar called Naked Juice was started by Wayne, a Vietnamese man who lived in Los Angeles for 25 years. It was a place to hang out, watch passersby and meet interesting people, while sipping our old favorite, carrot juice and every kind of fruit juice or smoothie under the sun. We even did our annual liver cleanse drink for 5 mornings and fasted on juice for 3 days. A good way to flush out the system and boost the immune system and liver.
The Russians are coming! To our surprise everything in Sanya is written 2 languages, Russian and Chinese - with an increasing amount of English. 'Chinglish' still abounds with one sign boasting "Full Bottom Massages" (mistaken for full body), a convenience store humbly stating "Undersized Store For Little Profit" and don't forget the "security check" sign at the new bus station, "Sees a visitor out to halt". 90% of foreign tourists are Russians escaping the frigid north for a week or two. We had fun talking to a couple from Siberia whose factory produced 600,000 refrigerators a year. Reminds me of a joke I once heard..................
After heading up into the highlands to the pleasant little town of Wuzhi Shan (Tongzha) we found one of our little gems, Shuiman. At the base of Wuzhi Shan mountain (which is worth the 5000 ft. climb) this village and the tiny villages in the surrounding hills were interesting to explore. An area famous for it's tea, we were invited into a simple mud hut to taste their brew. Even though it still had dirt floors everything was clean and in it's place. The fire was blazing and dinner was being prepared. We were invited to join them, "Chur la ma?" but we had a long walk back. If we were staying another day we would have brought out a big bag of fresh vegetables, a little oil, and shared a tasty meal with our new friends. Daytime was spectacular enough in this mountainous valley but the nights with the twinkling stars, the outline of Wuzhi Shan shining in the full moon and the hallelujah chorus of frogs singing in the rice terraces will always be remembered. One of the evenings we spent time talking with Frank, a student and Leo, a recently retired army officer. They showed us the way to hike up the spectacular mountain of Wuzhi Shan and told us that in this remote county there are more than 40 elders over 100 years of age. Life is simple, peaceful and sweet.
Jail or VIP guest quarters? This was our choice when we arrived in Qingsong (via Baisha) late in the day, in search of the elusive gibbons. No hotel in town, we were dropped off at the local police station and they kindly offered us a free room in the recently completed (thankfully) government quarters. We never saw any gibbons but this town was as close to 'first contact' with locals as it gets. We were an absolute sensation and after joking around with them we were soon welcomed into the 'circus'! First they were shy about photos then they were literally lining up, babies in tow, for their turn. Poor as it gets, this tiny town, shared it's riches of laughter, simplicity and kindness with us. We felt honored.
Back to Haikou, the biggest city on the island , we were warned by the Lonely Planet that the prices were high. Joseph found us a good room for 35Y or $4 right away. Can't believe everything you read. On the 7th floor overlooking the large span bridge and the ferry harbor it was completely unrecognizable, out front, as a hotel. Joseph's usual simple gesture of laying our head on a pillow found this great place with the locals. We went into the hotel across the street to get information (rooms: 180-480Y: $22-60) and out came Rose, our new friend and companion for the next week. We spent time with Rose, her daughter and her girlfriend Lily while they practiced English. Lily is to be married next month to a Canadian man she met over the internet. Rose hopes to meet someone too. May all your dreams come true!
Bugs love me. Joseph jokes that it is because I'm so sweet. One of these little friends decided to bite my eyelid while in Sumatra last May. My eye swelled shut and although antibiotics and rubbing 'jungle juice' on it, (made by a local grandfather using herbs from the jungle), helped reduce the swelling, a stinger remained 6 months later. Now the bump was growing. I faithfully tried drinking traditional Chinese herbal tea for a week and then went to a doctor in Yangshuo but the facilities were primitive. Rose took us to an eye specialist and with her ragged dictionary in hand she proved invaluable as a translator. The best facilities in China are in the capitol cities of each province, or so we were told. This facility was very modern and impressive. Usually we try to avoid doctors but occasionally they have skills to offer that alternative medicine doesn't address as quickly. The following morning we returned to have the bump removed, Joseph carefully making sure a new scalpel and needles were used. Only a small amount of local anesthetic could be administered due to the proximity to the eyeball. Ouch! When I could feel them rolling my eyelid back I was told that the only other option was returning the following day and having a different surgeon and a general anesthetic. I inquired about acupuncture but it seems the modern hospitals are sadly allowing most Traditional Chinese Medicine to fall by the wayside. I trusted the gentle nature of the female eye specialist so I asked how long the procedure would take. "Two Minutes!" My reply was, "I've given birth to 2 babies, what's two minutes? I just want it done." I know I'm crazy but I just laid back down. I have to admit it was an unbelievably long 2 minutes but they did a efficient professional job and it only took 6 of them to hold me down. My meditation practice helped but, Damn It Hurt! All the while Rose was in the background saying, "It's ok Nancy, almost done, almost done!" It was done! The total bill in the US would have been in the thousands. Here the visit to the ophthalmologist was: $7, follow-up visits free, surgery in the hospital: $12, antibiotic eye drops:$1.20. The young intern who spoke a bit of English gave us his cell phone number in case there were any problems. One day of rest, the patch came off and we were out getting into trouble again. We have no idea in the US what a scam the medical system and GMO's are. The patch for my eye alone, would have been listed on the insurance bill for $100. Wouldn't it be great if our money, given to the government by "we the people", was spent on helping these people rather than on such a monstrous war machine? Think of the possibilities.
Many older people on the island have their teeth completely redone with mercury laden, silver alloy. A flashing 'chrome fender' smile may have been a short term remedy for rotten teeth but many of the little 'Chrome Grandmas' we got to know now suffer from terrible headaches. In the west we now realize the disastrous health implications from silver mercury fillings, and yet they are still offered as a cheaper alternative. (Never have one put in your mouth! Use white composite instead. You're worth the extra $5.) Rituals done around the world, for the sake of beauty, are worthy of note. Think what you do daily to look presentable to society around you? Caucasians like to get a little sun because a light golden hue tells of a healthy outdoor life style or a recent holiday in the tropics. Here, the peasants working the fields or fishermen have dark toughened skin, so the Chinese women cover completely with hats and umbrellas as soon as the sun peaks out, wanting to preserve the lightness of their skin. If this isn't enough, the horrible trend in Asia now is to use cream products that bleach the skin. Can you imagine the health repercussions from saturating your skin with bleach? In the middle of a betel nut chewing area, our white teeth stand out next to the local's reddish brown chompers. Boy would a western teeth whitener company have a field day with those folks. In fact that's exactly what happens. Mass media advertising all of the sudden points out what shortcomings this unspoiled target group of consumers have. They madly scramble to be like the west in that regard and start buying the recently introduced product. Unfortunately it is often the bottom quality or outlawed stuff that makes it to developing nations. "Hey, so what if it's bad, the money is good. The regulations are lax or maybe we just have to change the name and remarket it - why not?" This is the rationalization that has introduced cigarettes, powdered baby formula (which has resulted in thousands of infant deaths due to the unclean water added) and allows banned pesticides such as DDT to still be used. Outlawed pharmaceutical products (under a new name) are brought in to alleviate the symptoms of their new found western lifestyle, all the while creating an unsuspecting new test population. In the west we should ask why a prescription drug costs us over $100 and we can get the identical drug in the East for 80 cents?? An ad we saw in Malaysia told people that they can continue eating as much bad food as they want, just pop one of these yellow pills and this new phenomenon of heartburn will disappear. This paves the way for MacDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and endless junk food. Don't forget the current rave of promoting sugar and chemically laden, non refrigerated milk in Asia to build stronger bones (to an area almost void of osteoporosis because of good diet). As we speak a chain of glitzy little milk bars is popping up all over, even next to the local market areas of old town. Western diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc., almost unheard of 10 years ago, are skyrocketing. Such lies! I wonder how some people, knowing the inevitable consequences of what they do, can even sleep at night? China's civilization has remained intact for over 6000 years. "Nothing and no one can destroy the Chinese people." Will the inevitable tide of western culture finally succeed?
And so it goes...........................................................Next Guangxi and Yunnan. Until then let's learn to marvel and to laugh at this paradox called life. It's too short to spend much time being upset or shocked. Keep Smiling and Keep in Touch! Take care.
Love, xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
Xincun: Stay on the 5th floor (#505 good view of bustling harbor 60Y) of the hotel near the dock and cable car. Enjoy a boat ride through the floating houses of the fishermen and pearl farmers but purchase an entrance ticket for Monkey Island back at the cable car stand before you go out there. Better yet splurge and take the gondola.
Sanya: Jan, works at Backpackers Gift Shop near Naked Juice. Likes to practice English and is very helpful.
Shuiman: Stay at the new little hotel at the end of the road, next to the frog chorus - where the bus finally stops. (50 Y)
Qingsong: Choose the VIP room instead of the jail cell! Don't count on a room but buy a Chinese/English tour map in Haikou to find some really off the beaten track island places.