#5 China, February 8, 2002

Dear Everybody,

The bus ride from Longshen to Guilin (two hours) was ‘Chinese scenic’ and the bus was nice and warm. As we crossed over the mountains there was a little snow here and there, about to melt. Rice and tea fields were everywhere with a few vegetable plots mixed in.

Guilin is a nice town, and the karst around here has been the subject of paintings (and now photography) for two thousand years. The ancient Chinese fanciful paintings are pretty much right on, when you actually see the real thing. I’m struck by how unique the Chinese landscape is—you never forget that you’re in China.

I spent the two days in Guilin setting up the junket to my island. Flights were hard to get but I managed one for Sunday, Feb. 3rd. It was totally full with double-booked seats, but finally we were all aboard. Now I’m one of those obnoxious ones that drag the luggage on board. With all these little flights coming and going, I don’t trust checking my pack. If it got lost can you imagine the problem with no Chinese? Oh, and the Chinese skies are protected now—the Guilin airport security people uncovered my tiny little Swiss Army knife that I have used all around the world for peeling and cutting fruit.

When I arrived at Haikou, I immediately got a bus (waiting at the exit!) from the airport to town. It dropped me at the bus station, to get a bus (immediately departing again!) to Sanya, across the island. This all sounds much easier than it was as there wasn’t much English. Also nobody else was getting off at the bus station so my pack and I had to climb over everybody. At the station I was immediately surrounded by touts wanting I know not what, but they had all been chewing betal nuts so they had bright red mouths and teeth—kind of off-putting!

Three hours across the island brought me to Sanya, a beach town. The weather was overcast but warm (72). On the outskirts of Sanya a woman got on the bus and made an announcement using the microphone—then she spotted me (the only westerner) and came back to say that she worked for CITS (a governmental agency involving air travel) and that she could have a company car come and take me to the beach area to look for a hotel. In fact she said we should get off RIGHT HERE! Now, what to do? Is this a scam? I know CITS does do bookings and ‘help travelers’ etc., but —what the heck, I got off with her. She phoned for her ‘accomplice’ and he arrived with a car. We got in and he began going north (the beach was south) but it turned out he was only swinging around another road to avoid the town traffic.

Lo and behold, they took me to a funky but new hotel in a terrific location. She got keys and showed me two rooms and I took one! It was all just (or almost) as she had said, and the price is excellent, too. Of course the water from the sink lavatory ran onto the floor near a floor drain and splashed my feet, but I managed to get the hotel to repair the plumbing and now all is well.

The beach (about one block from my hotel—I can see it from my window) is lovely—white sand and mellow waves. It’s not overly crowded either, as I had been warned about for the Holiday season. Maybe that happens next week. The sky is partly sunny and the temp about 78 so all is perfect. I will only venture onto the beach early mornings or late afternoons, but that’s fine.

My first evening meal was at a wonderful restaurant almost next to my hotel, called Dongebeiwant Jiudian. They had an English menu of sorts, which was a picture of a dish with its Chinese name and the price. I wanted fish and the only choice seemed to be an elaborate one—the waitresses (plural—they like interacting with the foreigner) kept warning me (by sign language) that it was a very big fish! I saw no other choice so I ordered it anyway, along with tomatoes and cucumbers with salt, rice, and a beer. The fish was indeed HUGE, and wonderful. The head and fins were all present, but the flesh, still attached to the skin, had been scored, turned ‘inside out’, cooked and then a very rich sweet brown sauce and pine nuts poured over all. It was magnificent!

In Chinese restaurants none of the portions are for a single person. I see that Chinese never eat alone, and in fact they are rarely fewer than 6 or 10. For the group they order several dishes, along with individual dishes of rice. The dishes are put on a lazy Susan for all to share. This is true of bottles of beer, as well. So when I order two dishes (plus rice) I get these gigantic portions. Here, I believe two can eat as cheaply as one because I never can finish and so I leave about half, typically. One day I had the waitress pack up the leftover sliced pork and pot stickers. They had beautiful containers for this—Styrofoam for each of two individual dishes, put in a plastic bag, put into a brightly colored gift bag with a handle, along with fresh napkins and fresh chopsticks.

After spending the afternoon in bed with my cold (I was so exhausted) I decided to look up a pharmacy. I went to a 5-star hotel and somebody took me to see a doctor. She took my temp (under my arm) which was normal. Then she gave me Cefradine capsules—Jackie, do you know what that is? Something helpful and not harmful, I hope. In any case, either it was just the right thing or my cold had concluded its stay as it has improved a lot.

I have learned to say “Internet” which is “wam-bah” with bah on a higher tone than wam. People understand me so I’m very proud! The wam-bah here in Sanya is a few blocks from my hotel and has about 20 computers, but an absence of noisy violent games. What a tranquil atmosphere, along with the four red chickens that routinely scratch right outside the wam-bah.

The restaurant nearly next to my hotel that I mentioned earlier is quite an interesting scene. It’s a big and busy restaurant, with beautiful red, yellow, and green prints (curtains, waitress uniforms, chair backs, etc.) colorful flags and lots of red Chinese lanterns. The back of it, which my hotel room overlooks, is a bustle of activity.




From my hotel room I can see the vegetable preparation each day, and each morning about 10:30 the cooks (with white caps) all line up formally and their boss leads them in a cheer. There are about 30 of them. Then yesterday when I was returning to my hotel room I noticed that the waiters and waitresses were all lined up in front of the restaurant and they, too, participated in a rousing cheer. It’s a good restaurant!

On the beach there are women who are selling pearls, the local specialty. My guidebook does warn of plastic imitations, but real or plastic, where would I wear them nowadays?

I took the #2 bus over to the main Sanya town, which is not so small (1/2 million). I located the bus station so I could find it when I go to Tongzha on Friday. Otherwise I just ‘walked the town’, noting that lots of preparations are being made for the Chinese New Year which is just a few days away. There were many red banners with (good luck?) messages on them for sale; also red lanterns and artificial flowers.

For lunch that day I had the ‘special’ advertised on a sign of Chinese characters at my next door restaurant. This turned out to be chicken breast pieces, tripe, gelatinous noodles and cilantro in a very rich brown broth. It was quite good, but intense, and 4-6 times what I could eat. I also had a Tiger beer—they’re huge also, but I manage to finish those!

This morning I caught the #2 bus by my hotel and went to the Sanya bus station. My destination was Tongzha but nobody seemed to know it, or there didn’t seem to be buses going to it. It is a minority center of the Miao and Li groups and it sounded like it has an interesting museum among other things.

I finally wound up buying a ticket to Wushan City which I decided must be near Tongzha. There clearly is some free enterprise in the bus system, as we trolled for additional passengers for an hour before leaving Sanya. I wonder if the driver owns the bus or if he gets a percentage?

This island is really beautiful. Unlike the colder areas where I’ve been it is time to plant rice here. And that intense green of the newly growing rice fields is a green without equal, I think. Apparently in the 70’s and 80’s this land was badly deforested to make way for rubber plantations. Some of that has been reversed, now, and there are beautiful forests.

After walking around town for awhile, I got a moto taxi and said “Wafan” (lunch). He seemed to understand, and took me to a restaurant that happened to be right next to the bus station.

My lunch was pork and greens in a rich brown sauce, rice and some broth with sprouts. You can tell you’re out in the rural area now, as the pork meat had lots of big globs of fat, which I’m sure they relish.

So after lunch I got a bus back to Sanya where I am now and just before going to the Wambah, overlooking the beach, observing the Chinese tourists, and drinking a Chinese 21-oz. beer.

My cold is still giving me some trouble, but I’m on the mend so all is well. I hope you all are enjoying your winter.


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