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Greetings from China's southernmost city of Sanya,
After three nights in Haikou I boarded the "bullet" train for Sanya. While waiting about ten minutes for its scheduled departure I studied the rails visible from my window. Even searching carefully I could find no visible evidence of welding in the seamless rails! Gone are the clickity-clickity sounds of yesteryear! The steam engine rolling on segmented rails of last century is no more and has been an anachronism for most of my lifetime... not to mention an historical oddity to most of the world's current generations. I've often used charades to ask people in a foreign country where the train station is located. So, I am frequently surprised, when making the "choo-choo" sound while moving my arms back and forth like the old steam engines, to seeing people look at me like I'm a crazy man!
Weleft promptly on time and two hours later with multiple stops along the way, the high speed train arrived in China's southernmost city. As is my habit, off I started walking in what I perceived to be the most popular direction based on a study of traffic around the train station. Because Sanya is near the southern coast of the island, walking south would eventually get me to the coastline, though I had only the vaguest idea how far that might be. Stopping occasionally to inquire about promising hotels, I quickly learned people on this part of the island do not play charades! Without a common language one needs to rely on situation and internationally recognized gestures... but none of that seemed to be working this time around.
Finally, I struck up a friendly "conversation" with four women around the reception desk in a small hotel and among the five of us managed to convey the idea that I needed a map. The "concierge" produced one and using finger gestures showed me the 6RMB price. Next, we tackled the challenging task of identifying the place on the map corresponding to our physical location... and the central part of the city. The clutch of ladies really got into the titillating encounter with the wildly gesticulating uncivilized Barbarian babbling nonsense. They clearly wanted to be helpful and after many frustrations managed to get me on my way to the area where I'd find some good hotels; they seemed to enjoy the encounter as much as I did.
After a while the pack shoulder straps finally pressed long and hard enough into flesh that I decided to try a bus and jumped on a #10, the most frequently available number out of the train station. The darned thing was already packed and not a soul moved to yield a seat to the ancient one struggling under the strain of a heavy backpack. So, after only a few minutes of riding I worked my way back to the door and got off... now many blocks further along my planned route, however.
Shortly, I spotted the friendly initials: "KFC" and rejoiced, knowing site selection managers always choose locations likely to be frequented by affluent people: something I learned from my demographics study work for Sambo's, a Santa Barbara restaurant chain back in the 1980's. The only hotel that seemed like a possibility didn't look that great. But, the $58 Harvest Seaview Hotel across the street from the KFC and nearby Burger King seemed to be my only real choice. Sore shoulders and mild back pains put me in the mood for compromise.
I have stayed in much less accommodating houses and the wired Internet connection meant I'd have a solid network connection for whatever amount of time I chose to stay. Well, the next morning the limited Chinese breakfast without coffee settled that question and the minute I finished my boiled cabbage and hard boiled egg received in exchange for a breakfast coupon, I dashed out to search for a more suitable home away from home. My trusty Chinese map of Sanya city streets showed several hotels in the vicinity of the American restaurant franchises. Purely by chance I first checked out the Le Parker International Hotel about two blocks away.
This is a five star house and I knew it likely would be expensive. I went in more out of curiosity than with any expectation I'd be able to finesse an affordable deal in such a fancy place. Yep; it had rack rates in the stratosphere and walk-in rates well above $100 as well. While waiting for a summoned English speaking staff member to appear, I walked into the dining area to check out the breakfast buffet. That did it! I haven't seen so much recognizable Western food tastefully displayed in an elegant dining room setting with actual brewed coffee since Vietnam.
Anton, a Russian immigrant who speaks fairly understandable English with a strong Russian accent dashed over to the reception desk when summoned by the baffled girls behind the desk. He obviously relishes his assigned translations duties and we had a wide ranging conversation about all manner of hotel related subjects. Confessing my limited "travel forever" hotel budget could not comfortably accommodate the offered walk-in rates, he noted I should check for better rates on the Internet, mentioning Agoda and two other booking agencies specifically.
While Anton moved away to the other end of the counter to check on availability details, a Chinese couple speaking perfect American English volunteered information about their Internet booking experience, noting they had found very much lower rates on-line. Before Anton returned, the manager of reception, Jerry greeted me in his quite good English and we explored some of the issues Anton and I had been discussing. Jerry pretty much corroborated everything I'd learned up to that point and demonstrated his interest in English conversation with a native speaker.
Armed with this information and Anton's specific advice to check the online booking agents, I left the hotel to continue exploring the several other close-by hotel possibilities... none of which came anywhere close to matching the deluxe quality of the Le Parker. Though the 14:00 check-out time at my current hotel allowed plenty of time for more explorations, I decided the Le Parker would clearly be my first choice... if I could find a highly discounted promotional offer on the Internet.
Back in the room I started the research. Of three booking agents, Agoda offered the best rates. Hotels.com and Booking.com both had offers higher than those at Agoda.com. Quickly, I made up my mind and concluded a five night on-line reservation using Agoda. For a total of $350 I reserved a room with breakfast buffet included for five days. Rushing now, I checked out of the Harvest Seaview and trudged over to the Le Parker to check in.
None of the staff behind the reception desk at the Le Parker speaks English, so their first step in processing my reservation required calling in the reinforcements: Anton. He recognized me and assisted the girls with the formalities. About that time Jerry, the reception manager showed up again and took an active interest in the proceedings. While not exactly VIP treatment, I certainly did get some extra attention during check-in. Jerry had the most elegant fruit plate I've ever enjoyed in a hotel sent up to my room the second day and Anton hovers whenever the need for a translation appears to be eminent.
Unfortunately, breakfasts at the Le Parker have been disappointing for several reasons. First, the serving staff seems to be mirroring the thoughtless, impolite, crude behavior displayed by many/most of the Chinese hotel guests I've observed. Let me quickly add that not all Chinese seem so poorly civilized, but enough do to create the temptation to characterize the entire population that way. I have become accustomed to genteel travelers in upscale international hotels behaving considerably more politely. A majority in this 5 star house give the impression of low class factory workers off on a prepaid company holiday for the first time: thoughtless, demanding, loud and course. Hotel staff anywhere, understandably would react with appropriate disdain to such unpleasant guest behavior. While the buffet tables are loaded with choices, I soon realized the chef has selected the menu to please Chinese tastes and the serving staff pretty much ignores guests.
Today, a young couple occupied "my" table while I was away filling my plate from the buffet despite the personal items I'd left on the table to show it occupied. Yesterday, the two unused chairs at my table were repeatedly selected by newly arriving diners until I discouraged them by asking: "English?" I have come to realize there is a Chinese cultural imperative that any empty chair is always "available" at anyone's table. So, I may be the one who is being the more impolite by discouraging their use here in China!
Anton and Jerry both take special note of my presence each time I enter the lobby and continue to provide "tourist" suggestions for my wanderings. Yesterday, following their instructions, I visited the very popular beaches and resorts of Yalong Bay. The hour long #15 bus ride provided an opportunity for two twenty year old teachers to attempt conversation in English. The noise on the bus prevented any real exchanges so I explained my ears had grown old and refused to work like they had when I was the girl's ages. Surprised by my confession to being an octogenarian, they became solicitous and began treating me like an old man. Imagine that!
Off the bus our conversations continued while they explained their plans to enjoy the beach, inviting me to join them so they could keep an eye on me. I assured them my world travels had prepared me for much more challenging endeavors than exploring a crowded sunny beach. Finally convincing them I no longer had any interest in beaches, they then insisted on taking photographs before parting. Cute kids.
Yesterday I took a #25 bus up to the Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone park to see the hundred meter high statue of Kwan-yin Bodhisattva. That city bus terminates in the park's parking lot making it very convenient for visitors. The ticket office displayed entry fees of 150RMB or about $25 for adults which made me pause to consider whether I wanted to spend that much just to see a statue. As I studied the details more closely I discovered anyone over 70 years of age got a free pass and then I remembered the same policy had been in effect at the national park in Leshan where the giant seated Buddha is located. Apparently, it is national policy to so honor elders and the few foreign feebles visiting the country are included!
Having had nothing to eat since early that morning I yielded to the temptation to try the vittles being offered by a vegetarian health foods collective on the grounds of the park. Noodles and vegetables really are delicious when properly prepared as well as being nutritious. The huge bowl of rice, noodles and vegetables in a tasty broth set me back a mere 40RMB, or about $6 including a fruit punch drink.
Exploring the park after lunch I came upon a lady working feverously to prepare fresh coconuts for the mob impatiently waving their ten Yuan notes at her. When she finally grabbed my red bill I'd had the pleasure of watching the entire preparation process through several cycles and felt properly prepared to suck out the innards of my volleyball sized green "nut." The lady used a semi-automated process incorporating a hand drill fitted with a makeshift guide taped to the end with the bit to drill a straw hole in the nut. That nut must hold well over 12 ounces as it seemed like more liquid than I'd get in a standard soft drink can. Surprisingly refreshing, I couldn't put the bulky nut down until I'd drained it completely.
This has been an interesting week in China's answer to our Hawaiian paradise. But, with only a few days left on my visa it is time to move on. Thinking about the ultra-freezing weather further north, I'll plan to spend some time in Bangkok where recovery from the Chinese interference with my Internet use can happily proceed.
I'm not sure what damage may have been done to any of my three machines, but they all behave strangely at the moment... probably have government provided software "aids" installed on each of them! Plus, my own efforts to work around the impediments have no doubt added confusions of their own. The nasty computer idiosyncrasies first appeared immediately after entering the Middle Kingdom. While Internet access became a problem the minute we crossed the border, the most troubling difficulties occurred while on this island. (Only later, after checking the literature in Bangkok did I discover a scary reality: the cyber warfare activity in China discussed in the West for several years is centered on Hainan Island!) Is there a connection? I don't know, but that seems to be where I picked up the bugs or at least where the really strange behavior of my machines began.
Those folks following my follies have heard nothing from me for the Chinese month and messages from well wishers have mostly gone unanswered as well. So, I have a bit of catch-up work to do in addition to making a psychological recovery from my "incarceration." If I do ever manage to get into the DPRK, the Chinese experience should be good preparation for the even harsher restrictions to be expected there.
Though preoccupied with my own problems, I can't ignore what has been going on back home where racial minorities are protesting the unequal enforcement of the law by white law enforcement personnel. Despite wide spread efforts to add significant ethnic minority personnel to law enforcement agencies, accusations of racism continue to be raised. A grand jury decision following the Ferguson incident involving the death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer started nationwide protests. Then a second New York grand jury decision exonerating a white police officer involved in the choking death of a black suspect added fuel to the raging fire. The two grand juries acquitted white officers of any wrong doing after considering the presented facts in the deaths of black suspects, sparking outrage in black communities.
One wonders if the officers had been black, how the black communities would have reacted. Unfortunately, statistics do support conclusions that suspects from poor, racial minorities receive harsher treatment from the American justice system than their white counterparts, but those same statistics show that crimes are disproportionately more likely to be committed by individuals from those minority groups, dramatically more likely! Police officers aware of those probabilities, no doubt take them into consideration while performing their duties and innocent minority suspects receive harsher handling than their white counterparts as a result: if a suspect is seven times more likely to violently resist arrest, you are going to be at least seven times more vigilant handling him!
Until our society rebalances racially distorted economic opportunities and removes advancement barriers to disadvantaged classes, more criminal activity is bound to occur among people who see it as their only way out of an impossible situation, as wrong minded as that might be.
It has been a week now here on this Chinese "tropical island" and I am ready to move on. Bangkok will be a good place to pause and try to figure out what damage the Chinese may have done to my communication devices: they are all behaving strangely. I'll also need some time to study information about my next possible destinations. So, bye for now... more of the story when I get my head screwed back on straight.
Fred L Bellomy
Sanya Hainan China 2014: Today's arrival display in the international terminal at the Sanya Phoenix International Airport. With fewer than a dozen flights a day, it is not a very busy operation!
Sanya Hainan China 2014: This pedestrians only barrier doesn't stop determined wheelers from lifting their bikes over the obstructions. While I crossed, a vendors three wheel motorbike maneuvered the ups and downs of the undulation structure. China has a serious "rule of law" problem.
Sanya Hainan China 2014: Sign next to the lady drilling holes in coconuts as fast as she can to satisfy the demands of thirsty tourists... including me.
Sanya Hainan China 2014: I puzzled over the meaning and purpose of this sign posted over each urinal in the men's room at the Sanya Phoenix International Airport. The signs read: "One small step for you; One giant leap for us." I suppose it means if you pee on the floor, it is a big job to clean it up.