Hainan — The Hawai’i of China: December 6, 2011

After leaving Gengcun, we made our way back to Beijing by train and then left the next snowy morning for Hainan, an island in the south of China. We craved some warm weather, more retreat time to write, and wanted to study Chinese at the Language Institute there.

We arrived in pouring rain…but there were palm trees, coconut trees, a balmy breeze! It was warm! In the 70s! Ahhhh…For the next 3 days it was overcast with high clouds, still in the 70s until yesterday when it felt like San Francisco in the low 50s. Everyone bundled up. We donned our winter jackets again. Today, however, the sun has peeked out. Lovely breeze — the low 70s.

Chinese Lessons

What did I (Nancy) learn the first lesson? That I’ve not understood my own Chinese name all my long life!!

I’d been told by my parents that my Chinese name meant Perfect Jade — which I viewed as a heavy burden!! Now it turns out that due to my not being able to write my Chinese name clearly, the teacher gave me three possibilities for the ‘perfect’ character depending on how it is written. It could mean 1) whole or all, but usually this one is used for males; 2) a bamboo fish trap (!); or 3) fragrant — all depending on whether it has 2 crisscrosses above the character, or if it has a crossed line, or if it has neither! Now which would you choose? Both my parents have passed, so I have no way of knowing.

Am I Whole Jade (the closest to perfect) or Bamboo Fish trap jade or Fragrant jade?!

Nancy taking on the Chinese Language... YIKES!

One of the things Robert learned was how to say mixed blood in Chinese!! The way he looks and with his last name, he’s been a curiosity!

This school is really quite wonderful and relaxed. We’ve met students of all adult ages from the US, Russia, Germany, France, Canada — all studying Chinese for various reasons. Mostly they’ve said that they are studying because it’s an important language to learn in this era.

We all laugh a great deal in our attempts to speak the language in class. The teachers are friendly, fun and patient. However, once we’re out of the class, and we attempt to speak to the taxi driver or at the market or restaurant, all they do is look at us oddly and shrug their shoulders! It’s those dang tones!! And to think, Mandarin only has 4, while Cantonese has 9 to 11!! Still, we’re loving it!

This is our 5th time in China (actually Nancy’s 6th), so it’s about time we learn the language – not that we can imagine being fluent! Luckily they use Pinyin (Roman letters) on most every sign throughout China!

The Chinese are still surprised that Americans can look Chinese. I’ve just learned to say that my ancestors came from China. I’ve been saying that I am Chinese American, but they might think that means I’m part Chinese and part white since most people around the world think Americans are only white, or black as well because of American sports and movies.

Today we had many children who are learning English come to our class and they loved that Robert was part Japanese because they all love Japanese Anime. But I must say, the children seem wild here — not like the Chinese kids in America. They explain that it’s because they are spoiled as an ‘only child’ due to the one-child policy. They call them Xiao Huang Di — Little Emperors, named after the first Emperor Huang Di (who built the Great Wall). The girls would be called Xiao Huang Hou — Little Empresses (according to online translator). And if they are really ornery…hmm maybe instead should be named Ci Xi — the Empress Dowager! Some of these single children, in their one-child only households are quite energetic!

Hainan Language School- Always fun learning with people!


The Streets and Traffic

Like everywhere in China (and many places around the world), there is little attention paid to what we would call traffic rules when it comes to driving a 3-wheeler, a bicycle, a car, a truck, a bus, taxis or a scooter. Forget the pedestrians! There is one rule that is maintained: the Rule of Survival!

One takes one’s life completely in one’s own hands. Sometimes there are no lights for pedestrians to cross. There is so much jaywalking. Scooters will drive against traffic — i.e. on the wrong side of the road. Even scooters and bikes ‘jay’ drive! You look for where the most pedestrians are crossing and join them, hoping that safety in numbers will stop a car from driving over you!

Cars park on the sidewalks. Scooters park on the sidewalks. Bikes park on the sidewalks. As pedestrians we are constantly changing from walking on the cement platforms in front of large establishments, then down a few steps to broken tiles as sidewalks, then down off the curb to walk on the side of the street because either there are no sidewalks or they are crammed with vehicles. It all seems so impossibly unruly! I keep thinking of the American game – the Chinese Fire Drill!

On a positive note- we do see that the majority of scooters, bikes and motorcycles are electric thus cutting down on fossil fuel consumption. Boy, I wish we could get our hands on several of these electric bikes. Last time we asked about costs, we were told one could be purchased for only $200- $300 US Dollars. (Hmmm, the problem would be how to get it into the airlines over head luggage bins!).

The cars are darling. Small, gas efficient. Some even had eyelashes!

Go- go - go- go- go! ... blink of an eye!

The streets are filled with vendors selling fruit of all kinds. Their displays are so very colorful. There are absolutely no chances to starve here. The Chinese love food and Robert keeps saying that the Chinese culture has the most varied dishes in the world. So we’ll see tiny stalls serving soup, others dumplings, others noodles, others meat on a stick. Restaurants are plentiful with amazing prices ($4) to prices almost like in the states. We did however stop to buy a mango and it was $10! It was from Australia. We put that baby back and got one from Hainan.

Our Hotel

Our hotel is called Hai Kou Hotel. I think it means ‘welcome’ — hai meaing hello and kou meaning mouth. Don’t necessarily trust me on that, though…It is situated in a very busy busy neighborhood full of stores, karaoke clubs, restaurants and huge buildings full of stores which they call plazas. Besides Chinese clothing stores, there’s Playboy, Esprit, and Calvin Klein and lots of McDonalds and KFC — which seem to be the favorite food of the kids that came to our class.

Luckily there is a non-smoking floor here and a fairly bouncy mattress. Our balcony looks out over roofs and across to other tall buildings. Noise is constant, especially at night with the clubs and Karaoke singing. But, they have put double sliding doors so the sound is kept out pretty well. The cost? $30/night. It’s not the penthouse, but it’s just fine.

We see a canal blocks away from one balcony, but not the beach. Hainan is a pretty huge island. We’ll be skipping seeing the beaches this time. Like in SF, we rarely see the ocean.

Bustling Boom of High-rises

Like any tropical point of destination, especially in a booming economy as China, Hainan serves to offer relaxation and great weather. With the rise of a middle class comes rising real estate, and towering high rise apartments for vacationers and the youth, income-generating urbanite. Just googled an image what this waterfront property formerly looked like: the bird’s-eye view showed hutong style villages — similar to the old style single family home, probably belonging to local fishermen, service workers, low-skilled laborers and their families. All of this bulldozed to make way for the modern towers.

Giant high rise loom over 2 vegetable farmers

Here an old couple maintains a small oasis of agriculture amidst the construction rubble — still able to produce lush green vegetables.

As the Chinese have been on a fast track to modernize, so have they inherited the woes of an alienated, urban dominated culture. The breakdown of classic, rural-based social structure, the sweeping advances towards capitalism and massive increase in urban populations have caused an increase in what we in the United States have become eerily accustomed to: the homelessness.

Spare Time

Having some evening downtime with no phone ringing for us, no junk mail to go through…basically no distractions have given us well needed time to work on our long term projects. I write the blog (which we found out is bo-ke in Chinese) and just relax after class now that I have bronchitis and a cold…bummer. But, I’m taking a very effective syrup from here and it’s working!!

Robert in his spare time after class continues to work on the Kojiki — Japan’s Creation myth. It’s so complicated and we’re slated to perform it in April, so lots to do. It will be at least one hour long! Mixing pleasure with work is a good thing, giving meaning to our time.

But stay tuned for Part 2 of this final segment of our China trip for more ‘pleasure’!

This article has 2 Comments

  1. You got me wondering when you were describing difficulties in being understood when you spoke in Chinese and then explained it was those “tones”. If the tone determines the meaning of the word, what happens in Chinese-language operas and songs: that is, how can meaning be conveyed when being sung, which requires certain pitches to “carry the tune”. Oh, now I’m wondering if that’s why Chinese music sounds kind of atonal to me: perhaps because it doesn’t follow a “tune” but has to accommodate the required tones of the words? Please be patient with my pataphysical meanderings. But maybe you’ll understand this question and deem it worthy of a response.

    1. Sorry I’ve just dipped into the page here… In answer to your wonderings, I think a lot of the Chinese words are also understood in context with the surrounding words. So in operas as well as conversation, each word is understood in relationship to the sentence.  There are some Chinese characters that have the same tone but different meanings!  Aggghhh!  But it is understood in context to the rest of the sentence.  That make sense?  Like English words spoken might sound the same (but have different spellings) and we only know by the context of the rest of the sentence and topic… like ‘night’ and ‘knight’ or ‘dear’ and ‘deer’.  Right?

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