Did we view into a portal? Brigadoon?

The other day, in the taxi, we passed by a park nearby where we saw people doing tai ji, badminton, social dancing, and fan tai ji. Waiting until our last day when there will be no class, we hope it won’t be another lost attempt to actually be amongst them like in Beijing when we couldn’t find the same at the Temple of Heaven.

So, with the first day of blue sky and our last day here, we eagerly walked to see China’s ordinary citizens being healthy and socializing with their friends and colleagues. We were not disappointed!! It was full of people young and old. Lush with tropical greenery and magentas and deep reds, we walked from one lovely activity to another: graceful ladies floating with Chinese dance movements, Chinese opera scenes by elders, women and men taking turns singing popular Chinese traditional songs, badminton, tai ji sticky (push) hands, croquet, waltzes and tangos, ping pong amidst the bamboo trees. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday — or every morning for some of the retired persons. Next time I’m here, I’m joining the ladies to learn some of the graceful Chinese dances!

Swaying, swirling, bowing, singing — it's Arts in the Park!

After a wonderful experience there, we left the park toward a very busy alleyway, where we found rows and rows of wood sellers for making all sorts of beautiful crafts, then rows of antiques, then jade, then books, furniture, odd and ends, beautiful plants — all grouped together by items being sold — some items presented for blocks on end.

Whittled crafts, collectibles, and... Bamboo Christmas trees?

Old Section of Hai Kou, Hainan

Hours later we caught a cab to the ‘old section’. Again blocks and blocks, actually miles and miles of narrow crowded streets and alleyways lined with shops — again grouped together. So for blocks on both sides there would be shops selling light fixtures, or red fancy paper decorations, or Santa objects, or tools, or cloth, or frame shops. The Santas looked decidedly Chinese…

Turn down an alley and blocks of every imaginable dried meat or sea animals including sea horses and star fish; turn down another alley and there are the live sea animals — turtles, cobras and sea snakes, every kind of fish, then down another alley and it becomes the live rabbits, chickens, and OMG cats, and yet another with dead cleaned fish and squid to take home to cook.

Cobra for medicine, dried Skate Fish for a dish…and kitties too?

Every narrow alley is crowded with people walking, people selling, people buying, people on bikes, people on scooters, people pulling loads on 3 wheel carts of piled garbage or boxes of goods, people people people!

We finally found a place to eat in one of the alleys — amazing food! Turnip pancakes with green onions, carrots, and egg. It was also a bakery! Fresh out of the oven, we tried the most tasty, light and sweet bun with coconut flakes sprinkled on the top while the middle had been rolled lightly in sweet red bean paste. There were so many kinds to savor, but we were too full! Later, we mourned that we hadn’t bought a variety of pastry for later or on the plane.

Where we’ve been staying seems to attract the young, and so at the old section, it was wonderful to finally see the wizened faces of elderly women and men eating, playing mah jong, fan tan, cards, and shopping for fresh meat or fish. Unfortunately, we also noticed that it was often the poor and the old women and men who dragged the heavy wooden three-wheel carts loaded with bags of garbage or other discards. Strong and wiry, but where are their children who should be taking care of them? Still, we heard later that Hainan has the highest population of elders over 100 years old. There are 48,900 citizens of China that are over 100 years old most of whom have lived and worked in the countryside all their lives. One couple just celebrated their 90th wedding anniversary!!

Here we saw people engaging with people — hardly anyone on cell phones, texting, or playing computer games. People were in relationship to each other in a myriad of ways — cooking together, eating together, playing together, running a business together… We felt like we were in a sea of humanity flowing in a current of vital life energy.

Finally, we headed home, our feet and legs tired, but happy for the experience of old and new China in Hainan.

Flying Home

Well, we spent one last night in Beijing in a hotel near the airport. And behold! A mattress like home sweet home!

We hired a driver after some swift price bargaining to take us to the houtong district where we stayed the first nights so we could shop shop shop!

We took our sweet time roaming the alleys and stores looking for any last minute desires. Though back in the freezing weather, we were able to just take our time, savoring the sights and sounds of this last night in China. We once again saw chefs rolling the dough to make fancy dumplings, lovely ladies offering little cups of tea for sampling, the silk shop, the plaza store of everything under the sun to buy, life size bronze statues of Chinese of a past era visiting, reading, trying on new shoes, and so on, depending on what the store was selling.

We ended up eating in the Taiwan district (which is interesting given the relations between the two countries) at a Korean restaurant of all things. However, not after we had two long sticks of roasted garlic lamb from a street vendor. Of course this meant we had left-overs because as usual Robert ordered many dishes. But with the left-overs plus a packed roast duck, we were assured we wouldn’t starve on the United flight home. We remembered they didn’t serve dinner, just lunch when you got on the plane and dried up egg and nasty sausage for breakfast before landing. That’s 9-11 hours in-between! (This is a warning if you are considering traveling to China on United).

One Last Glimpse of Great Chinese Food!

Here’s a peek at several photos we took of great food, the varieties, the flavors and the cheap prices — all will be savored in salivating memoirs and flavored by photos.

Zhongguo cai hen hou chi = "Chinese food is delicious!"

We waved goodbye to China and thanked her for an extraordinary month of so many different experiences and places. China is so huge and has so many different kinds of terrain and cultures, we can’t but wonder at the amazing thrill it must have been for Marco Polo, who spent 24 years in China and still didn’t cover it all. (Ironically, when he returned to Italy, his published journal accounting all the cultural wonders, inventions, architecture and science he saw was nicknamed “The Millions” — which his critics implied — millions of lies. He was sent to prison.) As we now know, he was an exceptional friend of China and reported the absolute truth of China’s treasures.

Home Sweet Home

Still, we were ready to come home. And so it is that we close this part of our adventure and hope you have enjoyed sharing it with us.

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