Travelogue: Hainan, end of 2003 - part 2

* Booming

"Shijie Xiaojie" alias "Miss World".
This year's edition is right here in Sanya, in few days. With the correct guanxi (connections) I could end up meeting Miss Italia and make her feel at home with the help of the old trusted coffee machine and some Italian conversation. Tickets for the show are extremely expensive, that's what I understood, but I have no real idea how much since different people have told me very different prices (from hundreds to thousands dollars).

Speaking of guanxi, I am quickly progressing and during the evening I met the chief of the foreign affairs office. I joined a group of English people he knows, a television crew here in Sanya to film the missworld event. We all went together to a local disco and we got the biggest decibel injection I ever experienced. Really way too loud for my poor ears.

I got home quite late since after leaving the disco I went back to the bar where I risked the fight. When I was about to go to bed I saw the owner of the restaurant next to my pension which was having a late dinner with his friends. They were eating "hogou": a cooking pot in the center of the table constantly boiling and to which many ingredients are subsequently added and cooked and eaten. They invited me to join them and I gladly sat, ate, drank and talked with them. I am starting to get a feeling of belonging, the people here are so friendly and hospitable... they can really make me feel accepted.

* Mood tides

The next day I was planning to try scuba diving, together with a newly met person, a tourist from Chengdu. When we arrived to the coast where we should have sailed to a nearby island we discovered that "bu keyi" (it's not possible) to sail or to dive because a daifeng (typhoon) is approaching. Sunny days are over, at least for a while. And with the sun, also the good mood starts to disappear.

Melanchony approaches faster than the wind. Expecially after we take the "reserve plan": the driver that brought us to the coast warmly recommended us to visit a village of the ethnic groups that since the ancient times inhabited this island. I was not so keen but I didn't really oppose to be dragged into this.
I should have.
In fact it turned out to be a real touristic trap, those places I dislike the most, very fake, full of tourists, full of people constantly offering you to buy buy buy this this that.

It could be a marvellous place, it is a village between palms, with several animals wandering freely: some pigs with white and black fur, many hens with their chicks, cute ducklings...
The people there are dressed with what should have been the original dresses of their culture. A part from the fact that they mixed together two different ethnic groups (it's a Li & Miao cultural village), I am not so sure how the nylon socks fit in. Or the multi-hued metal bands.
The only original people appeared to be two old ladies with legs and cheeks covered with bluish tattoos. With them I liked to talk.

Nylon socks... I have noticed in Sanya that almost all waitresses and clerks wear them, I am told that it's a bit like wearing a tie, something you need to wear when working. To my eyes of perpetual foreigner it's quite funny to see so many girls wearing nylon socks here, in a tropical island, after four years spent in England where I didn't see anyone wearing them.

In the cultural village I saw other things which deeply saddened me, such as a sea turtle being kept chained over a wooden pedestal.
We didn't stay long and didn't buy anything, expecially after paying for the very expensive entrance ticket and seeing how fake the place was.

I bade farewell to the Chengdu tourist and went back to one of my favourite spots, the restaurant next to the pension where I am staying. I now know almost all the waitresses there, with whom I chat everytime I pass by. This time I sat there some hours, drinking a lot of tea and chatting with them and with several customers. Needless to say that I liked the first group and disliked the second. The customers are chinese businessmen coming there for lunch, they want to talk about politics, economy, iraq, mafia, whatever. Too difficult topics for me to handle and, to me, extremely boring ones. I got bored, I got tired, my mood sank lower. Some of the waitresses were also quite unhappy. I tried to inquire about the reason and it turned out they are angry at their boss, which is "a bad man". But when I tried to know more they didn't want to tell me. Either there's something quite bad going on or they think I wouldn't understand because of my language difficulties. I tried to push it but didn't get much more said on the topic so I dropped it.

At some point a phone call arrived and shook me out of the gloom. An invitation to dinner and to meet (guanxi guanxi) a manager of a very good hotel. Perfect, as I hate to dine alone and I was getting really depressed. A quick shower and a change of clothes sparkled the change in spirit. There I was, elegantly dressed, ready to propose myself to the leisure and entertainment industry.

The striking contrast... stepping from the city streets to the bay of expensive hotels. Meeting people in the lobby of the extra-luxurious Sheraton. Dining in a beautiful seaside restaurant, with fantastic sea food. The hotel manager turned out to be a really cool guy, very young looking (later I discovered with amazement he's 10 years my senior) and far from the image I had built in my mind. Although he wore a simple t-shirt, it was quite obvious he is very well off. And that he knows his way in this city.

After dinner we went to a karaoke bar, but of a kind I had never been before. Private rooms with comfortable sofas, a large choice of karaoke songs and a large choice of girls: the waitresses (organizers? leaders?) brought inside our room girls in groups of ten, each time looking at us for approval. I really didn't know what was going on. The cool guy was always quite disappointed, so the waitresses went scouting some more. I was beginning to get quite worried but nothing bad happened, maybe because we were all nice people... I cannot help thinking what other kind of customers come here and to do what. The girls that stayed kept us company, filling the glasses, singing the karaoke songs when we were not singing them, chatting... I played dices with the girl next to me but she was way too good at the game (or I was way too bad). I didn't want to participate in the choice of the girls, it gave me this feeling of meat market, but I gladly enjoyed the possibility of choosing the tea, so I could taste some good longjingcha.

* Fudao

I gather that like in many other cultures here it's very rude to start talking about business. So we never seemed to skim that topic. Instead we drank a lot and talked about many other topics, from deep to frivolous. I also learned something about how does Jackie Chan behave in real life. At some point, when I feared I was about to get too drunk to deal with the topic (too many "ganbei" with strong distillates) I dared being rude and started asking about the job opportunity. Probably it was the correct moment, probably the guy likes me... it appears I have already found a great job. I'll have to inquire more about the details but basically my task would be to spend time in the hotel lobby and invite foreign guests to go to scuba diving trips. A great occasion to practice several languages, a job which is not tiring, free use of hotel facilities including windsurfing in the famous bay, free accomodation and a salary which is really high for chinese standards. Is this happening for real? Or is this a dream conjured from the alcoholic flow? Did I understand correctly? Time will tell. I also need to ask if I will be able to use my laptop while the guests are not around... then I could really sign myself up for this.

* The scholastic path

Next day was dedicated to a visit to one of the universities, I cannot avoid to consider the possibility of continuing on the biology road I began ten years ago. I hence took a bus to the mountainous center of the island (where one of the universities is located) under the inclement rain brought by the typhoon. I wonder when will the sun be back. Weather is such a big component in my decision for where I'd like to settle.

The scenery was beautiful, even under the pouring tears. Black cattle, fields, lakes, palms everywhere, stairlike (?) cultivations of tea, rivers, mountain peaks, villages, low misty clouds snaking between the valleys. So beautiful and so completely different from the European life.

When I arrived to Wuzhishan I soon discovered that this time my Chinese had failed me. I thought I had managed to fix the meeting with one of the professors in the biology department. He had phoned me back, I thought everything was fine and I had taken an early bus to make it in time for the meeting... but instead I found out the professor was very busy and never seemed to have time to meet me. I was chaperoned by the university foreign affairs officer but I grew impatient and moody.
I also got the occasion to meet a very interesting Canadian who came to live here for a while and teach English in that university. In these days I've been meeting several people with a similar orientation to mine, looking for a laid back life in a small place and turning their backs to the fast paced world.

The university building is majestic, towering over the city, with a beautiful roof in ancient chinese style. The story is quite funny:
the local county had been granted a lot of money to build a highway. Instead they spent them all to create this majestic building to host their local government. When the central government of China eventually found out, they stopped the money and as penalty they removed the autonomous status. There was hence no more government that needed the building which was then turned over to host the university.

Rather than staying until evening to take the last bus back to Sanya, as I had originally planned, I decided to return earlier. I didn't get much sleep the previous night and I was so tired. It was obvious I wouldn't have any talk with the professor, not even during the afternoon. The foreign affair officer informed me that the professor would only come to see me off at the bus station. Uhm, no thanks. If they were all so busy that they didn't even invite me to come over to their department after I made the trip there, then there was no point in bothering them to come seeing me off. So I thanked and greeted goodbye, then left the majestic building and dived once more amidst the rain.

In the journey back to Sanya I had a conversation with a soldier who was very friendly and eager to talk. At some point I learned, although I am not sure if I understood correctly, that the soldiers are not allowed to use internet (for secrecy reasons or something like that... I might have misunderstood.. or maybe not).

I am meeting all sorts of people in these days, from many different parts of China, leading very different styles of life. I am doing very little sight-seeing and much more people-seeing, trying to understand more about the life here, how people think, what they desire, how difficult it is for them. A part from the tourists I am talking with many people working here. So many came from all over china, starting a new life here; often missing their homes and families, sometimes rich enough to visit back or have their families visit here.
I have had conversations with students, waitresses, guards, tourists, professors, restaurant owners, shopkeepers, hotel employees, karaoke girls, government employees, taxi drivers, hotel managers, bus ticketseller, school girls, waitress guardians...
I am being active socially like never before, and this is happening right in the island where I am coming out of a desire to flee the society... more opposites for me, more wujibifan.

I also came here for the sun, but I can feel the wind and rain constantly growing in intensity. In this moment the typing sound of the keyboard nicely harmonizes with the percussion of the rain.
I'll go out and face that rain now, to eat another lonely dinner, or maybe to make new unexpected encounters.

Joseph A.L. Insana

Last modified: Tue Dec 16 14:10:53 CET 2003 First appearance: Tue Dec 16 14:10:52 CET 2003