Have you ever felt like stepping off the edge of the world into a strange land where no one knows you, where you don’t speak the language, where you lose yourself in a culture distinctly different from your own? Do you sometimes feel like taking Exile to the extreme?
Hainan Island in China is such a place. They are still not used to foreigners here so you’ll likely get lots of “Hallos” and stares when you walk down the street. Hainan is a hot, tropical island. Sultry nights. Coconut palms. And Hainan is affordable. Unlike other well-known tropical resorts on the tourist route, you can still find bargains here, especially if you’re adventurous and willing to explore some of the more remote areas of the island. Seven Fairies Mountain in Baoting is one such place.
A few spas have sprung up around the many natural hotsprings in the area. Clouds hover over the tops of lush, green mountains, making it a truly magical place. (Here’s one to try: Qi Xian Ling Hot Spring Resort; Baoting, Hainan 572300; Tel: 0898-83607448). For more information on Hainan, including travel info., try this website: http://www.hainandiscovery.com/eng/region/hainan_front.htm
Admittedly, most people who come to Hainan head to Sanya in the south. This is where you’ll find miles of white sand beaches, diving, and lots of hotels and resorts. However, I live in Haikou, the island’s capitol on the northern tip of the island. I came here three years ago to heal my own mind and spirit and I’m still here. If you need a place to unwind and express yourself, one of the nicest 5-star resorts I’ve ever been to is just outside Haikou and the price is significantly less than what you will find in the west. The Crown Spa Resort sits nestled on a secluded patch of beach, surrounded by neon green rice paddies. They have a huge natural hot spring pool and full massage service designed by Brazilian Reiki Master, Dianna Ruas. Outside you have a large pool as well as the ocean for swimming. It’s peaceful and you can lounge the day away sipping drinks and swinging in a hammock. Informaiton: (Crown Spa Resort, No. 1 Qiongshan Avenue, East Riverside, Haikou 86+898+65966888)
Ready for exercise to exorcise all the negativity from your life? Wake up early and head down to one of the city’s parks like People’s Park in the center of town or Evergreen Park on Binhai Road. You’ll find groups of meditative people practicing Tai Chi. In the evenings, around 8 p.m. you can find groups of women on the street corners with a boom box practicing traditional Chinese folk dances. Feel free to join them. The steps are easy to follow and the women will be welcoming and gracious. You might even find someone who speaks limited English to chat with. There is also an active group of hashers in Haikou who get together every weekend for running/walking excursions into the countryside. Afterwards, they usually gather for dinner. This is lively, friendly group made up of expats and locals. In March, 2007, they will be holding the All China Nash Hash in Haikou. You can check their website: http://www.haikouhash.net/en/hdjh.asp for more information.
You should be aware of some of the negatives also. This is not the place to shop for clothes. If you are a Western woman and wear anything above a size 0, not only will you have trouble finding clothes to fit you, if you even venture near a clothing shop the clerk will chase you out saying “Ni da. Ni da.” Which means you’re too big. This can be demoralizing, especially if you’re already in a fragile state of mind. However, on the positive side, you can get clothes made here. There is a fabric market with seamstresses just off Datong Lu (between the China Agriculture Bank and China Telecom). You can select your fabric, choose a style and have clothes made to your measurement. The few foreigners in Haikou all get their clothes made here so these people will do their best to communicate with you.
If you can do without the clothes shopping there are a number of other things worth exploring. Green tea for instance. Stop in at one of the many tea shops. The proprietor will sit you down on a stool at a low wooden table and let you sample many varieties of tea. Try to have a translator with you (call one of the local colleges—many English students would love to have the opportunity to accompany you about town). You can learn all about the provinces where the teas come from, the different healing properties of each and the proper way of brewing. Ask to try some pu’er cha from Yunnan Province. This is a dark red tea that is aged and slightly fermented. This is supposed to be excellent for lowering cholesterol and helping with sleep problems. Hainan also grows many medicinal herbs and this is a prime spot for learning more about traditional Chinese medicine.
You will also find abundant pearls on Hainan Island. However, like elsewhere in China, ripoffs are common. Know your stuff before buying. Most of the higher end pearl shops will have authentic items, but even here quality can be questionable. Wherever you go, be prepared to bargain hard. The initial asking price will be significantly higher than what you should actually pay. For a guide to shopping see: http://www.sunnysanya.com/
Really ready to exhale? Consider staying for a while. China is in desperate need of English teachers and if you’re a native speaker you can easily find a job for anywhere from a few weeks or months to a year or more. A career change can be healing as well. Even if you don’t want to teach English for a career, it can provide a needed interval in your life. You can learn about another country (not just China) in a way that goes beyond usual tourism and your service will be much appreciated. For the most complete information of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, the TEFL website is the place to go:
Hainan can be hot and humid in the summer but winters are glorious. At all times of the year, night is the prime time to walk around and enjoy the unique island life.
Leslie J. Clary is a freelance writer who currently lives in Hainan, China. Her website is: www.lesliejclary.com.