Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tigers and Dragons up close

I don't usually enjoy a zoo, but you can only walk up and down the beach so many times before you have seen it all. If you need an outing for a day you may want to consider the Tiger and Dragon park. There are perhaps 100 tigers and more than 2000 crocodiles. There are also a lot of flower gardens to enjoy too. Now that may seem a little tame for some of you but for families it can be a worthwhile afternoon. Transportation to almost all the tourist attractions can be gotten for very little. If you don't research anything before you get there, you can get information from the tourist authority. They have several tables set up right on the beach where Yinbing street meets the beach. If you are all ready on the beach just walk west until you get to the area that has the walkway and pool area protruding into the sea. That is where you will find several people with information about all the sites you may want to see.

One thing that you notice about China is the lack of wildlife. Of course I live in a large city so one would not expect to see to many species, but there are not even many birds in the cities. Chinese people pretty much eat everything. In Wang Fu Jing in Beijing you can feast on sparrows, snakes, quail eggs, and testicles and all other sorts of bugs and other unidentified animals. There are people in the south who will eat other wild species that show up in markets, this is speculated to be the way SARS crossed from the animal world to humans, through something related to a weasel. I'm pretty brave about trying different unusual food but I don't ever go that far. I'm chicken.

One other thing that you will notice here is the abundance of fruit and vegetables that you have never seen or eaten before. Most of these are quite delicious so be a little adventurous and given them all a try. One of the best things about living and working in China as a teacher is that you get to enjoy the wonderfully varied cuisines. One of the styles of food I enjoy here is what is called "hotpot". You order meat and veggies and boil them in a spicy "soup". Lamb is not a very popular meat in the States but it is very popular here. They slice the lamb very thin and then it is boiled in the pot. You then dip it in a sesame or what is sometimes called tahini, similar to what is used in fallafels. It is wonderfully delicious. I will post a recommendation in my next post on where to get this in Sanya. It was one of the best hotpot restaurants I have eaten at.

worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Worldtour Busts a Move!

He can dance
Sanya New Years EveFor those of you that have never been to China during the Chinese New Year, let me describe the "traditional" event. Families get together much like Thanksgiving in the United States. They have lots of food, TV and games such as cards and Majiang. The national television, CCTV, organizes large shows that are seen live and repeated several times. They do these kind of shows all year, they are a little like a variety show. Mostly they have singers and dancers and may have minority ethnic performances too. The pictures here are from the celebration in Sanya on the eve of the new year. After the big show they had a DJ spinning tunes and invited everyone to dance. Well that didn't quite happen. Chinese people don't really know how to party. This is the biggest celebration of the year and other than a few dancers who were part of the show there was no one that was "brave" enough to dance except for myself and my Chinese partner.

So these pictures show the New Years crowd desperate for more "entertainment", namely watching a foreigner dance. There were literally 500 to 1000 people watching us dance. It was impossible to get any of them to join in and cut loose. They are just too self conscious to do that. When you have a party in China it is really just a dinner where people drink and eat. I'm reminded about a conversation I had with one of my teaching peers who was constantly criticized by his Chinese spouse because he liked to have a beer and play pool. She called him an alchololic. You see it is acceptable to drink yourself blind on Bai Jiao and heave the vile stuff back up as long as you do it at a meal. Vomit is a common sight. I know that is a blanket statement and as with all statements like this it is only partially true for some, but it is true for some as well. The point is that going out for a drink is not really done that much where I live. There are very few bars like in the west. There are a few discos which have bars but most people will do their drinking at a dinner. It's just a cultural difference. In Beijing and Shanghai where the nightlife is much better you will find more clubs, bars and such, but for the most part there is not a lot of nightlife here where I live.

So it is a little difficult for the average Chinese to "cut loose". They can do it but usually it is a group thing. It is very common to see boys dancing with boys and girls with girls. Are they gay? Probably not but mustering up the courage to dance with a stranger may not happen much. Sometimes the discos are like one group trance. Mind you I don't do that much even though I love to dance. When I do I always attract a lot of attention, as I did in the States. No brag, just fact. I'm sure it is much different in the more hip cities but I don't have much experience with that scene. But as you can see from the people watching this was quite entertaining for them, and as my background is in the arts as a performer it was no big thing for me and I had a great time. You really can have lots of fun in China and I do recommend it for those of you who are looking for an adventure. All things considered, the Chinese people are very kind and good people, I am happy to be here and most of the time the only thing that makes it difficult is dealing with my own cultural biases. If you realize these things you have a great chance to make lifelong friends and enjoy a fascinating culture.

Worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

Look at the foreigner
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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sanya on a Budget

Sanya hotels are relatively expensive during the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. I alluded to that in my last post. They are three times the normal price. Most hotels have a peak season but in Sanya they really gouge the tourist during this holiday. It is one of the things that I really don't like in China. If you read other blogs about China you probably have seen some advise on bargaining. Now this is something that few people in the West know how to do. You may not even be aware the the first price you are given may be up to 5 times what a vendor will ask of a Chinese person. We don't have this kind of situation in the west save the flee markets. The only things that we usually bargain for are houses and cars, so our skills need to be developed. It's really quite irritating after awhile, but with a little work and knowledge you can buy things at or near the same price that the locals do. This can be done with almost everything except for items in department stores which are pretty much the price that is posted. You need to be aware that when they see your face a vendor will almost always try to make 3 to 5 times more profit from you than the knowing locals. So get a friend to help you or just comparison shop before you buy.

Before I went I researched the hotel prices in Sanya. Most decent looking hotels ranged from 400 to 800 per night, during the non peak time frame. Every one had triple that price during the Spring festival. So I was looking at 1200 to 2000 or more for a hotel room. Now for people that come from the West this perhaps is an expected price for a decent hotel, but teachers in China make 5,000 to 8,000 rmb per month so you could easily spend two or three months salary on a week or two. I am just not willing to do that. Consider this tact. I payed 480 rmb for two weeks for a small apartment. Just because of my contacts with my students and their families. Sixty dollars for two weeks, you just can't beat that. Let's face it, most of your time there will be to enjoy the beaches and the outdoor activities. It doesn't take that much effort to ask around. If you have Chinese language skills I'm sure you could find one in one of the local neighborhoods. Living like a local is also an experience you may enjoy. The conditions will not be as nice but the streets do get cleaned daily for the most part, they just don't stay clean very long. This is a problem everywhere in China, people just toss all kinds of rubbish into the streets and it is then taken away by workers who collect the trash. It does leave much of the cities strewn with trash. It is quite appalling for most. It is also quite difficult to accept that culturally the Chinese are so totally uncaring about the filth they live in, it is just the way it is. Why something cannot be done about it in an authoritarian society is beyond reason.

I'm not a tidy freak, a anal retentive or a perfectionist about cleanliness either. I have just never seen anything that compares to the litter and garbage that is everywhere in China. That's what 1.3 billion people gets you, I guess. On the other hand most Chinese are quite fastidious about their own hygiene. Even with some of the litter, it is still quite beautiful, but unless you have seen it with your own eyes you may not realize the scope of the problem.

The picture above is in the apartment I rented. It only had a bed and that was it. Everything else we needed was loaned to us by my students grandparents. Chinese people are quite kind and generous to friends. This is one of the good things about the country and the people, the acts of kindness. They are really great that way.

worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Pearl River Hot Springs Resort

One of the first places we visited in Sanya was the Pearl River Hot Springs Resort. It is about 45 minutes outside of the city of Sanya Hainan. You can catch a free bus ride there from the beach at Da Dong Hai, or Big East Sea. This is one of the nicer beaches in my opinion. Your taxi driver will know how to get there or the 202 bus also will get you there. There are several resort hotels along the beach and you can rent an umbrella, jet ski, windsurf or ride in a boat, or just enjoy swimming or sunbathing. I spent my New Years Eve there and there was a stage with many singers and it was where the local TV was for the celebration. There was a wide variety of entertainers, including an American band from California. There was also a government sponsored fireworks show as well as individuals lighting off their own fireworks. So it's a good place to see. The bus to go to the hot springs leaves from there.

The cost for a day at the hot springs is 160 rmb or about 20 dollars. Quite reasonable for most people with good facilities. There are many pools for soaking and relaxing in with different substances in the water, such as coffee, coconut milk, herbs, flowers, and some Jacuzzi style areas with water jets. All pools have the temperature listed and you can try them all. They also have a play pool for children and a nice swimming pool. Food and drinks are available as well. The picture here is from a pool that had thousands of small fish that eat your skin! A very interesting sensation, quite ticklish. It felt like a low voltage electrical current. Some could not bear the sensation and could not contain their laughter as the fish nibbled away on your legs, toes, and hands. I must warn you about the sun though an afternoon there will result in a pretty nasty sunburn if you have a fair complexion as I do. So be careful, use the sunblock or stay out of the sun part of the time. You don't want to spend the rest of your vacation indoors as the weather is very nice.

Being a tourist city, you have many people trying to sell you everything from fresh fruit to pearls. The pearls that are sold on the beach are not very expensive and you can get a long strand of them for about 30 rmb, just a few bucks. Remember to bargain, you can get the long strands for 30 rmb so don't over pay if they won't sell at that price just walk away and someone else will. I don't know that much about pearls and I'm sure you can find the high quality ones in any department store but the ones sold on the street are nice and they are real.

Stay tuned for more info on the city and the vacation.

worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

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Friday, March 02, 2007

The Sanya Vacation Report

Greetings, I have returned from Sanya. For those of you who don't know where that is, it is China's largest island and smallest province, located in the South China sea. As you can see from the dates of my posting, I was not able to post during the vacation. Mostly by choice and not due to the availability of internet connections. I will be posting over the next few days. One thing you need to know is that going to an airlines web page and booking flight is not the way to go. You will pay up to twice as much for your tickets. This is one big difference here in China, they don't quite get it in that regard. So if you are here in China ask a friend to recommend an agent. That being said, I got tickets for 1310 rmb, from Harbin to Sanya, via Beijing. My other choice was to go through Chong Qing which was quite a bit longer, so I opted for an overnight in Beijing. If you have to do that I would recommend the Capital Airport Hotel. You can book a room there online and the hotel is just minutes away from the airport. Rooms are clean, not too big and the price is right, 368 rmb a night. There are places to eat in the hotel and the prices are reasonable there too.

I have spoken before about how friends will really be helpful to get you a good deal. Here is a good example. One of my student's grandparents winter in Sanya. They knew a woman who rents out a small apartment. The price is 450 rmb for one day or one month or anything in between. During the Spring Festival hotel prices are triple the normal price, so that means you will pay about 1000 or more per night which is pretty much out of reach for most people here, including me. So after arriving, we went to the address provided and paid our host plus 2oo rmb deposit for utilities, which ended up being only 30 rmb for the entire time. Our friends brought us a wok, a couple tables and stools and we had our base set up. Now mind you, there was not any hot water but there was a shower and with the heat the water is not too cold and with a hot plate you can clean up fine. Assuming you have a bit of the Spartan spirit in you. I have never liked spending too much on hotels but if you can afford 15k on a hotel be my guest.

I hope this gives you a little insight into how to navigate your travel in China. Rely on your friends, students and the people they know and you will save big time. I will be detailing more of the vacation very soon as time allows as classes begin again today.

Worldtour aka Larry Rhoe

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