Happy New Year 14th January 2015

Can you still wish someone a Happy New Year two weeks into the year? But of course China is 4 weeks away from its new year. The year of the sheep is nearly upon us and the shops have despatched their Christmas decorations to storage and everything has now become very red.

However, many places still have Christmas Trees up, making us still feel a little festive.

Christmas was spent back in HK. Having arrived back in HK on Christmas Eve we met up with even more of Martin’s ex-students who took us for lunch, and then another student took us to see the light show down on the waterfront. The place was very Christmassy, and warm. Probably because it was Christmas Eve, the harbour area was extremely busy and from the metro there was a one way system in place…which proved to be difficult to get back after the show so we were all very late in getting back to the hotel. But thankfully we were all asleep when Santa dropped off a few presents.

An early Christmas morning Facetime call was placed to Northern Ireland. Mum and Dad had to leave the midnight service early to honour our planned phone call. It rained on Christmas Day. But we made our way to The Pawn on Johnson Road- Tom Aiken’s restaurant. Mulled wine and the obligatory turkey was had. I then followed that with a Christmas pudding. Sadly that was lacking. The main course was lovely, the turkey succulent, but my Gran’s pudding is untouchable,  but our friend, Sheila’s is very close and has been delicious for the past few years (this year distance proved too great). Marks and Spencer’s is also good when all else fails. The pudding served at The Pawn was nowhere near the 3 old faithfuls.

An afternoon snooze was then had (by me), Eleanor watched Muppet’s Christmas carol and Martin spent the afternoon ensuring that there would be a family skype call with his mum and sisters that evening.

We saw the Nutcracker Ballet on Christmas night. Eleanor was fascinated and watched with delight the dancers and the musicians. Martin was surprised to learn that the conductor had conducted him previously with BPSO (British Police Symphony Orchestra). A lovely evening. Back to the hotel and I packed whilst Martin and Eleanor skyped his twin Claire in Florida, his eldest sister, Sarah in Germany and his Mum in the UK. A feat of timing given that it was across 13 time zones.

There has been a Doherty tradition that we go to the Pantomime on Boxing Day if in NI, or the races at Wincanton. But this Boxing Day we flew to Sanya (well Haikou given my lack of geographical knowledge). We landed and went through immigration in a “shack” (how Bournemouth, Exeter and Belfast City were once), we got the train to Sanya – 2 hours by bullet train and 300 miles covered easily – in 1st class. Our hotel – Reclusive Life on Phoenix Island. We didn’t know what to expect having not paid very much for a luxury family room – and while in parts they were still building it and the staff spoke as much English as I can speak Chinese, we were pleasantly surprised. The hotel is on reclaimed land, the biggest island of its type outside of Dubai. We had a small apartment on floor 12B, with two balconies and a bath on one of the balconies overlooking a blue sparkling sea. The sea was warm enough for Eleanor to swim in and for me to paddle in and a night we were treated to a jetski show.

In Sanya we did very little save for Martin going shopping for a pair of shorts and Eleanor shopping for sunglasses. If I misjudged the size of the island, Martin misjudged what a tropical island would be like.

I went window shopping for pearls and wooden boxes. The jewellery boxes were exquisite and clearly made from an expensive wood. I can’t say what type, but for a small box the price was 5 figures with no decimal place – and that was in RMB!(4 figures in Sterling). We later found out that Sanya is a Russian holiday playground.

We did go to a rainforest, 25km outside Sanya, near Yalong Bay – Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Resort. We were told at the entrance that we should buy a bus ticket as it was a steep walk over a large area. We did! And yes it was very steep, but lovely scenery covering 1,506 hectares. Green trees, blue skies and sunny. The restaurants were dotted all over the resort and on the back of our ticket was a map with the bus routes, sadly the routes didn’t go anywhere near any of the restaurants, some of which were also hotels.  In our naivety we showed the map to a worker and with some sign language and suddenly a golf buggy showed up. Sometimes having no Chinese language is a bonus. We had a lovely lunch in the “western restaurant” overlooking the mountains. After lunch we went over a rope bridge erected between two mountains. The Guo Jiang Long Rope Bridge is 168m long and 40 metres above the valley. The scene is apparently famous having been in a film – “If You Are the One 2”. We walked to the rope bridge but found that the bridge is one way and we had happened upon the exit. So we walked through the forest on a path that had low hanging branches and trees growing in the middle of the paths. Having paid to get into the rainforest, we forgot that this is still China, and we had to pay again to get onto the rope bridge! But the views were stunning.

The bus was like riding a rollercoaster. Hairpin blind bends with bus drivers that were clearly frustrated racing drivers. Every so often we would pass another bus and the passengers would shout out to us. The first time it happened I thought they had crashed and I jumped a mile. By the time we passed the third bus we were well used to it. Strangely the bus we were in had passengers that didn’t shout out – quite reserved really.

On the penultimate day of our holiday (New Year’s Eve) we went to Tianya-Haijiao Scenic Area. We had been told about this place by people who had stopped us and asked where we were from. The guy from Beijing told us that we had sent our prisoners to Australia, and China had sent their prisoners to this place. The translation of the area is “edge of sky, rim/end of the sea”. It likes 23 km from downtown Sanya and we got bus 16 to it. Both public buses that we took to do our day trips were jam-packed with standing room only. Save that our delightfully cute 6-year-old with her Mandarin got seats on all journeys. Once we got in it was calm and quietish. However the first hour and trying to get in was stressful. That day was the only day when I hadn’t asked Martin whether we had enough cash. Probably if I asked the question, the answer would have been yes in any event, because we would have had enough cash IF the entrance fee was paid by card – like any other place we have visited so far. We have visited places that had cash points at the entrance. But not this place. Teeming with tourists (99.9% Chinese) there was no ATM and all the restaurants were cash only. After we (I mean Martin) paid the entrance fee, we were left with 10RMB (about a £1). Given that it had been 20RMB for the bus for the 2 of us as Eleanor had been free, we didn’t have any money to do anything let alone eat… we had come at lunchtime woefully unprepared.

Eleanor and I went paddling as here we were forbidden to swim. Martin went searching. Phoning an ex-student he managed to ascertain from a security guard that there was no ATM and that the nearest one was a few kilometres away. We therefore left the area, and again using the ex-student (one of the few who spoke Mandarin and not Cantonese) a taxi driver took us about 2kms down the road. Martin got cash, leaving Eleanor and I in the taxi so that he didn’t drive away. We then went back to the park and blagged our way back in.

Hainan, because of its climate and because it is still Chinese is very popular with honeymooners. Tianya-Haijiao is popular because of its beach  but also its stones carved with Chinese characters. One stone is carved with 4 characters meaning “a pillar standing in the southern part of the sky”. The story apparently goes that when local fishermen’s daily life was affected by the storms they couldn’t catch many fish and so two kind-hearted fairy maidens transformed themselves into two large stones and stood on the beach to shelter the fishermen. But the mistress of the maidens, Mother Goddess of Heaven was so furious that she despatched the Thunder God to drag them back to Heaven. The maidens refused so the Thunder God broke them in two. One was thrown into the sea, the other left on land. near the remaining stone lies another stone with the carving “the sea and the sky joined together”. It is the oldest inscription (and probably the one that we don’t have a picture of as we had no idea what the carvings meant when we were there!)

Sanya’s views were of typical beaches , blue sky and sun and these are firmly imprinted in my mind. But it is the plastic pink garden chairs that are more memorable. At night these chairs on the street surrounded large tables with Chinese people cooking on them and eating on the pavements. Tens of these tables were lined outside shops. Each table had an electric stove and a metal bowl, and if people weren’t cooking they were drinking coconut milk from coconuts or playing cards. A really relaxed city.

New Year’s Eve ended with Martin and I drinking sparkling wine from mugs (Starbucks ones of course! – Sanya and Hong Kong). Neither of us saw midnight due to our flight “home” on New Year’s Day.

Eleanor during the holiday asked to go home… Home to Suzhou – A breakthrough!!!!