Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Saturday, April 19, 2003 01:35:34
Asia Pacific 2003: 3
Thursday, April 17, 2003
At about 3 in the afternoon I bundled up everything I didn't think I would need into one of the hotel's laundry bags and took it down to leave with reception until my return, then headed for the business centre. Emails received and sent, I went back to the room to transfer incoming email from the floppy disc onto the hard drive, as it was time to go. The bus and train to the airport were every bit as efficient as before, getting me to the check in counter well before flight time. The train trip from Kowloon station is precisely 23 minutes.
I have been fascinated with surgical mask behaviour here. It's surprising how many people have them hooked around their ears, but dangling under their chins. One fellow I passed had his hooked over one ear and it was flapping behind him as he dashed down the street. Many couples don't seem to agree on usage - one will be wearing a mask and the other not. I didn't see a single construction worker wearing one.
After checking in for the China Southern flight, where I was assured of an exit row seat, I went to the Cathay Pacific counter to book a seat with leg room for the Taiwan segment in a couple of days. There are some decent restaurants in the airport, so I went for a beer and a sandwich and read the morning paper. It's a good thing I hit the Marshall Islands on the way here. There was a report that they have closed the islands completely to anyone coming from Hong Kong, China or Toronto. They even turned back two Hong Kong residents who had been holidaying in Fiji just because they lived in Hong Kong! The tourism industry in the Marshalls is already on it's knees, I'll bet the hotel and tour operators love this decision!
When I went into the boarding area of the airport I was informed that a regulation had been passed requiring everyone coming in or out of Hong Kong to have their temperature taken. The process is very slick. They have a gadget that looks like the one used to examine ears. It is held to the opening of the ear channel, there is an electronic beep and they have the body temperature. What a vast improvement over a thermometer shoved into one end or the other for a few minutes!
Before reaching the security area the Hong Kong airport staff check the size of carry on bags. Regardless of the policy of the airline, they will not allow a carry on bag larger than their standards, and mine was about one inch too long. This meant going back to the airline check in, unpacking all my electronic gear and anything else I didn't want to take a chance on losing, then repacking it in bags I carry for this situation. This happens now and then when an airline has very small overhead bins, but it is a truly stupid policy when the airport overrides the carry on policy of airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Continental, who have gone to the expense of instaling large overhead bins for carry on luggage.
Once I'd boarded the flight I found my seat had no leg room. It was in an exit row, but on the Airbus 4 of the 5 exit row seats have no leg room. The cabin attendant said to take the seat with room, but at the last moment a very large fellow who had been assigned that seat came along to evict me. Eventually, they put me up with the crew who keep the bulkhead row for themselves and a large mound of baggage which took up three seats. There is, of course, no business or first class, as in the People's Republic of China everyone is equal. At any rate, my legs did fit, more or less.
The inflight "meal" was interesting. The juice de jour was mulberry juice, which wasn't bad, and the meal was packaged dried beef accompanied by a box of tomato crackers - the whole box. I opened the bag the dried beef was in and gave it a tentative nibble. It was about 3 inches long, somewhat resembling beef jerky smeared in a strange looking, and even stranger tasting, brown paste. I tried nibbling around the edges, but decided dried really wasn't the term for it - petrified would be closer. I decided that to avoid breaking a tooth I'd move on to the tomato crackers. They were about 5 inches long and a quarter of an inch round - something like really thin bread sticks. About the closest I could come on taste would be a Ritz cracker filled with tomato paste. I ate a few of them, but the whole box was a bit much. I'm planning on a good breakfast in the morning before the flight back so I can pass on the on board delicacies!
On arrival I was met by the hotel bus, as the efficient booking agent had promised. I had the entire 22 seat bus to myself. The City of Haikou was a real eye opener. The road from the airport was a well paved divided highway. We arrived in town at a bit after 9 PM, and construction crews, welders, truckers and it seems most others were working full boar - and still were when I got up at 6 AM.
We arrived at the Meritus Mandarin Hotel, a beautiful 5 star hotel which is costing only $75 per night, and I was checked in very efficiently. I asked at reception about hiring an English speaking driver or guide for the morning, and he said it could be a bit of a problem, but he'd see what he could do. He called the room a few minutes to connect me with a guide. Everything was quickly set for an 8 AM departure.
In the morning I went down for breakfast, which was included in the room price. It was a huge buffet, featuring Chinese, Japanese and full British/US breakfast. I went for the juice, yoghurt, ceral and fruit then finished up with a Chinese breakfast. It was like dim sum, with various bamboo baskets of different dishes. This will make it easy to fill up before the return flight on China Southern! The hotel was obviously low on occupancy as I was the only one in the large dining room.
I went to wait at reception for the guide. The staff apparently knew about our arrangement and had the guide's cell phone number. He and the driver were waiting across the street for me, so they drove right over when summoned. We headed out of Haikou for the 300 km drive to the other end of the island. It is interesting to note that nobody, not one person that I saw, wears a surgical mask here.
Haikou, a city of 800,000 people, has high rise buildings going up by the dozens. The streets are wide and clean. There are no crowds of bicycles, but there are loads of high end Japanese cars, with a smattering of Mercedes thrown in. There are large car dealerships with indoor showrooms. Everywhere are well tended boulevards loaded with flowers. The place has an air of prosperity.
The highway to the south end of the island is a four lane divided freeway in excellent condition People here know how to drive a freeway, keeping to the right except to pass. Highway signs are plentiful, clear and bilingual in Chinese and English. In addition, international symbols indicate the services available at each exit. Modern full service gas stations are frequent. The driver took us up to about 120 kph and stayed there. There was no sign of the military, and we saw police only once when we emerged from a tunnel. The driver and guide scrambled to buckle up when they saw the two police cars, but both police had clients so we shot by them, whereupon they removed their seatbelts again. It seems seatbelts are compulsory but not popular.
Cellular phone coverage here is excellent, and apparently cheap. Both the driver and guide had cellular phones, and received calls every few minutes throughout the trip. There were no blackout spots, even when we were going through the mountains.
We stopped along the way at a village of the Li people, which has been super commercialized. After paying to get it, visitors are expected to pay to have their photos taken in various costumes in various settings, pay to beat drums and play traditional instruments, and to buy handicrafts and souvenirs. It is very much a "tourist trap"!
The 34,000 sq. km. Hainan Island has a population of around 13 million people. It is very flat in the north where Haikou is, and becomes mountainous in the south where the main resort city of Sanya is located. There is an international airport at Sanya for incoming tourists. The island is tropical, and agriculture is important. There were fields of pineapple, cotton, fruit and lots of water buffalo. Judging by the number of logging trucks there is considerable logging of hardwoods. The highest mountain on the island reaches 1,867 meters.
We reached the resort city of Sanya and headed for Yalong Bay, which has a beautiful golden sand beach. It looked like Las Vegas, with all kinds of major hotels including the Sheraton and Holiday Inn. There are thousands of hotel rooms here, plus what is reputedly the best of the island's golf courses. The whole area only began to open up six years ago, so everything is new.
We returned to Sanya for a delicious lunch, then drove through the city which is also very new, modern and spotlessly clean. In the country on the back roads I saw a couple of wheeled platforms pulled by what look like large Rototillers, the principal vehicle that Marilynn and I saw when we were in China some fifteen years ago. In almost all areas we visited they had been replaced by modern cars, trucks and buses. All the development is private enterprise, not funded by the government. Sanya is built on another sandy beach that extends for several miles down the coast. There is one project after another all along the beach road offering deluxe houses for sale, each development having about eight identical units, but with the design totally different between developments.
After leaving Sanya we went to visit an enormous Buddist shrine. The is also a new project, being built by Chinese money but with the permission of the religion department of the government. The project is mind boggling - it covers acres and acres with many brand new temples featuring enormous statues of Buddah and other dieties. A causeway goes from the beach into the bay where the base has been constructed for what will be a statue of Buddah hundreds of feet high. Walking the site would be an all day project, but many trams transport visitors around. It is a multi, multi million dollar operation, and an interesting move away from the government ban on religion.
As it was late afternoon, we headed back for Haikou. The eleven hour outing covered over 700 kilometres, giving me a very good feel for the island. The prosperity it pretty impressive! When I was dropped back at the hotel I skipped dinner and collapsed into bed. We did a lot of walking today, and with the heat and humidity I was beat.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
A 5 AM wake up call got me down to the restaurant in time for a good breakfast. It seems the hotel's transportation policy is one way, so after checkout I took a cab to the airport. The hotel said the fare should be 60 yuan, so I allowed 70. The hotel also said airport tax was 90 yuan, and the Canadian government web site said it was 100, so I kept 100 yuan for that and applied the rest of the cash to the room bill. The taxi was metered, and came in at exactly 80 yuan. Fortunately the hotel was right on the departure tax so I came out exactly right for cash on hand.
Check in was a bit different. At first I was in the domestic departure area, which was a mad house with throngs of people milling about and with no signs in anything except Chinese. A stewardess looked at my ticket and got me pointed at the international departures area, where there were no check in counters and almost no people. A big sign said "Official area, authorized persons only" in Chinese and English, so I went in and through sign language understood that nothing would happen until half an hour before the flight. Then it was necessary to clear security, customs and immigration and pay airport tax before getting to the check in counter. At any rate, once going it all worked out quickly and easily.
I read the China daily new while waiting to board. There were a couple of things that I found interesting - one was that China took credit for the progress in isolating and identifying SARS - there was nothing mentioned about the Vancouver cancer clinic that had if first or the US one that came in a couple of days later. Another was an economic report, which if true indicates that China is doing very well indeed. According to the report, the first quarter economic growth was 9.9%. This is apparently a result of encouraging domestic demand which increased the demand for housing 52.7% over last year, and cars 99%.
I'd noted the numbers of the two seats with legroom and managed to be assigned one. The other sat empty this flight. I was delighted to pass on the food service, and settled for a bottle of water. I've been plugging away on my laptop for the duration of the flight.
I went to the same booth as last time to buy the return train/bus ticket, and was soon at the hotel. They had bumped me up to an even better room this time, with a spectacular view of Hong Kong Island and the harbour.
I'm delighted to have today and tomorrow with no plans, tours or flights - it is time to catch up on everything and to rest. This room is ideally suited to do just that.