I haven’t been back to Guangzhou, my birthplace, in over a decade. When I was younger, my family used to return every five years or so to visit relatives during the summer (bad time to go unless you’re a fan of the heat, by the way). Since they have mostly immigrated to America and sold off their homes in the mainland, there hasn’t been much reason to go back. This was my first trip to Guangzhou without my parents, but the wave of nostalgia I thought I would have was noticeably absent.
China is changing at such a rapid pace that every time I return, it feels like an entirely different place. My mom’s ancestral home has been torn down to erect new apartment buildings. If you’re lucky, the government will displace you to a new home in a well-developed part of the city. Few street vendors can be seen anymore since the major crackdown right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in an effort to improve the image of the country. Sadly, that’s one of the things I miss most. Ordering fish ball skewers dipped into hot sauce from metal carts, sipping Mexican coke for 1RMB a bottle before recycling them into a plastic crate, or shopping for stationery with my cousin as vendors lined all sorts of pretty pens, notebooks, and art supplies along the road. All vestiges of a past China.
The next day we were originally supposed to go to Haikou, which is north of Hainan. We got up early and headed to the railway station, which was quite far from our resort. Just our luck, it turns out that even when traveling within the same country (in the same province!), we needed our passports to buy tickets and we had left them in our hotel safe. Darn it! Went all the way there for nothing. So instead we rode all the way back to the hotel and came up with a contingency plan for the rest of our time in Sanya.
On our second day in Sanya we went to Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park (what a mouthful). It was only 11 minutes by car from our resort so we took a cab. At the park, our taxi driver purchased a group ticket for us and two other strangers who hopped in for a carpool to the entrance. Cabbies would always offer to buy tickets because they get a kickback (price is the same for us), but what we should’ve done is held onto the physical ticket instead of letting the two strangers hang on to it. More on that snaffu later. It was just the beginning of what would become a long, long morning.
Tie and I decided to visit Sanya, Hainan (part of China) from of our love for Hainanese chicken. As it turns out, the best Hainanese chicken is found in Singapore, which is an adaptation of the original dish, Wenchang chicken. More on that in a later post. Nonetheless, Sanya is often regarded as the Hawaii of China. Now, having been to both, I can say that the two are totally different aside from the tropical climates. I haven’t been back to the mainland in almost a decade. Like most of China, Mandarin is the common dialect in Sanya. It felt strange being regarded as foreigners since Tie and I either spoke English to each other or spoke Mandarin with a Cantonese accent. But it was easily the most memorable leg of our Asia trip, as it felt at once familiar and like unexplored territory.