Excitement doesn’t even begin to cover what I feel when boarding Air-not-Africa in direction Hainan, China’s only subtropical island paradise. I wonder whether I am slightly high – no wonder, after a very restless night wandering the corridors of Singapore’s Changi Airport I am on a 24-hour sleep deprivation that’s just about to go weird.
Meeting Isabella from Haikou
Fortunately, there’s my new friend Isabella: a very dreamy girl from Haikou, Hainan’s capital city, who smiles non-stop and asks me straight-up whether I am up for a chat. Over the next two or three hours, Isabella shares fascinating insights with me that reveal a lot about some of the challenges that contemporary China and Chinese youngsters specifically are currently facing.
As opposed to most Western young adults, Chinese youth are heavily influenced and formed by their strict parents’ expectations and demands. Isabella, a name the 23-year-old chose for herself to facilitate interactions with foreigners who might struggle with pronouncing the Mandarin name, is no exception. Following her parents’ wishes, she is studying tourism in Singapore despite feeling utterly bored by it. She also hasn’t been able to catch up with her boyfriend in eleven long month due to her parents’ disapproval.
Isabella keeps telling me how hard it still is in modern day China to stand up to your ancestors and to choose the life you really want to live against all protests and odds. We end our surprisingly direct conversation by exchanging addresses and hugging each other goodbye. My first impression of Chinese people in China is definitely a great one! Let´s see if these positive impressions keep coming – it’s time to set foot on the land of the rising sun.
Passing the Chinese border control
Ah well, it´s ALMOST time to set foot on the land of the rising sun. First, a border patrol lady is questioning my motives of entering the holy land of consumer product creation. “Are you here for business?”, she asks me in a strict tone of voice. “No, visiting a relative.” , I answer slightly intimidated. “What is your relative doing in China?” At this point, I am inclined to answer with “He is an American spy. ”
I choose not to, however, flying back to Australia without even tasting some authentic dumplings does not sound like the wisest plan. The border patrol lady seems satisfied with the answer I actually give, and so I triumphantly leave the security area, pick up my bags and meet my relative at the exit.
Fortunately, he is fluent in Chinese – seeing as out of nowhere, about five over-diligent cab drivers surround us and get a little too close for my liking. Hey, I am used to plenty of space now, living in Western Australia and all! After discussing loudly in screamy Chinese, we get into a cab and drive to the hostel. There´s good and bad news awaiting me there.
First impressions of the Haikou hostel
The good news: an in-house menu with delicious dumplings that I actually manage to eat with chopsticks! The bad news: the toilet is a hole in the ground… Then I remember that this is quite a common thing in Asia, and tell myself to be less biased, for f… sake.
Flexibility is key regarding authentic travel experiences, and I plan on sticking to that mantra! The next two days in Haikou are spent discovering some intriguing sights, tasting authentic treats and ….almost eating a brain. Stay tuned for more details on my Haikou adventures!
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to China? What were your first impressions?