Tag Archives: Tourism in China

Visits – Sānyà

1 Sep

In July, after enduring much heat and, for J., much humiliation (Cf this post), we headed to the beach. Although Shànghǎi, again which literally means “above the sea”, is on the sea, we never saw any of it, except perhaps from the plane shortly after taking off or before landing.

Sānyà was very nice. Perfect beach, lovely sea. It’s a city on the island of Hǎinán, located to the south of China, just across Vietnam. Sānyà is on the sounthern tip of the island. We were very well advised by our friend and neighbour C., who had been there many many times. She told us not to bother doing any research and to go Yalong Bay, where the most beautiful beach of Hǎinán is and, out of the many hotels there, to head to the Mangrove Tree Resort. We did exactly as told and had a perfect time lazying in the sun and… observing middle class Chinese by the beach.

Their behaviour is really contradictory! On one hand, most Asian people are known not to like being exposed to the sun. Being sun tanned is associated with working in the fields, which is in turn associated with the countryside and poverty. You will see many people in Shànghǎi walking with an umbrella on a sunny day. On the other, more and more middle class people are heading to the beach, in Sānyà and elsewhere in Asia, for their holidays, even though a fairly significant proportion of them (including people in their 30s) do not know how to swim. I can’t give a definite explanation to this rush to the seaside. But I suspect it may be a fashion imported from Europe (where it was also once frowned upon to be tanned). The fact that paid holidays are a very recent introduction to labour laws (initiated only in 1999 to boost domestic tourism) probably contributes to this too. Some of you may have seen pictures like the one below.

Thankfully Sānyà wasn’t like this at all. The beach, on a weekend in July, was practically empty, while the hotel was fully booked with 99% of customers being Chinese. Those few Chinese who ventured to the beach did so with a lot of caution. A lot of them came fully dressed, maybe just to have a peak, considering that was enough to enjoy the sea. A whole other lot of them were in swimming suits and still used umbrellas to walk from their chaise longue to the water, perhaps even into the water. And some of them wore funky gear. Others were slightly more adventurous.

Breakfast time

The beach!

Those girls took pictures of one another under the umbrella, in the sea, with the view, etc.

Could she swim at all?

The adventurous ones

It has been proven that sun exposure can be quite harmful and I have stopped over exposing myself a long time ago. Maybe it’s just a slow process to be able to fully start lazying around nearly naked by the sea. At the moment, Chinese people appear to be still too flustered and excited about seaside holiday to fully relax on their chaises longues.

Visits: Běijīng

6 May

When my parents confirmed they were coming to visit, I immediately asked them whether they would like to go to Beijing. I probably have some affection for the Chinese capital because it’s the first (and only) place I went to when I visited China for the first time. I was so excited to be there and have such good memories of it that I sort of kept the enthusiasm for it. Also, to be fair, it would be a pity for anyone to come to China on holiday and not visit Beijing. It’s filled with absolutely grandiose historic places, the sort you will only find in a few places on earth like the Pyramids or Luxor in Egypt or Versailles in France.

I won’t go over every single visit we did, because I can’t describe them and you’ll need to go and see it for yourself one day. I’ll just say it’s impressive and fascinating even though the pictures below probably don’t do these places justice.

Part of the Summer Palace

Brides by the annex of the Forbidden City

The Great Wall

Apart from the abundance and monumentality of historic places, the trip was interesting because it made me realise how different Beijing and Shanghai are. Some differences couldn’t be more obvious but there’s more than meets the eye. As a city, Beijing is monumental in every single way. Not just because of its historic monuments, but the scale of everything is just not human and reminds you of the power game that’s always existed between China and other countries. China’s got land, people and can mobilise both, don’t you ever forget it. Beijing is there to remind you of that. Tiananmen Square is massive, the roads are gigantic and difficult to cross and the basic unit of distance is certainly not the meter but the kilometre. My father chose a hotel which was central and therefore close to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the lakes Houhai and Beihai. We thought we’d go for a quick afternoon walk on the day we arrived. We walked for about an hour and even I got fed up and decided we’d take a cab to get to Lake Houhai. It makes Shanghai, which is a bigger city (23 million vs. 16 for Beijing) feel very human. In spite of its flaws, it certainly is more pedestrian-friendly. Here are two pictures but again, it’s really difficult to give a sense of scale of Beijing within a frame.

Tiananmen Square

The Beijing Opera House

Culturally, oddly enough Beijing is definitely more happening than Shanghai. You would’ve thought that being the seat of power of a controlling regime, artists would go elsewhere. But no, the cultural scene is located here. When I visited in 2004, the 798 Art District was still an underground place, now it’s become a bit too commercialised for my taste, but still has a few good things to see. I’ve read somewhere that there is a sort of ambivalence of the government towards artists. The fact that some Chinese artists are doing so well abroad is a source of marketing (and income) for the country, but at the same time the government doesn’t want it to get out of hand. So there’s both encouragement and restraint.

798 Art District

Installation by Palestinian artist Bashir Makhoul

From an expat’s perspective, I have often found that foreigners who have lived in both cities tend to prefer either Beijing or Shanghai, but rarely like both. Shanghai is definitely a yuppie kind of place, very entrepreneurial, very wealthy, sophisticated and show-off. Beijing, despite its aggressive urban environment and climate (very very dry and very very very polluted), I am told, is a calmer, more settled place. People are warmer and it appears that there is a better integration between Chinese people and foreigners. And those who have lived in Beijing speak about it with a lot of fondness.

On the way to the airport to fly back to Shanghai, I have to admit that I felt really grateful to have ended up in Shanghai rather than Beijing. The pollution and traffic really got to me after four days only. I am nonetheless very curious. Next time I visit Beijing, it’ll be to get a resident’s perspective and understand what it is that makes this city so endearing.

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