Michele and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
We took a vacation from our vacation. Marian has been promising this for a while. She keeps saying we’ll do it as soon as the weather gets better. Of course, since we are in sunny tropical Hainan in the winter, the weather has consistently been around 50 to 60 degrees, raining, foggy, or both.
Last time they came to China, as I dropped them off at the airport, Seth sent me a message saying that I had to take them to see more than just coffee shops if they came again. I retorted that they had a lovely time at the museums which I had taken them to, to which he replied “The Beijing Urban Planning Museum does not count as a tourist site.” Clearly, my brother did not get the adventuresome genes in the family.
On our mini vacation we did not go to Sanya (the beach mecca of Hainan), we did not go to Bo’Ao (the home of the yearly Asian Economic Forum), we did not go to Wanning (where Marian raves about the botanical gardens and the coffee plantations), we did not go to Wenchang (with the Chinese satellite launch center or the 19th century historical buildings associated with the Soong family), we did not go to Wuzhishan (the most famous mountain in the province), we did not go to Ledong (with the giant rainforest preserve), we did not go to Baisha (with the tea plantations), we did not go to Baoting (with the hot springs), no, we went to Danzhou and Lin’Gao.
What is there to see in Danzhou and Lin’Gao?
More than just goats, there are also turtles. Sometimes you can even see cows. Some of the cows are yellow cows. Some of the cows are water buffalo. Many of the cows are pregnant.
While we were there, we actually managed to go to a legitimate tourist site. How did we know it was a tourist site? Well, for starters, it didn’t have goats. It also had a sign which said, in English, TOURIST SITE.
The name of the TOURIST SITE was Rainbow Bridge Memory Mangrove Swamp. According to Marian this was merely clumsy translation rather than Chinglish as the Chinese name was also Rainbow Bridge Memory Mangrove Swamp. It’s a brand new tourist attraction which has not even started to charge an entry fee yet. Of course, this meant it was packed with locals. Within five minutes we discovered that far more than the gardens, the boardwalk through the mangroves, the caged pet rabbits, the photo exhibition, or anything else, the most interesting attraction at the tourist attraction was US.
If you’ve never wanted to experience what it’s like to be chased by paparazzi, do not go to a random newly opened rural tourist site in China as a white person.
After we left Rainbow Bridge, we drove along a pleasantly smooth road which wound gently along the coastline. Occasionally darting inland for a bit to avoid a bit of swampy land, it mostly hugged the contours of the mangrove swamp and was dead flat. This made it perfect for all the nouveau riche bikers and runners to use it as a daily exercise trail. Marian says that even in Haikou it’s rare to see that many on one stretch of road at one time.
The road ended in the town of Xinying. This is an extremely prosperous town that is home to much of northern and western Hainan’s fishing fleet. Judging by the quality and the age of many of the buildings, it’s been a well to do place for a good long time. Oddly enough, while much of China builds their modern buildings out of concrete and cinderblock, even the modern buildings here were made of stacked squared off chunks of black local rock.
Something I did not point out to them which also speaks to both the prosperity of the town and the lack of entertainment options for many of the people during the off season was the number of anti-drug Public Service Announcements painted on various walls. My personal favorite was one which showed a cartoonish man snorting a pile of white powder off his hand with the powder forming a house, a boat, a car, a wife, and a child.
We drove through Xinying Town and out the other side, passing a number of military installations both current and long defunct. At one point there were about ten or twenty large concrete bunkers almost entirely overgrown. No one in the car could agree on what era or what war the bunkers might have been from. Could have been the Japanese occupation in World War Two. Could have been precautions against the Americans during either the Korean or Vietnam Wars. Could have reflected growing tensions with the Russians in the 1970s. Could even have been against the Vietnamese in the late 80s. If there’s any place which is certain to be allowed to sit empty and grow thick with jungle, untouched by farmers (or goats), abandoned military installations are definitely that place.
At a rusty sign which said “No Entrance Militarg Bass” we turned off the road and parked. This made me a little nervous. I’ve already been kicked off of enough military bases in China and being detained is absolutely no fun at all. The bass was actually to our right and appeared to be a giant, currently operational, radar facility. We were there to look at the turtle breeding farm.
Working on the ‘Alsatian Mastiff Barrier’ theory of wealth concealment, the place was an absolute dump. Broken windows, rusted out air conditioners, piles of trash, torn bits of canvas, empty buildings, it could have looked a lot worse. Perhaps most of the problem was damage from this past summer’s typhoons, but it did not look like the sort of place an investment farmer would be interested in. However, the person we were there with was a friend of Marian’s from Shanghai who is, in fact, an investment farmer. He said they had put about $45,000 into this place three years ago and were currently pulling in around $150,000 a year. Even considering the number of staff (which could possibly have been as high as four or five people) and their living expenses (one assumes most of them did not live in the on site buildings), the electric costs, or the cost to feed the dozen plus dogs, even if Marian’s friend was lying through his teeth about how much they were making, this was still a very profitable venture.
The best dishes (plastic plates) were set out for us and we had our first Northern Chinese style meal for the past couple of days. It was pretty much all the same ingredients (goat meat, duck meat, goose meat, fish, vegetables) as we’d been having, but the cooking methods were different and, truth be told, it tasted a lot better. I’ve often said that if you want to eat good Hainanese food you should go to Singapore. The ethnic Hainanese of Singapore and Malaysia have a reputation going back over 150 years for being excellent cooks. I can only assume that the talent drain of excellent cooks emigrating to Singapore has been going on at least that long.
Over the two and a half days prior to our trip to the turtle farm, Xinying Town, and the Rainbow Bridge, we’d spent going around various goat farms under various stages of construction, various goat pens with pregnant goats for sale, and various restaurants (probably not for sale).
My friend from Shanghai had long since offered to take me with him the next time he came to Hainan to go out to the countryside. In the grand tradition of Random Trips with Random Chinese People, I said yes. Equally in this tradition, he had no problem with me taking additional Random People (Mom and Dad) with me. I have taken many Random Extra People Random Places. Sometimes it’s fun; sometimes it’s not; usually, it’s weird.
At the very beginning of this trip, when Marian said we’d be going to another city and staying in a hotel and maybe seeing some farms, we were kind of thinking something like Carroll County or Lancaster. There was a bit too much rain forest for it to really be like either of those places. The number of free range chickens and pigs that did not have clearly marked owners was more in line with a West Virginia holler. Scrubby overgrown forests of slender silver trees with autumn colored foliage turned out to be rubber instead of birch. The only plants I recognized came not from my long ago Girl Scout Tree Badge but from working on a kibbutz in Israel. There were lush green stretches of recently harvested bananas, stands of white and pale green bamboo, and bunches of other things some recognizable some not. Marian pointed out winter strawberry fields and a coffee plantation as we whizzed by on the expressway.
None of the goat farms that we visited were exactly accessible by what you would generally refer to as ‘roads’. From the expressway we went to the National Road (a two and a half lane wide undulating blacktop and concrete road). From the National Road we went to the Provincial Road (a somewhat steeper two lane concrete road). From the Provincial Road we went to the County Road (a lane and a half concrete road with very steep bits and hairpin turns). From the County Road we went to the Farm Road (Marian and Ted hung out to the door straps and cringed a lot). Then we had to change from the SUV to a four wheel drive extended cab pick-up truck and we went from the Farm Road to the Unpaved Farm Road.
At first the Unpaved Farm Road seemed like just an as yet unpaved extension of the farm road. Then, we got to the first ford, the second ford, the third ford… the bridges had neither been built nor planned, and our driver knew to phone ahead to let anyone else know not to come down while we were coming up as there would have been no place to pull aside and let someone pass. At the very top there was a cluster of concrete buildings which Marian dated to the late 60s or early 70s. There were also signs of agriculture, primarily in the form of rubber groves and unidentifiable cash crops. But there were also entire stretches where we were clearly passing through rain forest.
At one point I cringed and bit my lip to hear our local driver talking with one of the other Chinese people in the car about recently catching, killing, and eating an endangered Hainanese Cloud Leopard. Apparently, it hadn’t even tasted very good.
Recent food safety scandals have caused middle class and wealthy Chinese to become extremely conscious of where their food comes from. Free range animals and organic vegetables are all the rage. The grassy scrub that grows among the tropical cash crops is a great place to graze free range goats. Hainanese goats already command a premium on the mainland and free range Hainanese goats even moreso.
In total, in addition to the turtle farm, we visited at least three sites where they are planning on raising goats. We also saw at least two other places with goats (and cows) for sale. There was also a fair amount of time spent apparently lost and a fair amount of time spent eating. I think almost as much time was spent eating as everything else we did.