Yangshuo: China’s Purgatory

“Are you certain the party is tonight? For I remember it perfectly. I seem to have fallen out of time.”

-The Hours

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There is no horizon to be seen, I think that’s what unsettled me the most. Even though these mountains, that bring fame to Yangshuo from all over China are nothing short of surreal. Oddly personified, they stand shoulder to shoulder, enclosing the town.

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I am a firm believer in the common notion that dogs and owners of dogs look like each other. This is just an inevitable law of Nature, some reverse osmosis that we are all susceptible to. In just the same way, the mountains in Yangshuo seem to have adopted the qualities of the folk who reside within (or is it the other way around?). They whisper to each other, spend their days speculating each other’s back story, what craziness must have happened for them to come to be here; because of course if you come to Yangshuo, you must have something to run from.

Maybe you’ll find what you were looking for in Yangshuo. Maybe you’ll find it in the rivers the mellow bamboo rafts. Maybe you’ll find it in the markets, teaming with anonymous belongings; maybe it will be in a friend you make at the rooftop bar, or the wild eyed man with the bandanna who sits at the river.

Or maybe you’ll find a ketamine addiction, after all it seems everyone else has. Maybe you’ll find someone as fucked up as you are, running from something even worse. Then you can finally have someone else to cast sideways glances at and whisper about.

Maybe you will find this park full of silk lanterns, if you do, maybe you’ll go in, and spend a while considering whatever it is you came here to avoid.

Not that anyone is qualified to say so, but if I was to hazard a guess as to what Purgatory is like, I would say it’s a lot like Yangshuo.

“That’s right kid, you go to Yangshuo and you think about what you’ve done”.

Happy Wednesday from Kitesurf China

Beach. Sun. Surf. Kites. Kitesurf China has it all. I have recently started managing some of the social media efforts for this cool little company, and while it’s just at the grassroot level now, it’s gonna be the next hottest thing since sliced pan, I’m telling you! So if you fancy getting the odd update about what it’s like to be a kitesurfer in Asia, see some cool photography, sick extreme sports videos, and the occasional picture of some bikini clad surfer girls; then come check us out on our website or better yet- like us on Facebook.

And of course, if what you see is tickling your fancy…. Drop us a message. We’re always up for a chat. Happy Wednesday dudes and dudettes.

Big love,

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The Kitesurf China team
The Kitesurf China team

Zen and the Art of Kite Surfing

How long have you been looking at your phone today? How many times did you look away from the person you were speaking to, so as to direct your attention back to your device? How are you reading this article now, on your computer, iPad, or phone? Aren’t we all looking for a little bit more engagement, a little more connectivity? Let’s try something else.

Asia Bay, Boao, Hainan Island, tucked away in the South China Sea, is home to our friends at Kitesurf China. Now whether or not you are a pro rider, or have never heard of kite surfing before is irrelevant- let’s take a little look at Boao.

I’m always happy to be heading back out here. It is in a way, a kind of nowhere, famous for various things but nothing in particular, which is what really holds the appeal.  It’s an undiscovered treasure, thick palms spread throughout the countryside only clearing for small towns, and stretches of white sandy beach.

There’s certainly something very ‘zen’ about the whole experience. Let’s talk about kiting. No engines or motors, no fuel, just the minimal tools you need to ride the wind and waves. The kite is your engine, the wind your fuel, and the board your sedan. As soon as you hit the water that’s it, your mind clears. It has to be one of the most effective relaxation exercises in the world.

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When I first moved to Hainan Island, the kite surfers at Asia Bay were the first and best friends I made. Having barely any knowledge of kite surfing, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first visit. I have to say, it was the community that first made me fall in love with the sport. All of these people from all over the world, who travel almost obsessively based on where the wind is going. It sounded like the most romantic idea in the world to me, pack up your kite bag and follow the wind. The friends I met on that first day told me stories from all corners of the globe- from Morocco to Cape Town, Taiwan to Sri Lanka, West Indies to the West Coast of America.

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From that first day I was hooked. It was impossible to curb what was sure to now be my new greatest passion. Each trip back to the school was more intoxicating than the last. The thing about kite surfing is that as soon as that kite is attached to your harness, it’s almost impossible to think of anything else. In today’s hectic world, few are the moments of calm where we can find the means to leave our constant struggles behind. Out on the water though, we can finally allow ourselves to be completely present. This is total engagement.

The next greatest thing about kite surfing is that you don’t have to be anyone or anything in particular to be able to kite. Asia Bay has seen every type of rider, from age 6 to 76, girls, boys, men women, big, small, and with varying degrees of athleticism (personally I was at the far lower end of the spectrum when it comes to athletic ability…). This is what’s so great- kiting is for everyone.

Copyright: Grace Austin
Copyright: Grace Austin

So put down your device. Thankfully no one has made a waterproof iPhone yet… So turn off your phone. While everybody else says “later”, be the person who says “now”. Pump a kite and come to the water, just bring your sense of adventure and Kitesurf China will take care of the rest. We’ll see you there.

Taken at Sanya Bay, Hainan Island, China
Taken in Hainan Island, China

The Land of Escapists

“What have I been doing?” I ask myself as day after day slides by. Time seems to be on fast forward. I have been putting my writing efforts elsewhere this month… reports, end of semester, exams, not to mention the inefficiency in running of exams here, lack of attention to quality of education, staff and management too motivated by money…

Not that my time here has become any less exciting or fulfilling than when I first got here, the opposite in fact- my days are JUST as exciting as the first day I arrived. But as is the way things go when you have become accustomed to them, their enchantment begins to fade from the forefront of your perception and recede somewhere into the back of your consciousness to lay rest. I still am aware of the things I was at the start, but now they are background noise, and I’m now perceiving a new level of my experience which is much louder, much more visceral.

New Year’s was spent in Shanghai. I came back to Sanya with a much clearer understanding of the difference between living in Shanghai and living here. I can sum up my general feelings in one word: SMOG. Smog lives just above the Shanghai skyline. It lies on top of the Financial Centre and Shanghai Tower like a fat cheap hooker lies spread across a sofa bed in the brothel reception. As the plane was landing in Pudong, we crossed the barrier of pollution between the blue sky above and the city below- it was like the two had never met.

Having lived in Shanghai during 2012/2013, it felt quite surreal to be back. I was surprised how much I had forgotten about the place, and how much had changed in less than 2 years. The speed at which everything progresses and changes from one thing to another is unparalleled to anywhere else I’ve been. On December 31st we went out, naturally, and celebrated the New Year in mighty style in a bar on the Bund. I was very conscious, however, of an underlying tension in the venue. Something was causing a very wide segregation between those who clearly had 5,000RMB+ in their back pocket, and those… well, those like me and my friends. Shanghai has one of the strongest trends towards elitism I’ve ever experienced, and after becoming accustomed to living in such a homely island community, I can’t say it didn’t bother me on some level.

The news on the first day of 2015 was not broadcasting footage of a spectacular fireworks show from the Bund the night before. Unfortunately this year, the documentation of NYE in Shanghai was of a fatal stampede that happened just before the countdown. 36 people were killed, the average age of which was 22. Most were students, 2 were foreign exchange (Malaysian and Taiwanese). One was a 12 year old boy. Much is to blame for the incident, although exact accounts vary regarding the actual definitive cause or where the responsibility lies. It was just too many people in too small a space.

Overall, I’m left with the distinct feeling that until this last visit, I had over glorified my memories of Shanghai. It is very hard to live there, and that hardship shows on people’s faces. People smile here in Hainan a hell of a lot more. Here’s what matters to me: I am quite clearly part of a community in Hainan. I have been welcomed and accepted by just about everyone that I come into contact with on a regular basis. I can’t describe how good it feels to walk 500 meters down the street and for maybe 5 or 6 people to smile and wave or say hello, just because they see me every day and that is how it’s done here. Maybe it’s the lady who sells me coffee (I don’t even have to speak, when she sees me walking up to the kiosk she puts my coffee on without even asking my order any more), or the man who sells me cigarettes and coconuts (same scenario), or the people I share the elevator with in my apartment building…

(Below: selection of portraits of the locals. Copyright: Grace Austin)

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I have a work life balance down here. You just can’t do that in Shanghai, no matter how far you travel you’re still in the city, no matter what free time you have you still will struggle to find anything to occupy yourself with that is free.

And despite the snobbery and stigma often directed towards TEFL workers, I absolutely love my job. Many consider TEFL work to fall outside the category of a “real job”. Granted I previously looked at this work as a kind of “in between job”, but my position has changed. “Even if you aren’t a teacher… Be a teacher.” – one of the best things I’ve ever heard. I recommend watching this speech by Tim Minchin for context. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoEezZD71sc

Being around children all day just gives you a lighter disposition, a little less serious, a little sillier. Being surrounded by ‘kid logic’ is a fantastic influence. It trickles down to influence your own sense of logic, priorities, general mood… So much of my mental capacity is taken up by the children. How am I going to get the disruptive class to engage with what I’m doing? How do I get the quiet class to open up? How to go about managing a class with both introverted and extroverted children and meet their respective needs simultaneously; what motivates them, what gets them excited. If a class is going pear shaped, children are misbehaving, or not responding well to your material you can never blame the class. It is only ever your fault as the teacher. So when you analyse these situations and spend real time mulling it over, and then you find a solution- not only that but to execute it perfectly and see a positive response in your children, there is no better feeling. It’s a great social and psychological study.

So needless to say I’m finding teaching to be hugely fulfilling. Maybe my “in between job” is going to be my future career, who knows. What I am sure of is that the place I find myself in now fits like a glove. It’s like lifting a layer of thick dirty grey smog off to reveal the beautiful city below- to allow the blue sky and the land below reunion. A quote appeared on my newsfeed recently which I know myself to have read before, but that I never responded to with any great attention before now…

“Instead of planning your next vacation, plan a life that you don’t need to escape from.”

“An Unsophisticated Period of Youth”

In keeping with my new goal to deliver a post fortnightly, here I am again, hello! Thanks for coming back, you’re sound out. I couldn’t settle on what this post should be about, so I’ve decided to document a medley of ongoing themes and little observations that I’ve noticed in conversations and day to day activity in the past 2 weeks.

Highlights from the week:

I finally found the time (and means) to go to 南山Temple, to see the Guanyin statue (FYI, it’s the fourth tallest statue in the world). It’s about an hour by bus outside Sanya city, the bus route travels along the most shoddy excuse for a road system I have ever seen. There was actually a point where we were driving through a building site with scaffolding about us. When we arrived we pulled into a parking lot next to about 30 tour buses. Oh, super, I love Chinese tourists. Why does every one of them use a selfie stick to take pictures? They are not helpful in big crowds, not one bit. We bought tickets (150rmb each, jeeeeeeeeez…) and went through the turnstiles. As soon as we passed under the sign indicating we were entering the Buddhist Temple and garden area, we were confronted with another parking lot, this one with about 15 bright red Ferraris, all pulled up alongside each other revving their engines. Oh my, what would Buddha say…

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The gardens themselves are beautiful, and the statue of Guanyin, out in the sea, only accessible by walkway, is extraordinary. Her face and hands that linger over a chord of prayer beads are exquisite, and very peaceful to be in the presence of. In typical China fashion, however, the experience is somewhat tarnished by the OTT commercialism. Even inside temple area they are flogging souvenirs. It’s unfortunate.

To my great excitement, and my bank account’s great disapproval, I finally discovered where the best clothes markets in Sanya are. And, ta-da! They are above KFC. Gotta love China. The markets have always been one of my favourite things about living here. It’s a great way of getting to know the locals, their mannerisms, and improving language skills. I recently felt like my linguistics was not where I wanted it to be. In my experience of learning Chinese, it takes long periods of feeling like I am not improving at all, until something clicks and I can suddenly communicate on a new level that had for so long eluded me. After spending a day in the markets I felt like I finally was able to ascend from the plateau I had been stuck on for so long. And on top of that, I got some amazing clothes!

Karma:

I have always put great faith in Karma, and I’m happy to say that this week Karma did not disappoint. Following the misadventures I wrote about in my last post, I happened upon a bit of a lucky streak, which is particularly fortunate considering the magnitude of the fuck ups I made. To pick up where I left off in the last post, my bank account was acting rather mischievously, refusing transfers and the likes. I did manage to get my wages into my account, and got a new bank card. Which, despite what I thought I asked for, turned out not to be a debit card but an ATM card. Who the hell needs one of them in this day in age?! So when I went to book my flights to Shanghai online, I of course came across a spot of difficulty. As I’m watching the prices climbing up and up and up, whilst not being able to book the flight, panic started to set in. Thankfully, one of my friends from the school offered her credit card, if I could pay her in cash immediately. So I grabbed my purse, ran to the bank, jumped on a motorbike a sped over to her. She managed to book the flight for me just in time to get the last cheap ticket available. When I took out my purse to show her my card, and ask her if it could be used to make online purchases, I found that my card was not in my purse. “Well this is stupid, I was at the ATM 15 minutes ago, it has to be in here…”. Something I’m still not used to, Chinese ATMs keep your card until you press a button saying ‘return card’ at the end of the transaction. Which, in my haste to book the flight, I had forgotten. I had left my card logged into my account in the ATM in down town Sanya. With the remainder of my months wages inside. I was screwed. So I hopped back on another motorbike and zoomed back to the bank, where incredibly, my card was waiting for me behind the counter with every penny of my wages untouched in my account. I chastised myself as I walked back to my apartment, vowing I would not lose my head like that in future just because I’m over excited and not thinking clearly. This is the point where I realise that the keys to my apartment are not in my handbag. Oh, Grace, you have truly outdone yourself… “Ok, not to worry, I’ll just calmly go back up to my apartment and look to see if I dropped them somewhere…” Lo and behold there they are, still in the door of my undisturbed apartment. How is that even possible? Thank you Karma, I am your biggest fan.

Cultural Disparity and Cultural Relativity:

Every day I see how much easier it is to live here than Shanghai. Never in Shanghai could I leave the keys in my apartment and my card in an ATM and expect to see any of my belongings ever again! In fact there are many things about Hainan that make it such a welcoming new home, one of which is the language. Locals speak Hainanhua, one of the most difficult dialects of Chinese to understand, even for Chinese people. It barely follows the standard Mandarin (Putonghua) template. However the locals have gracefully acknowledged the ridiculously difficult nature of Hainanhua, so virtually everyone speaks Putonghua too. And they speak it beautifully. Women are referred to as 美女 (pretty lady) instead of the standard 小姐 (miss, or madam) of the mainland. Little differences like this reflect what I understand as a sort of looseness about society here. It definitely allows for wiggle room more than the regimental mainland. Everyone is just a little breezier and carefree here, it must be all the sunshine.

I have been in touch with a friend of a friend who was interested in coming to Hainan for work. I mentioned that my school has been struggling to find another foreign teacher, after a few email addresses were exchanged, and my principal asserted her interest, he applied for a position. The principal asked him to provide a video application, as he is Ukrainian; she wanted to check his accent and pronunciation. From my own experience with him, his English is immaculate so this should not have been an issue. He waited for a reply for over a week, and eventually asked me to get the ball rolling with her again. She had not, as it turned out, even looked at his application, let alone responded to him. It transpired that the school did not take him on because they feel the parents of students do not want a ‘Russian’ teaching their children. Now, this may or may not be the case, however the way in which this information was presented and moreover the manner in which this situation was dealt with made me question very deeply the motivations of institutions like my school.

Since I arrived the school has quite obviously been very understaffed re foreign language teachers. This has been voiced to me by several staff members including the principal on many occasions. I have been taking on more and more hours every week, which I don’t mind because the overtime pay is good, and I still have my contracted 2 days off every week. Now, however, I’m really starting to believe that the boys on top are trying to skimp out on hiring another teacher, because they know I am willing to shoulder enough extra students to make them a hell of a lot more money. Did I mention the proportion of money they take per class? Over half. Students are charged 200rmb/50 minute private class. I get about 85 of that. Yet, the demand for foreign English teachers here is incontestable. Just yesterday three people asked me to tutor them privately, just people I bumped into (one in the crappy elevator in my apartment, another in the clothes market, and the third was a woman who refused to pay the school 200rmb/class). So why are we treated in such a manner?

6 weeks ago I began to make plans to visit Shanghai for New Year’s Eve. I made my plans known to my principal, who informally agreed that we could make arrangements for me to take 2 or 3 days off at the end of December. I made sure these plans were reiterated every week or 2, just to be sure. I eventually got round to booking my flights on a Friday. I gave the dates to the school, who accepted. On the following Monday I received a phone call from the school asking me my availability to take on a new private student for one hour every other day for the next 3 weeks. I reminded them quite firmly that I have made plans to go to Shanghai for one week, and that the flights are already booked and that I absolutely will not be available for that time. And despite all of the conversations of the past few weeks, this information still seemed to take them aback. How can that be? Is it a respect issue? Have I been too accommodating by taking on so many hours outside my contract? Or is this just a cultural disparity issue that I don’t yet understand? Is it a money issue? If so, is that an issue that transcends cultures- still rude to value money over relationships (professional or otherwise) despite cultural relativity?? I’d be interested to hear some opinions on this. Please comment if you have any!

I took on the challenge of translating a short document I wrote to accompany my application to the Jameson Graduate Programme (which I am on absolute tenterhooks over, it’s my first time dabbling in a video medium, and I’m absolutely loving the possibilities already!).  I asked one of my Chinese friends to help with some of the trickier bits, which proved almost impossible to translate even for her, because some things ‘just aren’t said’ in Chinese. What an insight into the culture, the reason people with linguistics have deeper insight. If a language has no way to describe something how can you communicate it? How can you discuss the colour blue if you have no word for it? Ah, the limitations of language. Presumably this is why many people are drawn to experiences that release you from the shackles of language, such as music, travel, or drugs.

Kite Surfing:

Penultimately, here are some cool pictures of my trainer flying like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat in the last of the wind from the Philippine’s typhoon. Houhai last week.

Lastly, a short account of my day off:

Today was the first day off I have spent in Sanya. No kiting for me this week, I needed to take some time by myself, since I felt like things have been moving a little too quickly recently and I needed some time to catch up with myself. I woke up a little before noon, threw on shorts, a crop top, cardigan, scarf and headphones. Bag with a towel, camera, cigs. I strolled through streets down town in sun and light breeze considering proper etiquette for cigarette butt disposal, enjoying the luxury of having the time to consider such trivialities. I was somewhat detached from the real world, behind my sunglasses and noise cancelling headphones. What I’m sure is the best playlist in the world kept me distracted from the usual stares that being a foreigner in China attracts. The playlist is as follows:

Nara- Alt-J

There She Goes, My Beautiful World- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Who We R- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Broken- Depeche Mode

Personal Jesus- Depeche Mode

Taro- Alt-J

Hunger of the Pine- Alt-J

Crystallised- The XX

Cigarettes and Lonliness- Chet Faker

Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To- Kasabian

When music fades between songs I hear insane tinkly Christmas music coming from shops, and shouts of ‘Hello!’  from a group of lads on motorbikes smiling and waving. All the shop owners are wearing Santa hats, or ‘Christmas man’ hats, as my students would say. I am rescued and drawn back to into my bubble when the next song begins. Then I bought the most delicious creation to ever come out of a KFC- it’s an iced coffee with a big swirl of ice cream on top. Little observation number (? It must be at least a squillion by now): many more ‘Mccafe’ style kiosks here than I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. Interesting bit of adaptation for Asian markets, I wonder what it implies?

I was smoking cigarette outside the food hall where I was going to get sushi. A man walked up to me and asked if I can speak Chinese.  He then said “I’d like to invite you to our free [something something something. No idea.]” “Sure, if you give me two tickets so my friend can come with me.” The ‘conversation’ continued in such a manner for a few minutes. ‘Do you understand what I’ve been saying?’ he asked me.  ‘Oh, yeah!’ (No.) “How old are you? You have to be over 23 to go.” Well that solves that little episode of Lost in Translation.

When I went to buy sushi the lady in shop told me I had pretty eyes. I told her she was really pretty too. And then we laughed, and it was all awfully cute. I brought my sushi to the park, and sat in the sun for a while. Tonight we’ll go to rooftop bar at the Pullman to take some pictures of the sunset over the city. Tomorrow will go to Dadonghai beach to film some shots for my Jameson application video.

This fortnight has brought me a feeling of great contentment. I have been lucky enough to find the calm at the eye of the storm that is China, the order in the chaos.

Shanghai next week, stay tuned….

Watching: The Hours

Listening to: The BBC Radio 1 interview with Bombay Bicycle Club (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t907h)

Reading: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Please wait outside in a noodle”

I feel in order to portray a more realistic picture of what the past month has been like, and moreover what living in such a part of the world generally entails, it’s only fitting to share some of my recent misadventures.

Every time I have stepped into the elevator in my apartment building, it has crossed my mind that I might not make it out. It’s one of those: takes about 35 seconds to travel 9 floors. This day, was no exception. Somewhere between the 5th and 4th floor (which happens to be a massage parlour) it was as if the elevator sighed deeply, and proceeded to give up on life. After a few minutes of deep scrutinisation of the security camera (which I am now almost sure has never worked…) and fruitless pressing of the emergency call button, I hear children on the outside of the elevator breaking down in convulsions of laughter, “有人吗??”, “is there anyone there??”. To which I said, yes, yes there is, now go get your mother and get me out! Which of course made them laugh harder. So after a few minutes of bartering with the children, like little minions at the gates of Hades so they were; and old lady with crowbar came to the rescue (she had quite the biceps for  woman of her age). I dismounted (yes… that makes it sound a lot less like I fell right on my face trying to climb over everyone…) and left the building at top speed, since I was late for class. I stepped out on the road, without looking both ways (you would think by now I would have learned one way streets mean zilch in China) and proceeded to get hit by motorbike. China-2, Grace-0.

Although, it seems minor road accidents merit little to no attention here. The week before my brush with the motorbike, I artfully managed to knock a man off his moped when I opened the door of the taxi I was leaving. In shock, all I could think of to say was ‘Im sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, are you okay?’ And this big fat bruiser of a Chinese lad was just STARING me down through the window of the taxi, not even speaking. He looked like he could eat me. No visible response from taxi driver, who was sat up front engrossed in counting a wad of 1 and 5 Kuai notes. Anyway, I lived to tell the tale.
The electricity has been off in my apartment for days on end…. Not exactly through no fault of my own (the bill wasn’t, exactly, ahem, paid…). Well, actually my bills are normally paid by my school, but they neglected to tell me I pay first, and can then get reimbursed. Anyway, it appears that if the receptionist has the week off, I should wait patiently for her return to work. Until such time, enjoy showering in the dark you silly foreigner. Naturally.
The next day at school I was somewhat cajoled into agreeing to work on Christmas Day. As the other Chinese teachers sat around, discussing plans for the Christmas talent show, I was feeling more like the token laowai than ever. I could only understand a minute portion of what was being said, but enough to know that the majority of the work was going to fall on my plate. I was not happy.”Did you get sleep lassa nigheeeet? Wassa wrunga?” The principal asks Grace offhandedly. “Why would you ask that? Nothing! NOTHING IS WRONG” Grace replies whilst digging nails into edge of school desk, glaring wildly (albeit with a touch of insanity) back at principal.
“Midterms this week, ok ma?”. Pardon, what was that? Oh, give 60 students their midterm exams, today? With no time for preparation? Sure, no problem, no that’s COMPLETELY fair…. Also keep in mind that many of my classes are still only 20 minutes long, and could have up to 15 students. 15 oral tests in 20 minutes? Yeah, yeah, whatever you want lady…

Bank account thinks it’s cool to refuse transfer of my wages. So penniless Grace wanders through the streets of Sanya to try to find an ATM that will release 10 Kuai for dumplings (not ashamed, not even a little.), only to come across this absolute gem in the art of Chinglish translations, in ICBC. Needless to say after reading this, I felt a lot better.

I couldn't find a better analogy for my relationship with China if I tried.
I couldn’t find a better analogy for my relationship with China if I tried.

During one of my recent trips to Boao, I was experimenting with some ‘cost cutting measures’ (we’ll leave that slightly ambiguous, the details are hairy). When I was offered a “free” motorbike ride for the 23km journey from Qionghai Train Station to Asia Bay,I was of course dubious, but hey, money (moreover lack thereof) will lead you to make strange decisions… So I hopped on the back of this fellas bike, who said he would bring me where I wanted to go for free, because he thought I was pretty. Well, sound one chap. Should have known, no such thing as a free mo-che….. “Well if you aren’t going to give me the money you better pay me in some other way! [insert crude sexualised hand gesture here]” Oh, Jesus. “Hey! Lady, come back! What you got in your bag??”. Needless to say I legged it through the bushes. Even after all was said and done… It was still a free spin!
On the subject of misadventures, I can’t not draw attention to the countless times I have arrived at a train station in a new and unknown place only to realise I had no idea where I was going after, nor did I have any means of contacting the person I was supposed to meet… However each of these scenarios ended up with me getting to my intended destination eventually, and usually befriending some black-teethed motorbike driving Chinese men.

The most important thing to draw from these experiences is that never once at any of those times did I feel lost in myself, or lifeless, or self loathing. If anything it just gave me more of a chance to break out of that autopilot cocoon that I was normally encumbered by, the same one with which many/most of us use to navigate through our everyday lives. These are not stumbling blocks, but stepping stones: they happen, and my mind immediately begins unravelling the situation at hand to find the most helpful and, in the end, enjoyable outcome. Everything is a game here, everything is alive.

Though we live in a time of incredible social and cultural integration, connectivity and communication; I often think that this is not necessarily an improvement to our  basic ability to connect with one another. We communicate on a broader, faster level; but perhaps neglect a deeper one. This results in a somewhat shallow, monotonous day to day existence. In this age of lavish extravagance, of corporate empires, of Kardashians, of ruby encrusted underwear, of iPhone 6s, and vodka with gold in it…we are all starving. We are craving emotional and spiritual connections, but for the most part unable to recognise why exactly we feel so unsatisfied: because our system (the one that we elected, we built, the one that at one point was merely an idea in someone’s head- and came to fruition because someone thought it really would be the most suitable for our society… Yes, the very same…) does not educate us to recognise such a flaw. And so we disregard it, put it on the long finger, go to the gym, we go drinking, we sleep with people, and then fight people because we slept with people, we will start watching a new tv series so obsessively that we essentially turn it into a drug to completely lose ourselves in, so that we may forget the fact that our most basic human needs are not being met. If the times call for it, there is nothing on this earth that we cannot turn into a drug. Thankfully, as a human being, I retain the right to choose not to be an automaton. As my pal Ewan Mcgregor once wisely says “I choose life”.

Drones, Paramotoring, and Other Exotic Debauchery

It is not the most glamorous of places. Sure, there are a scattering of swanky over the top hotels by the beach, but the rest is a combination of overpriced imitations and cheap replacements. Just a short motorbike ride through the streets of Sanya is enough to see that the wealth disparity is extraordinarily skewed, like any new commercial zone in Asia. But I like the cheapness of the place, especially against the stunning backdrop of natural scenery. Like if they had built a tasteful upmarket resort you’d just think “of course they did” and it wouldn’t be interesting. It’s too predictable. This is interesting. It has substance. It has character. It’s unpredictable. This is what I am here for, for complete and total engagement with my surroundings. To wake up in the morning with that rush of excitement, saying to yourself “Yes. Today I will do something fantastic.”

There is a beautiful park next to my house, on the corner of 新风街  (Xin Feng Street) and 临春河路 (Lin Chin He Road). It’s brand new. During the day it’s virtually empty. On days I don’t have classes until the evening I go to the wet market around the corner from my apartment to buy a big bag of fresh fruit (usually a pineapple, a mango, some bananas and a coconut to drink- which in total costs me the equivalent of about €3.50) which I bring to the park with a book, and spend the afternoon reading in the sun. Even in November it’s still about 27/28 degrees during the day (and the locals ask me why I don’t feel cold in shorts and a t-shirt. Hmmmm…).

My other days off are spent in beautiful Boao, learning to kite surf. After only a few hours of lessons I am in the water, flying at least a 12 meter kite on 24 meter lines. This is nothing for a more seasoned kite surfer, but for a beginner like myself the power is incredible. There is something I find in kite surfing that is very good for the soul. Your equipment is just a piece of fabric, and a board. No fuel, no engine, just sheer unbridled force of nature. There’s nothing like it.

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[If you don’t know anything about kite surfing, or are curious to know more, I highly recommend this short documentary… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz7GGCndqT0 Awesome cinematography and serious display of skills!]

Last weekend in Boao the wind was lax, to say the least, so not much flying was done (kitesurfing is yet another sport where SIZE DOES MATTER, and if you can’t keep it up then the fun is over….). The brains behind Kite Surf China has started a new venture however, paramotoring. This is essentially as close to flying as humans can get for the now (bar only wing suits, perhaps, but paramotoring carries considerably less risk). So we spent the day posing around for a film crew that were down to do a documentary , mainly based around the 2 drones that they had somehow (?) got their hands on (the larger of which had 8 engines, 8 propellers, a camera attached that alone must have cost a grand…. Shall I go on?), and also filming the boss man flying up and down the beach with a kite, and an engine strapped to his back- and 2 drones in pursuit.

Quite a day. We of course finished the evening by drinking our body weight in local beer and seahorse liquor. Next thing I knew I was back in the classroom educating the future of the country. Oh China…

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