The Self Isolated Canuck

We’re in beautiful Hainan, and although still on holiday, I haven’t written for a while.  There’s actually a pretty good reason for that: China is experiencing an outbreak.  To make matters worse, there was a single sick person in Zhangjiajie while we were there, and the whole country has been put on alert. I figured that might be something worth writing about for my friends back home. 

On our balcony

COVID in China

Of course, COVID is something that the world has been dealing with for nearly two years now.  It began in a Chinese city called Wuhan, and quickly spread across the world.  China failed to contain the virus in early days but became a lot more smart about it very quickly.  Mass lock downs took place in every city across China, and international travel was halted for months.  We were lucky enough to get back into the country before the major lock downs happened, but many people weren’t.  I know so many people who were separated from their spouses for over a year.  Some are still separated. 

I can’t imagine how much harder this time would have been without Dave.  We’re so lucky that we’ve been able to stay together through all this!!

Eventually things got better.  Mass testing and strict regulations brought down the country’s COVID numbers to nearly none.  In the past year, there have been little breakouts here and there, but they’ve been stopped very quickly but locking down affected districts and through mass testing.  Spring Festival saw several small breakouts and the whole country was asked not to travel.  Companies offered incentives for their workers to forgo their trips home, and once more, the virus was put back under control and life continued pretty normally. 

There has been a massive effort to get everyone vaccinated in China.  Dave and I both got our shots and felt confident about traveling within China for the summer. There is still a 4 week quarantine period for anyone coming back into China though, so international travel was off the table yet again.  With only 6 weeks off for summer holiday, I couldn’t face 4 weeks of quarantine here and 2 weeks in Canada.  Still, I was grateful to at least move around China as we have.

The Delta Variant

Months back, a new version of the virus emerged during a massive breakout in India.  That variant has China on high alert because although their vaccine is ok to deal with the original strain, and several others, it isn’t as helpful against this new, more contagious strain.  When several airport workers tested positive in Nanjing in June, once more, the country was on high alert.  Citizens of Nanjing had to go for daily COVID tests and the whole city was put on lockdown.  Unfortunately, cases can go undetected and several sick people left Nanjing, unaware that they were sick. 

They’ve tracked things very closely

The patient who tested positive in Zhangjiajie was in the city at the same time that we visited the park. We were lucky enough to never cross paths with him.  We were never in the city of ZJJ itself, and he was at the park the day that we left the area.  Still, it caused a bit of problems because our 2 week travel history shows Zhangjiajie. 

The text at the bottom of the white part shows all the places I’ve been in the last 2 weeks.  The ones with stars are medium or high risk zones.  Luckily, my code has stayed green, but those stars mean that I need to show negative nucleic acid tests before any city will let me in.

Shortly after we were in Haikou, someone tested positive there too.  Once more, we were never in any of the same places as this patient, but our codes were flagged.  We decided to hunker down a little longer at our hotel on the outskirts of Lingshui.  I’m very happy we had booked here and not in Sanya or Haikou, which are much more popular tourist destinations.  We booked this way specifically to keep away from crowds.  Even though China has remained relatively safe for the past 18 months, we like to be careful. 

This is about as busy as the beach near our hotel gets. 

Being Responsible

We have done our best to be as responsible as possible with all this information.  We got tested right away, and have been avoiding crowds.  We’ve spent most of the last 2 weeks either in our room, or walking in areas that aren’t too populated by people.  We did make a trip into Wanning and Wencheng when our tests came back negative, but the following day we got a call from the district Health Authority asking where we had been in Wanning, because there was a suspected case there.  Once more, we were lucky enough to not have crossed paths with the person (he had been at the testing center, and we had been at the outlet mall) but it was enough of a scare to get us not to travel anywhere else on the island ever since.

Even though this outlet mall is pretty dead, and we wore masks the whole time, I wish we hadn’t risked it. 

The last couple of weeks have been kinda scary.  We got SO many messages from friends back in Suzhou, scared for us because we’d been in Zhangjiajie.  Suzhou itself has gone a little overboard and is forcing anyone who was in ZJJ to do a hotel quarantine, regardless of multiple negative tests. Even though we were never in any of the same places as the ZJJ patient, if we went back to Suzhou now, we would be put in 2 separate hotel rooms and stuck there until we’d been away from Zhangjiajie for 2 full weeks. Even if we had multiple negative tests. 

Articles like this pop up in my feed every single day, and they often have information about all the places that a COVID positive person may have been.  They list any trains (and the seat numbers) that these people took, and any areas where the person went
  This is why I can say, with confidence, that we never crossed paths with these people. 

This is part of why I find it so strange that people think that wearing a mask in public is such an infringement of rights.  China has taken much further measures tracking and posting positive patients’ whereabouts and enforcing mass quarantines and testing. We honestly don’t even mind going along with most of it, because we’ve seen first hand the effect these measures have had on reducing the number of cases here in China.

By comparison, America has had over 36 million cases, and Canada has had about 1.5 million.  Given that China has a HUGE population, I’d say 93,000 cases is pretty good!!!

Suzhou itself is a bit of an extreme case.  Events are forbidden there right now, and bars have been closed.  Many buisnesses are only allowed 1/2 capacity.  Schools are even shut down for all of August, which will affect me at the end of the month.  There’s mass testing happening right now in Suzhou, and I have several friends in quarantine hotels at the moment.  Suzhou hasn’t had a single case of community transmission, so it feels like an over reaction, but at the same time, these measures might be why there hasn’t been a single community spread there since May 2020.

Community transmission is much better controlled if mass testing takes place.

By contrast, we didn’t have to quarantine in Lingshui.  We chose to, until our tests came back negative, but it wasn’t forced.  When someone tested positive in Haikou, Hainan’s capital, things did tighten up.  Masks were enforced and temperature checks came up again, but other than that, it’s been business as usual.  So far, everyone who was near the Haikou patient has tested negative, and Hainan province is still only showing up with 1 case in all the news reports.  This is a relief and probably due to all the calls made by the Health Authority to anyone who came into contact with the positive patient.  It was nipped in the bud, and stopped before it could spread. 

This looks scary at a glance, but you can see that most of these places only have a few cases.  It’s so closely monitored and updates like this come out every single day. 

So that’s been our last couple of weeks in Lingshui. We’ve mostly be working and catching up on some reading.  Of course, we’ve made full use of our balcony tub as well.  When we have gone out, it’s been to places with few people, and always outdoors.  Our trip to the outlet mall in Wanning was a lesson and we didn’t need to learn it twice. 

I’ll be back soon with some backlogged posts about our time in Hainan last Christmas.  I never got around to finishing those posts thanks to some nasty food poisoning, followed by a very busy January full of exams. 

An edited photo of a water lily on one of our Christmas hikes. More on that soon!!

Are you living in China right now?  What have your experiences been this summer?  If you’re not in China, what is your perspective on the way the virus has been handled here?  I’d love to hear your comments! 

Hot Springs – Sanya Edition

We’ve been to Hot Springs all over the world. It all began with a impromptu trip to some hidden springs near Jasper back in 2014, right before we moved to China.

I lost all my photos from this part of our trip. Luckily, I found a couple of photos online. Now I wish I was back there! Miette Hot springs are still the most beautiful I’ve ever seen

Andorra was also a beautiful hot spring destination, located up in the cool mountains. The venue there was very well-maintained and I’d strongly encourage people to make a visit if they’re in this tiny country, doing some skiing or shopping.

I don’t tend to take my camera into pools, so this photo of Andorra will have to suffice to give you an idea of how beautiful the scenery was in the outdoor springs.
This is a photo of what the inside of the Andorra springs look like

In Vietnam, we visited the hot springs near Danang. They were also well maintained. They had mud baths, saunas, and different temperatures of pools. We made a day of it and a year later, it’s still one of my favorite memories of our Danang trip.

These springs were also very nice, but quite different than the north American and European ones we visited

China also has plenty of hot springs. There are a few near Suzhou, though we still haven’t visited them. We did visit hot springs up in northern Guizhou province. Aside from the food poisoning we all got from the hotel on that trip, it was a nice experience.

There was a performance to enjoy from the comfort of the hot springs in Zunyi.

In Sanya, once more, we sought out the pools of naturally heated water, along with all their health benefits (there are actually plenty).

They’re also a beautiful place to spend the day!

Now…we did plan to visit a well-rated place that we found online called “Pearl River Nantian Hot springs Resort”. It is supposed to be quite nice and better maintained than others in the area. Unfortunately for us, they were closed for repairs during our visit. Luckily, there was another facility nearby.

And I mean… Signs never lie, right???

Like in Vietnam and Guizhou, these hot springs were made to look quite natural, and were made up of many pools. Most pools we’ve seen in China have ‘flavours’ including “red wine”, “coffee” and “tumeric”. I actually found the tumeric one really nice and it made my lower back feel a lot better (I’ve been dealing with sciatic pain for the last year or so). Still, some of the baths had some pretty questionable descriptions…

When visiting hot springs, we tend to go for the day, and make the most of it. We did eat a bit of breakfast, but not much. If you’re planning to visit these particular springs, you should be warned that their restaurant is closed for most of the day, and that the food available outside of the restaurant includes steamed taro, steamed corn, and sweet Chinese sausages.

They advertise “hot spring eggs” and at first we were fooled into thinking that they might actually be cooking the eggs that way. It turns out they’re fake.

And we never found out what the ‘gold berries’ were supposed to be…

These springs have another gimmick to pull in tourists: fish that will eat your dead skin. I’ve done this a few times in little foot baths, but this was my first time submerging into a pool of these little creatures. It tickles to no end and kinda hurts if they grab a mole or a patch of sensitive skin. Still, it’s good for a laugh!

We were all fighting the urge not to laugh here because it tickled so much!

I wouldn’t say these were the best springs we’ve been to, but when you’ve been lucky enough to soak in Jasper and Andorra’s hot springs… You’ve been kinda spoiled.

And I mean… We’ve seen much nicer springs in China too. These ones weren’t all very well maintained. It’s like they decided to only keep up a certain number of the pools and then others were left to dry up…

The easiest way to get to these springs (and the way we chose) was by Didi. There are buses that can get you there too, but in terms of time and money saved, we opted to pay a bit more a enjoy more time soaking.

I also made a cat friend at the springs. Well worth the trip!

I still have more to write about for Hainan! Stay tuned!

Haikou’s Volcano Park

This feature image may not look like much. You can see green trees, but what you don’t know, is that this is actually a photo of a massive volcanic caldera, right in Haikou!

The Haikou Volcanic Cluster Global Geopark (long name!) is a main tourist attraction in Haikou. It only takes about 30 minutes to get to the park from downtown, and it’s easily accessible via Didi or taxi.

There are about 40 volcanoes in this volcanic field, but don’t worry, none of them have erupted seriously in about 16,000 years. The area is a popular tourist attraction and a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

Thanks to past volcanic activity, the park itself is very lush and green. There are areas where the earth is almost alien, and made up of dried lava flow, ash and volcanic rocks.

It looks like a patch of muddy land, but lava once flowed here.

There’s an educational element to the park as well. I really liked the info about how people lived in this region long ago. Volcanic soil is great for agriculture, and people learned how to live from the land.

There was plenty of info on volcanoes as well, with photos of volcanoes from all around the world.

Different kinds of volcanic rock.

Of course, the best part of our trip to the volcano park was seeing the big volcano itself. A lot of stairs are involved, but that’s almost always true in China, so we were prepared. Our walk around the top of the caldera was beautiful.

It was a warm day!

And you can even climb down to a cave inside as well. It was equally beautiful and wonderfully cool!

Most of the inside of the cave covered with moss and ferns.

There was plenty to see in the park, including some very nice cactuses, wood carvings and places where you can worship the volcano gods. There were some unexpected wood carvings too. I’m still not sure how they were connected to this geo park…

If you’re in Haikou, a trip to the Volcano Park is a must!! Stay tuned for more about our Hainan Roadtrip!!

Guanyin of Nanshan

Although now China is considered a secular country, there has been Buddhism here for many years. Back in October, we were lucky enough to visit the Mogao Grottos in Gansu. While in Sanya, we saw a more modern monument celebrating this 2500 year old religion: The Nanshan Temple.

The Mogao grottos were incredible. You can read about our trip to see them here

The area is also known as the Nanshan Buddhism Cultural Zone, and contains Tang dynasty relics, temples in and pagodas, and the 12th largest statue in the world: The Guanyin of Nanshan.

This Buddha is taller than the statue of Liberty, which is actually only the 48th tallest statue in the world.

Towering at 78 meters (108 Meters if you include the pedestal and building at the base), this Buddha is even taller than the Leshan Buddha we saw this summer, when we were in Sichuan!

Although only 71 meters tall, I would still argue that the Leshan Buddha is more incredible than the modern one in Sanya. After all, this stone beauty is more than 1300 years old! You can read more about it here

The park was quite far from Dadong Hai, where we were staying, so a good part of our day was spent traveling to and from the park. There are plenty of ways to get there, including Didi (China’s Uber), but we decided to do public transportation instead. It cost 1/10th of what a Didi would, and I kinda like taking buses because I always see more of the city that way.

Still, we are in a pandemic, so we geared up for the transit ride there. Everyone is required to wear masks when taking public transportation like buses, trains or airplanes. I’m fully on board with that rule.

We stopped for a fabulous lunch at the entrance of the park and paid our entrance fees into the park. It costs about 130rmb per person (roughly $25 Canadian), which was a bit steep in my opinion, given what we quickly realized upon entering the park…

My delicious plate of Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings). The restaurant we went to outside the park was reasonably priced and very tasty! We get the feeling that most people who come to Sanya can’t speak much Chinese though, because they always seem very surprised when we know what things are called.

The park is kept very clean and well maintained. There wasn’t any garbage laying around and everything is still quite new. What disappointed us though, was that the whole area felt more like a shopping mall than a religious or cultural site. Everywhere you look, there is jewelery, golden Buddhas, trinkets and souvenirs for sale. To get to the little road that leads to the Guanyin’s statue, you need to pass through a strategically designed maze of shops. Your way back takes you through yet another maze.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s worth going. The statue itself is very impressive. It has 3 ‘faces’, and took 6 years to construct. Its whiteness makes it appear to glow against the ocean background. Although it wasn’t sunny when we visited, it was still a beautiful site to see.

I found it pretty ironic that no photography is allowed once you’re in the base of the Buddha, given how commercial the area is, but still, we respected the rules and kept our cameras in our bags. There are several beautiful carvings and startues within the buildings, and the walls are lined with small Buddha statues that show donor’s names engraved on little plaques. There are still plenty of empty cases, so it appears you can still donate towards the building’s maintenance. Once more, this felt a little too commercial for my liking. Still, we were impressed by the art that surrounded us.

Once inside, you can climb up to the base of the statue as well, and see all 3 of Guanyin’s faces. It’s about 7 floors up, but there are some breaks as you walk around corridors so it isn’t too bad

Once more, I’ve borrowed from the internet. You can actually see the tiny print standing on top of the golden section of the statue. That’s how tall this statue is!

There’s a gorgeous breeze up there. You can walk around the base and see all 3 facets of the statue. 2 face the ocean and only one can be fully viewed from the land, so it’s definitely worth the 7 flights of stairs. Buddhists pray at the Guanyin’s feet, and tourists are allowed to take photos once more.

There is actually more to see in this Cultural Zone, but we got there a bit late and didn’t have time to visit the pagoda or temples. The grounds we did see were lovely though.

I’m glad we visited the Nanshan Buddhism Cultural Zone. The grounds were beautiful and it’s quite amazing to see the monument. Don’t be expecting a whole lot of culture there, but if you’re in the market for a gold Buddha or some jewelry, this’ll be the place for you!!

A Hainan Holiday

We’ve seen more of China this year than I ever really expected to see. Although the rest of the world is still in lockdown and trying to stop the spread of COVID, China has remained quite safe since March. They’ve closed boarders, done mass testing, required people to wear masks in public places, done massive contact tracing and kept the public very aware of any pop ups of the virus. It’s kept us safe and has allowed us to travel this Christmas.

We are kept up to date on every case that arrives in China and every person who has been quarantined for the virus. They tell us where the person was exposed (if they were able to trace it) and what measures were taken to stop it from spreading.

We waited until the beginning of December to really make our travel plans, and even then, the plans remained tentative. We initially wanted to go to Hainan for 10 days, and then spend 2-3 up north in Harbin, where there is a large ice festival every year. To our dismay, a few new cases showed up in cities close to Harbin, so to play it safe, we cancelled that portion of our trip.

The cities that have COVID cases are on the boarder of Russia. The likelihood of ending up with the virus in Harbin is
slim to none, but if any positive cases were discovered in Harbin, I’d be quarantined until my tests came back negative. It is an ordeal I’d rather avoid, so we cancelled that part of our trip.

In fact, we nearly wound up needing to cancel our time in Hainan as well, but all ended well and no positive cases were ever actually in the province, so on December 20th we head southward to the beautiful sub tropic island of Hainan!

Airport breakfasts are the worst, but hey…. At least we could go to an airport!!!

Hainan island is China’s southernmost province. It’s been called “the Hawaii of China” and tourists flock here to enjoy the beaches of Sanya. But there is more to the island than just sand and ocean. There is a rainforest here and large geoparks. Because this island was once volcanic, there are hot springs to enjoy as well as plenty of geological diversity. It’s a great place to see with a tonne of stuff to do.

Haikou is the province’s capital. Currently we’re on the southern tip of the island, but we’ll be heading up to Haikou for Christmas.

It seems that the island is very popular with Russian tourists, because there is Russian on most signs and menus. This year, the island is quite empty, and most of the tourists are teachers like me, who just wanted to get out of the big city and enjoy some fresh air.

There are many places on the island you can stay. Yalong Bay is on the pricier side, and Clear Water Bay is great if you’re looking to be cut off from the world. Dave and I decided on Dadonghai Beach. We are right by the ocean, which is very nice, and there are plenty of restaurants, shops and ways to get around in this area of Sanya. There are some nice hotels, but with reasonable price tags. We are paying about $80 a night to stay at a hotel 5 minutes away from the beach. Our gorgeous balcony and comfy bed are worth paying a bit extra for, although there were certainly plenty of options cheaper than Sanya South China Hotel.

We did have some trouble checking in (they didn’t have our booking in their system) but they upgraded us as a result so that was nice!!
Our nice balcony
Ocean is right behind us

One thing we’ve found about Hainan so far is that not many bloggers have written about all the things there are to do here (and how to do them). We’re figuring stuff out as we go, and are very glad we already have some basic Chinese and know how to order Didis (Chinese Uber) and use public transport.

This is my public transport face. Staying safe in Sanya!

Check back soon! I’ve already got lots of write about!