Two weeks ago today, I got my passport back from immigration, and got ready to leave China for good. I would be lying if I said I did anything other than hit the ground running. We went out for dinner in the Old Quarter the night I arrived, started work 4 days later, and started motor biking around the city within 10 days (don’t worry, we’ve bought proper helmets and face masks to save us from the pollution). We’ve also been to dozens of cafes and restaurants around Hanoi, and have gotten to know the city quite a bit! The last 2 weeks have been filled with adventure, experiences and newness; exactly what I crave in my life.
There’s so much for me to write about, but for today, I’ll start with a short introduction to the city where we are living!
People have been settled in the Hanoi area since the 3rd century BCE. More than 2000 years ago, people began creating communities along the Red River, which flows through the city. With so many little lakes and rivers flowing through the city, it’s no surprise that the area has a long history. The settlements eventually grew, and in 1010CE, Hanoi (called Thang Long at the time) became the capital city of Vietnam.
Vietnam was a French colony for many years, and was later occupied by the Japanese during World War 2. The American invasion in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s also had a profound affect on the city, with many buildings and bridges being bombed. For a while, after the war, Hanoi wasn’t a very welcoming place for foreigners, which is understandable. It’s come a very long way since then.
Our experience in Hanoi has been magical so far. People are very friendly, polite and helpful. People have offered us directions when they saw us looking for something, and all our Grab drivers have been very nice. English is also WIDELY spoken here; much more so than in Suzhou. Although many people study English in China, it seems that very few are willing to speak it with foreigners. In Vietnam, our experience has been quite different.
A Lively City
Hanoi is known as the introvert city, and Ho Chi Minh City is known to be extroverted. Anyone who thinks that Hanoi is introverted though, should really visit Suzhou! This city is SO alive! There are cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars everywhere. People seem to love being out, walking around the little ponds and lakes all over the area where we live. On any given night of the week, there will be groups of people enjoying beer and a great meal at the tiny restaurants that are scattered across the city.
We went for a little cruise on the motorcycle Sunday night, after dinner, and couldn’t believe how many were out cruising around the lake as well! The roads in Hanoi are almost always chaotic, but as long as you stick with traffic, and move with cautious confidence, it all seems to be ok. Traffic doesn’t move quickly, but it does move at least. Having a motorbike saves you a lot of time on the roads, so we didn’t wait long before getting one!
I’m planning several posts about Vietnamese food in the future, but so far, we’ve been enjoying a lot of the international food that we missed so much while we were in China.
Vietnam is much more open than China, and as a result, they seem to be more adventurous here. In Suzhou, many of the ‘international’ restaurants had to make major changes to their menus in order to appeal to local tastes. One chef we knew in Suzhou actually left his job because they wanted his food to be more ‘instagramable’. He made incredible home-cooked style Italian food but the restaurant wasn’t doing well enough because appearances is what sells. He actually left the restaurant because he didn’t agree with the mentality, but the reality is that restaurants need to do this in order to survive in China. As a result, you get less authentic cuisines.
It’s also more difficult for foreigners to open restaurants in China. Rent is expensive and there are a lot of hoops to jump through to make it happen. This doesn’t seem to be such a problem in Vietnam because there are international restaurants EVERYWHERE, and they all taste and feel authentic.
Some of the cuisines we’ve tried so far:
West African – Sierra Leone
So there you have it, my first post about Hanoi (since we moved here, anyway!). We visited this gorgeous city back in 2017, and I knew I wanted to live here right away. I’m so glad we listened to our guts and made this move. So far, it’s an incredible adventure!
I sit between 2 officers who neither look at me, nor speak to me. We race through traffic, with lights on, as though we are in some sort of emergency. We nearly crash once.
It starts to hit me then. This is really happening. This is the turn my life is taking.
10 minutes earlier, I was on stage, finishing the chorus to Zombie by The Cranberries. I closed my eyes while I played the chords and took a vocal break to let my guitarist shine. When I opened them, a moment later, there were a dozen immigration officers telling us to stop playing. Some were in plain clothes. Others were in uniform. None looked friendly.
He walked up to the stage and called me by name. The wrong name, but close enough.
“Maria, you’re coming with me”.
I put down my guitar and tried to call over the owner of the bar, Jack. He made eye contact with me, and promptly looked away. He backed into a corner.
My drummer called over to our band manager, who was in the audience. The police noticed him, and all swarmed him. He’d recently had surgery, and I could hear him telling them not to push him, he was in pain. They continued to push.
I jumped off stage and walked over to my friends, who were sitting wide-eyed in the audience. My husband was over at the bar, but I knew I couldn’t make it over to him in time to say anything. I knew I couldn’t run either. Cameras are everywhere in China. They’d find me before I could even get home.
I laughed and said ‘this isn’t a noise complaint’, when my friends said it was too early for them to already be complaining. I downed the half pint of cider I had left in my glass, as I see them manhandling my manager and pushing him towards the door. One of the officers spotted me, suddenly remembering that I was there. She looked angry. She shouted at me to get moving with them. I complied, but it didn’t matter.
She grabbed my arm, pushing me along. I said ‘you don’t need to force me. I’m compliant and I’m coming with you’. She pinched the fat under my arm and kept pushing me ahead.
I remembered that my phone was in my hand, and I lifted it to check the time. As soon as the woman noticed, she tried to grab it right out of my hand. Instinctively I held on and pulled away. What would you do if someone tried to grab your phone? It’s a lifeline. A man grabbed me from behind and lifted my arm into the air with one of his hands, grabbing the phone out of my hand with the other. 8:08pm.
We got to the police vehicles. There were many. My husband later told me that there were at least 6 or 7. I wasn’t in the mind-frame to count. I heard our manager asking to be put in the police car with his son, who plays drums in my band. They refused and led him to a separate car. I was escorted into a police truck.
It all seems funny. My farewell party. I was arrested for singing at my farewell party. At 8 o’clock at night, long before noise could be an issue. I wasn’t even paid to be there. It was my farewell party, after all. A wonderful send off and a great way to end 9 years living in a country I have loved for so long. A country I’ve called my home.
Then I think of my husband. He had tried to hand me his phone as I was being escorted into the car. I told him to keep it, and that they already had my own device. He looked worried. This is what makes me break down and start to cry. The idea that Dave is hurting. The idea that I have caused him pain. I am lucky enough to be married to someone who really loves me, and who always has my back. I know that this ordeal…however it turns out…will be as hard on him as it is on me.
I don’t allow myself to break down. Tears stream down my face, but I refuse to sob. Instead, I try to reach out and remind these people that I’m a person. And also to show them that I’m not arguing with them and that I’m not combative. My instincts tell me that I should make connections.
I wait a few moments. I can tell he’s a little uncomfortable, but at least he hasn’t shouted at me, pinched me or grabbed me. I tell him ‘this was my farewell party. I’m leaving China in 6 days. I’ve lived here 9 years’. His response is short, but it says a lot.
“I’m just following orders”.
When we arrive at the police station, I’m told to get out of the car. I look around immediately to see if my bandmates are there as well. They are. Some relief. They look as grim as I feel, but at least I’m not alone.
Once in the station, I’m told to sit on one end of the room. My guitarist is sitting all the way at the other side of the room. My drummer and the band manager are standing near the police desk at the front of the room. The officers are asking them something. No one pays any attention to me.
Suddenly, I remember a piece of luck. My guitarist recently got his green card. Before I can think it through, I say out loud ‘He has his green card!’. Chaos ensues as we’re shouted at in both Mandarin and English to be quiet. We aren’t allowed to speak.
They call me over to the desk at the front of the room. That’s when I see the stack of files on the desk. They rifle through the stack, and I can see so many of my friends in there. Visa photos, addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers…It seems like half of the people I know are in that stack. They find my file and pull it out of the pile. They say they want my passport. I tell them I don’t have it, which annoys them again. Everything I say annoys them. They tell me I’ll need to have someone bring it to them. I remind them that they have my phone, and they say it’s not a problem. No further information.
They put a big black tracking bracelet on me and lock it. It seems like overkill, with the 2 giant metal doors that they closed behind us, but I was also just arrested for singing, so overkill seems to be the theme of the night.
They take me to a room where I remove my shoes and replace them with a pair of prison issue slippers. Things are starting to feel real. And scary.
The woman who kept pinching me comes over my way, once I’m seated again. She has my phone. My lifeline to the world. She holds it in her hand and demands to know my password. I give it to her, and she writes it onto a sticker, which she sticks to the back of the phone.
She then opens up Wechat, and finds my husband in my list of contacts. She tells me to tell him to bring my passport and that she’ll send him the location. She puts the call into speaker phone mode, and holds it in front of my face. Dave picks up. I hear his voice and it sounds worried.
“Are you ok? Are you safe?”
I respond that I am safe and that the officers are being very nice, but that I need him to bring my passport to the location that will be sent to him.
Her finger hovers over the ‘end call’ button throughout our 10 second conversation, and she promptly hangs up on my husband as soon as I’ve finished my sentence. Then, my phone disappears once again.
A while later, I’m being escorted through a metal detector. I’ve removed all my metal accessories already, but I still beep. My manager has trouble going through. He’s in a sling, and they make him take it off. He’s obviously sore. He’d only had surgery a week before. His shoulder must be aching from the way they pushed him out of the bar.
I motion to my chest to indicate that it must be the underwire in my bra. I don’t know why I think of that particular excuse…I’m not even wearing a bra with underwire…but I really don’t want to be strip searched, and that’s what pops into my head as an excuse. They accept it. We move on.
Then I’m brought into my interrogation room. My bandmates are moved further down the hall into rooms of their own. My previous experience in interrogation rooms were dark, quiet and scary. China upgraded since 2006, though. Now, interrogation rooms are bright, florescent, and bare.
They sat me down in a boxy wooden chair. It had to be at least 40 years old. It was uncomfortable, which was the point. It also had a wooden bar across the top, that they folded over my lap when I sat down. It is designed so that the person being interrogated can be locked in, with a simple padlock. As they lower the wooden bar over my lap, I feel like I am being locked into a roller coaster that I had no desire to be on.
The questions start off simple enough. “Why were you at the bar?” “Do you have an entertainment visa?” “Was the bar owner paying you to be there?”
My mind races. I know there is no point lying. They have my phone and they can see my transactions, ads about our shows, videos of our music. It might seem silly to an outsider that I would have all of this on my phone, but I had been playing in China for 8 years without issue. In my last 6 months, I probably got a little too cocky. Surely, I’m not going to get in trouble now.
I try to answer in ways that allow me to be honest, without throwing anyone under the bus. I feel the need to protect the bar owner, and my band manager. They are my friends. The last thing I want to do is rat them out. “I was at the bar because it was my farewell party. I’m moving in Vietnam in 6 days”. “No, I don’t have an entertainment visa. I’m a teacher. I just sing for fun”. “No, Jack has never sent me money to play music at his bar”.
All 3 statements are true, but they don’t make them happy. They open my phone and start scrolling until they find my chat with the bar owner, Jack. There are no transactions in that conversation, because Jack has truly never paid me. I always received my small performance payment from my band manager. They realize that quickly and find our list of transactions. I can’t protect him now.
They ask why he sends me so much money and I laugh and say “Because we’re friends??” in a funny kind of way. They don’t find it funny.
The man in the baseball cap, who keeps calling me Maria, enters the room as I say this. He comes right up to me and shouts in my face ‘THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE! DON’T LIE TO US!’
I admit that it is payment for some of my performances but that I was not being paid for tonight’s performance. Looking back, I find it funny that I thought that this would somehow make a difference.
The evening continues this way. They ask me questions. I answer the questions directly and honestly. Any time they think I’m lying, I get screamed at. I think they just like screaming. I also think that they’ve watched to many episodes of Law and Order. This all seems like something from a bad TV show where a rogue cop is trying to get information from a bad guy who is holding back answers.
Then, they come in with the stack of files that I’d seen an hour earlier. They go through each file and ask me which people were musicians.
My husband is in the file. I laugh and say ‘no no, trust me, he is NOT a musician. He tries to play guitar, but he’s horrible”. I immediately feel guilty for saying something that is neither true, nor nice, but I feel a little better knowing that I am protecting him with my bad joke.
I keep making jokes. Looking back, I think it was a coping mechanism, but at the time, I just wanted to keep things as light hearted as possible. They shout at me more than once, but I can’t seem to stop.
The woman who translates for me appreciates my humour and I can feel her softening towards me. She knows that I’m telling the truth, even though I’m not being as serious as I should be. I think she understands that I’m just scared. She shows me kindness, and I cannot overstate how grateful I am to have her there with me. She’s the closest thing I have to a friend at the moment.
She gives me a smaller stack of files. She asks “Do you know these people and are they in your band?”. I feel sick to my stomach. I’m being asked to rat on some of my favourite people in Suzhou. People who have done nothing wrong, other than share my love of music. People who have made my life in Suzhou a richer place.
I go through the files and admit that I know them all, but also state that none of them are in my band. This enrages the person I have now decided is my nemesis. The man in the baseball cap, who keeps calling me Maria.
He comes right up to me once more, screaming in English: “Stop LYING to us! I can legally incarcerate you for 30 days! I will do it if you keep lying!”
I choke back a sob and say with alarm in my voice ‘I’m not lying! There are only 3 people in my band, and they are all at the police station here with me!’.
My translator realizes her mix up and corrects herself. “Do you know these people, and do they perform in Suzhou?”
They bring me a red ink pad and make me put a thumb print on each of their files, as a sign that I acknowledge that they too are criminals. I feel sick each time I press my finger down on this stack of papers.
I tell them that I don’t think any of them make money, because they only perform occasionally, but the man in the baseball cap laughs again and says ‘it doesn’t matter’.
The interrogation is over, and all that’s left to do is sign my statements. They translate them into Chinese and print them up. My translator goes through every page with me and tells me not to worry, that they’re going to let me go tonight.
I thank her and ask her when I can get my passport back, because I already know that it won’t be returned to me tonight. She looks uncomfortable. The man in the baseball cap comes in again and says “we will be keeping your passport and your phone”. I explain that I’m leaving for Vietnam in 6 days, and he laughs at me.
“You’d better cancel your flight!”
That’s when the floodgates open. I begin to cry inconsolably. I sob as I sign my statement. Page after page. Fingerprints on top of every signature. I can’t stop crying now. My translator hands me a tissue and tells me that it’ll be alright. She says: “You’ve been honest and behaved well, it won’t be too bad”. It doesn’t make me feel better.
When I’m finally allowed out of the interrogation chair and lead back into the room with the metal detector, I sob in relief when I see my drummer sitting at a table, looking bored. He’s young. He doesn’t realize how serious this is. He also doesn’t have a flight to Vietnam in 6 days.
I see a small clock and realize that 2 hours have passed since I arrived at the police station. It takes another 3 hours to process the 3 of us. I learn that my guitarist had been saved by his green card and was released.
Fingerprints. Palm prints. Mug shots. Footprints. Retinal scans. DNA swabs. It takes 3 hours because, in true Chinese fashion, the internet keeps dropping.
We sit in the room together. Now that the interrogation is over and they’ve gotten what they wanted from us, we are allowed to speak. We make bad jokes. My manager assures me that I’ll be on my flight in 6 days. My drummer complains that he’s hungry.
Then, they tell me I can leave. I am startled because my two friends cannot leave yet. They aren’t finished with their processing. I ask if I can use my phone to call a taxi. Nothing is done with cash in China. You call a taxi, and can’t just flag one down. You pay with your Wechat wallet. I realize that I don’t even have my keys.
I’m told that I cannot use my phone to call a taxi. I explain that I have no way to get home. The officer in charge of processing laughs and says to me in Chinese “That’s not my problem”.
Luckily, I know Dave’s phone number by heart and they have a landline that I am allowed to use. It turns out that he’s waiting outside the police station for me.
I’m lead out of the processing room, and back into the room where my shoes are waiting. I see an old black chair with restraints built in. My heart stops for a moment, and I’m grateful that this wasn’t used on me.
They remove the tracking bracelet from my wrist and give me back my jewelry and belt. Then, they’re opening metal doors and letting me step into the night, where I can see my husband waiting for me, along with a few other friends of the band. He wraps me in his arms and I break down once more.
The aftermath of this night was truly a roller coaster. I was let out of the interrogation chair after just 2 hours, but my mind stayed restrained there for 6 full weeks. There was a total lack of transparency throughout the ordeal, and the immigration officers broke many of their own laws throughout the process.
I wasn’t given any paperwork or even a business card when I left the station that night. They had my phone and my passport, but I was given no information about how I should proceed, or what I could expect. And although we made several trips to the immigration office, trying to get answers, we were told over and over that ‘someone would be in touch within the next 3 months’.
It was an infuriating situation, made worse by how helpless I felt. I tried to write a letter of apology to the immigration office, and even had a friend translate it into Chinese for me, but they refused to take it. I tried talking to several different people, and had many friends call in on my behalf, but no one was told anything. In fact, when we came looking for information, most of the people working in the immigration office seemed to think it was all very funny.
Eventually, we got in touch with the Foreign Affairs Bureau. They were very surprised that several protocols had been breached by these officers and they promised to get in touch and try to get some information for us. Immigration called us and asked me to come in to sign some paperwork within 30 minutes of my departure from the Foreign Affairs office. The next day, I went in and signed post dated paperwork that should have been given to me the night of my arrest.
At this point, you might be wondering why I didn’t go straight to the Canadian Consulate or embassy, but in reality, there is very little the embassy would have been able to do for me. And of course, by getting the consulate involved, we would be escalating things, and possibly embarrassing the officers, which is really something you don’t want to do in a situation like this. For this same reason, I did not get a lawyer directly involved. We did, however, get some very good advice from 2 lawyers, but they never represented us officially. We were told over and over that we just needed to be polite, apologetic and humble, and that this was the best chance we had at a speedy resolution.
I learned a lot about the SIP Immigration people in those 6 weeks. I learned that they actually have a lot less power than they would like. They wanted to deport us and they couldn’t, likely because the offense was too small, and Beijing rejected their request. They wanted to charge me a higher fine, but once my paperwork went up the chain of command, the fine was lowered. Once more, my infraction was so small that they couldn’t justify such a big punishment.
I learned that the people in charge of SIP immigration truly have a mean streak, and that they enjoy their work a little too much. Whenever I had to go in to sign paperwork, the man with the baseball cap (who’s name was James, I learned later) would smile at me smugly as I signed paperwork and heard the charges being laid against me. He continued to use every opportunity he could to shout at me and be rude to me each time I had to go in to sign more paperwork.
They also found various ways to make things worse for us. The lack of communication was bad enough, but they also did other little things as well. They refused to call the bar owner themselves, and insisted that we should be the ones to bring him in. They accused us of not being apologetic enough, and used this as a reason for all the delays (keep in mind that I tried to write a letter of apology and it was rejected). They knew I was losing my apartment and would very likely lose my job due to their delays, but their response was always the same: “that’s not our problem”
Eventually, Dave had to leave the country without me, because his visa was up, and getting the cats to Vietnam was becoming complicated. That was a devastating blow to both of us, because it was bad enough dealing with all this together…never mind in different countries. He flew out on July 26th, and landed safely in Hanoi with Hugo and Poe later that night.
I had to move into a hotel on August 7th, because new tenants were moving into my apartment. I didn’t lose my job, in the end, but I did get moved to part time, which affects us financially. I’m enrolled in an online program at the University of Sheffield starting in September, and if I had lost my job completely, I would have also had to leave the program. It was an enormous source of stress for me.
But, having said all that, I am truly grateful for all the people who helped me out during this horrible time. I had friends emailing me many times every day to check in, during those first 10 days, before they gave me back my phone. So many friends called in on my behalf and told immigration about all the animal rescue work I do in China, pleading that they be lenient with me, because I’m a good person. And of course, so many people got together with Dave and I, to distract us from the situation, and sometimes to just listen while I cried in frustration. We have many beautiful, wonderful and kind people in our lives, and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.
Even people who hardly knew me checked in when they heard about what had happened. I was surprised how many of my acquaintances had their own stories about Suzhou Immigration. Sometimes for simple things, like forgetting to register with the police within 24 hours of returning to Suzhou after travel. Others were fined for working at a different branch of the same school. Some were even locked in that interrogation chair for 4 days, only allowed out when they went for COVID tests, and for 8 hours at night when they were given a blanket and told to sleep on the floor. It seems like everyone I know either has a story about immigration, or knows someone who does.
You might be wondering how I didn’t know this could happen, and the truth is, I did know that singing while on a teaching visa was an infraction. Having said that, I had been singing in Suzhou for 8 years without issue. I had even performed at the request of the government at several events. One of my performances was aired all across Jiangsu province. Many police officers in Suzhou know me by name and have come to my shows as well. One night, a few months ago, we actually drove a police officer back to his station after I performed. He was too drunk and we saw no problem giving him a ride.
So why was this a problem now, you might ask? Well, it was all about timing. Dozens of expats were arrested in Suzhou the same weekend I was. As it turned out, Xijiping, the president of China, was visiting Suzhou later that same week. No one knew about it, because his visits are always kept very quiet ahead of time. It’s very likely that the immigration bureau wanted to look productive when he arrive, so it’s plausible that the only reason I was arrested, was to make them look good.
I was finally allowed to leave China on August 16th. I was scared they’d pull me aside at the airport and interrogate me again, or that I could get in trouble for my expired visa, but none of that happened. When I finally made it through immigration at Pudong airport, I had to sit down and cry in a bathroom stall for a while, because I was so relieved to be out.
Needless to say, things are much better now. I’m in Vietnam, back together with Dave, Hugo and Poe. The 3 weeks Dave and I spent apart were full of video calls, and frustration, but we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. I had to pay a 10,000rmb fine (about $2000 Canadian) and sign my name about a hundred times, but that was my only ‘real’ punishment. Really, the time I lost this summer, and the stress of it all was a much bigger punishment. I can always make more money, but I can’t get those 6 weeks back, and I can’t forget everything I went through.
So there you have it. That’s the story of my last 6 weeks in China. It was a horrible time, and if you’re reading this because you’re thinking of moving to Suzhou or to China in general, I’d honestly discourage it. I had many amazing times there, and a few years ago, it was a great place to live. But now, foreigners are feeling less and less welcomed by the government. The people are still lovely, and it’s a beautiful country with so much to experience, but it’s impossible to know when they’re going to arbitrarily enforce a rule, and make your life illegal.
To all my friends and family who got me through this tough time…thank you.
It’s been a long time since my last post. So much has happened. I’ve been focusing on living life, and haven’t had much time to write about it. You may have also noticed that I’ve moved over to a new platform. Luckily, we were able to move over all my previous posts (by ‘we’, I mean my wonderful tech-savvy husband), and now that I’ve figured out the new system and gotten it looking the way I want it to, I’m back!
The 2022/2023 school year can truly be divided into two parts. In the first half of the year, Suzhou was still in and out of lockdowns due to COVID. They were stricter than ever about entering buildings and it got to the point where we were cooking at home, just to save ourselves the hassle of trying to get into the mall. Volunteer trips to the shelter became nearly impossible because I needed to collect phone numbers, passport numbers, green codes and proof of tests for every single volunteer (usually around 25 people). If I didn’t have these things, we weren’t allowed into the village where the shelter is located.
Chinese citizens had enough, and protests started to erupt all over the country. I haven’t talked much about the worst parts of the COVID measures in China, but many people did die due to those measures. 10 people died in the western province of Xinjiang, when their building managers locked them in with chains during lock downs. A fire broke started, and people couldn’t get out. 27 people died in Guizhou province while on their way to a quarantine hotel. The bus lost control and went off the side of a cliff. At that point, only 2 people had died of COVID in all of Guizhou province, but it didn’t change the crazy measures they were taking to keep people ‘safe’.
In addition to all the deaths caused by COVID measures, lockdowns were getting worse all over China. Dave and I were watching the news in horror as violence was breaking out in factories all over the country, where hundreds of thousands of people were being locked into their places of employment. There were food shortages, and anyone testing positive was taken into horrible quarantine camps. People had had enough, and they started to fight back. Things became very physical, and we were seeing videos popping up all over Chinese media. Of course, they were taken down within hours (sometimes minutes!) of being posted, but everyone saw them anyway.
It was a very scary time to be living here, and it took a toll on our mental health. My classes were interrupted daily for testing. We were being tested nearly every day in autumn, and as winter approached, things were looking grim. I didn’t want to spend my last year here in and out of lock downs. I didn’t want my memories of this beautiful country to be tarnished by a virus that was going to spread regardless of government actions. I just wanted things to go back to normal.
Then, on December 7th, it all changed. Codes were no longer needed and testing was halted. The city was no longer full of ‘Da Bai’ (the term for people dressed in the white safety suits that China used). The country stopped posting daily number for infected individuals. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced. A switch was flipped and suddenly, we could breath again.
It was impossible for them to track how many people got sick in those first weeks, but the numbers were certainly in the hundreds of millions. Hospitals were overrun, mostly because people in China go to the hospital for even the smallest thing. Fever clinics were opened up all over Suzhou to help with all the people coming in, demanding IV drips. There were certainly deaths, but they weren’t announced. I caught COVID on December 18th, and Dave started showing symptoms on the 19th. By Christmas, we were right as rain and able to go enjoy a dinner in nearby Kunshan. Most holiday celebrations were cancelled though, because so many service workers were catching the virus and recovering at home or in fever clinics.
By mid January, it was estimated that 80% of China’s massive 1.4 billion citizens had had caught COVID. Eventually, quarantine measures for flights were reduced and then disappeared, and life got back to almost normal. Masks became optional. People started to live again. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was living in fear. I was scared it could all start up again at any point. When Monkey Pox started hitting the news, we were worried they were renew virus management measures.
A lot of ridiculous things were posted online during that time. Superstitions were rampant. People in China were terrified of doing any physical activity for months after they caught COVID, because they were sure it would cause them to have heart attacks and die. I was told by all my coworkers that I shouldn’t be taking walks, because physical activity could be deadly. Long showers were also risky, I was told. When Monkey Pox started hitting the news here, news articles were being published telling locals not to shake hands or come into contact with any foreign people because we might infect them.
But, eventually, things sort of just went back to normal. People started going out again. We weren’t all living in fear that we might be put back into a lock down. Events started happening again. We could go places freely. We didn’t have to worry about getting COVID tests daily, and I didn’t need to show any codes when I came into the school or went to the store. I went from having my temperature checked 5 times a day, to never having it checked at all. We all started LIVING again. It was wonderful.
Our last few months in China were incredible. It made me very sad to leave this place that I’ve called home for the past 8 years. I accepted a job in Hanoi, Vietnam, in spring, and as the date came closer, I felt sadder about leaving. I knew it would be hard to say goodbye to all my friends here. I know it would be especially hard to say goodbye to the music scene. In my last 6 months in China, I performed nearly every weekend, sometimes by myself, but often with various bands.
Sadly, the thing that made me happiest in my last 6 months in China, also cost me a lot. Although Dave and I were supposed to arrive in Vietnam on July 7th, everything changed at my farewell party on July 1st. But I’ll be telling that story in my next blog post. It’s a doozy. Be sure to check back to hear all about how I was arrested in front of all my friends, and spent 6 weeks trapped in the country I once loved so much.
I have travelled to many countries and eaten many meals. I can’t say I’m a terribly fussy eater, and I’ll try most things once! From scorpion in Thailand, to pig tongue in Korea, I’ve tried some interesting stuff!
When you think of Winnipeg, you might not actually think there’s much for food. You can find great barbecue, and burgers are everywhere, but there is certainly more than Poutine to eat in Canada! People have immigrated to this lovely country from all over the world, and lucky for us…they bring along their food with them!
Chinese food isn’t hard to find in Peg City. Chinatown is an obvious place to find it, but if you travel down to the University of Manitoba, on Pembina Highway, you’ll find lots of great stuff too! Our favourite down that way is called Sun Fortune restaurant. You’ll hear more Mandarin than English when you’re there, so you know it’s authentic! If you want to order the Peking Duck though, make sure to call ahead! It’s very popular, and sells out fast!
Corydon Avenue is also a great place for Foodies in Winnipeg. Colosseo is a top notch Italian restaurant, located at the corner of Corydon and Hugo. Whether you love pizza, pasta or tiramisu, you’ll go home with a full belly!
Today I want to talk about a couple of my favourite ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants in Winnipeg. Dave and I rarely eat at chain restaurants, and instead tend to find ourselves at little places, that are always full, but don’t have many tables. Here are a few of my faves!
I’m going to begin with something local and unique. Feast is a great little restaurant on Ellice Avenue. They make traditional Indigenous cuisine, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the perfect place to go if you want a taste of Manitoba!
Bison Chili, Pickerel Sliders and saskatoon pie…what more could you want from life? They use local ingredients and everything we’ve tried there has been fantastic. I am usually WAY too full for dessert, but this year, I ordered some to go. It turns out that I like bannock donuts better than regular donuts, and it’s easy to see why! They taste as good as they look!
The atmosphere in the restaurant is great too! Service is good, and the restaurant is filled with Indigenous art. It’s the perfect place to stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We’ve never been there for breakfast, but since I learned that they do Eggs Banny (using bannock instead of English muffins), I know I’ll be swinging by there to start the day on my next trip home!
Dave and I have always been very fond of Thai food, even before moving to Asia, and our love for this cuisine only deepened once we visited. Bangkok Thai (on Osbourne) is always a favourite, but the one restaurant we simply CANNOT miss when we’re home is a little hole in the wall restaurant on Marion Ave, called Vientiane.
Their food is unreal! If you like spicy, this is the place for you! They say that ‘medium’ is 3/10…and they mean it. We order a 5 or 6, and it’s a bit of heat. If you order a 10, prepare for your eyes to water, because it’s an ASIAN 10!
I LOVE their fish green curry, and their Crab Rangoon is OUT OF THIS WORLD! The Massaman is also always a hit. They also feature Laotian dishes at Vientiane (the restaurant is named after the capital of Laos, actually), and there’s a great variety of food to try.
The restaurant may be small, but the food is great, and the staff have always been wonderful to us! The food also comes out quick, because curries are often prepared in big batches. It’s the perfect place to stop for a quick bite!
We were away for 3 years, unable to visit Canada due to China’s strict travel policies, and I can honestly say, the food I missed most was definitely Ethiopian cuisine. It isn’t available anywhere we’ve travelled in China (trust me…we’ve checked!), but of any food on earth, I think Ethiopian is my favourite!
Winnipeg actually has quite a few Ethiopian Restaurants. There are about 2500 people of Ethiopian descent living in Winnipeg, and are quite a few little restaurants that serve their cuisine around the city. This is great, because Ethiopian food is actually quite difficult to make, and unless you’re willing to spend HOURS in the kitchen, getting the injera and wats ready, restaurants are going to be your best bet.
I was CRUSHED to learn that my favourite place, Massawa, shut down during the pandemic. We were loyal customers for years, visiting several times each summer, and more frequently when we lived in Canada. Alas, it caused us to try out some new restaurants, one of which is in the same location where Massawa was previously located.
The restaurant that really impressed us this year, though, was Gojo, on Sargent. The place was small, but when we walked in, we were hit with all the gorgeous smells of Ethiopia!
The staff were SO kind, and the food was fresh and fantastic! Their bathrooms were clean, and I could see into the kitchen (always a good sign) and everything was spotless in there too! I’m really looking forward to being able to go back to visit Gojo again, the next time we’re in Winnipeg!
Honourable Mention: Sushi Ya
I was lucky enough to live right behind this little gem of a restaurant when I was a poor student. I love this place, not only for their fantastic sweet chili sauce, but also for their prices. You can get a great lunch without breaking the bank! Many of their rolls are quite small, so you can stop in for a snack, or just try a wide variety of sushi! This has been one of my favourite restaurants in Winnipeg for about 15 years, so if you like Sushi, you should definitely give it a try!
Honourable Mention #2: Maggi’s
The last place I want to mention is a great little restaurant owned by a family of refugees. Located in Transcona, Maggi’s makes fantastic wraps, shawarma and other Syrian delicacies! Service was good, and it’s a great place to enjoy a quick bite in nice weather!
I ordered a falafel wrap, and Dave and my mom both ordered the chicken shawarma. The large ones are HUGE and great if you’re really hungry! If you want something a little lighter, go with the the smaller sized wraps.
So there you have it…some of my favourite restaurants in Winnipeg! I wrote this post while still stuck in quarantine, where the food is…less good. Now, I’m hungry and I only have myself to blame!
My next post will be all about the 13 days of quarantine that we faced (and are still facing) upon our return to China! It’s been a bit of a wild ride, so stay tuned!
I’ve taken quite the absence from my blogging this year, mostly because there hasn’t been much to blog about. We were in and out of the various stages of lock down for 3+ months, which led to our finalized decision to leave China in June of 2023. The good news is that there was a silver lining at the end of lock downs… we got to go home!!!
The months leading up to our trip home was filled with uncertainty. When we booked our flights, we were expecting to do 2 weeks of hotel quarantine and 2 weeks of at home quarantine where we would not be allowed to leave the apartment. About a month before we left however, this was changed to 7 days in hotel quarantine with only 3 days at home. Several other changes lead to us having an extra week in Manitoba as well, so it seemed like things were looking up! Still, I didn’t fully relax until we were seated on our flight back to Vancouver. Things change quickly, and right up until that point, we were prepared for things to go wrong.
The whole process of getting out of China and then getting back in was quite an ordeal. I thought you might all be interested in hearing about all the steps we had to take, so here it is: our summer adventure!
Getting out of Suzhou
Getting out of Suzhou was a bit of an ordeal up until the week we left. If we had gone 1 week earlier, we would have had to take a car to the permiter between Suzhou and Shanghai and then transfered to another car because it was impossible for drivers to get into Shanghai and then out again. This rule was lifted just in time and we were able to take 1 car the whole 3 hour drive. It was still pricey (3x the normal fee) but doable.
We arrived at the airport 5 hours before our flight and we were very glad had the extra time. Although Pudong airport was a ghost town (which was very strange because it’s usually an incredibly busy place), it took us 2.5 hours just to check in our luggage. It seemed like everyone packed more luggage than usual (many seemed to be paying to take extra suitcases), and many pets were flying too. Worst of all, due to COVID concerns, the AC was basically non existent so we had to stand there in the heat, wearing N95 masks. Shanghai is a hot city and even in the morning it was between 25 and 30 degrees celsius, with plenty of humidity.
Once we got through check-in, we had to get through immigration and security. They were extra fussy with security this year, and we had to leave behind all our hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Our luggage was thoroughly checked. Customs was easy for us, but the line was slow because any Chinese people leaving had to explain why they were leaving in detail. I overheard one woman explaining that she needed to go to America because she hadn’t seen her son and grandchildren in three years. China is still trying to prevent any unnecessary travel in and out of the country, so people actually had to have a valid reason to leave.
Once we were boarded, things went smoothly, but the flight itself was 2 hours longer than normal because there was a crew switch in Seoul. With the added COVID rules, the crews couldn’t legally do the entire trip. They have hours of safety measures to do once the plane lands, so all flights to and from Canada now have a stop in Korea, to allow a new crew to take over We weren’t allowed off the plane, of course, and it added an additional 2 hours to our already long trip home.
Arriving in Canada
Arriving in Canada was easy peasy. Although there were massive delays in Toronto, Vancouver was not very affected, so aside from a slightly longer wait to check in, arriving in Canada was a piece of cake. It was so good to be home, hearing French on the intercoms, and seeing familiar shops and restaurants. Our first meal back was at A&W, where we overloaded on sodium and sugar and immediately regretted our decision.
Getting Ready to Head Back
Our trip home was fantastic and I’ll write more about that in my next couple of posts. The last week, though, was a bit stressful. In addition to worrying about our flights being cancelled, we had to be tested and apply for a codes that would allow us to get back into the country. We heard horror stories of people who had tested positive and the difficulty they were having with getting negative tests, even weeks later. Many flights were being cancelled on the Canadian side (because of staff shortages) and also on the China side (due to circuit breaker measures that China has in place if too many people on a particular fight test positive on arrival).
Our biggest challenge was finding the right information about the testing requirements to get our green codes for re-entry. Info on the consulate websites were out of date and we had a lot of difficulty getting in touch with anyone at the consulates as well. It turned out that we had to get 2 tests done from DIFFERENT labs. The first had to be done 2 days before departure, the second 1 day before departure. The problem was that there was only 1 lab in Winnipeg that was in China’s approval list. After some digging, we found out that they were ok with us using labs that weren’t on the list, as long as they were legit and the tests were done in the nose. We found this to be particularly interesting because all the testing we do weekly in China is done in the throat, but rules were rules and we followed them.
In total, the testing cost us over $700 Canadian, which was a little crazy given that we get tested multiple times per week in China for free. And if we happen to miss the free testing, it costs less than a dollar to pay to have one done. Of course, China has the infrastructure in place to mass test, whereas Canada relies mostly on at-home antigen tests. Those aren’t accepted in China, so it’s PCR or nothing here.
I think the biggest stress in that last week, aside from conflicting and missing information, was our fear of catching COVID. If we had, it could have taken months for us to get back to China, and it also would have cost us thousands of dollars. We hand sanitized, masked up and acted like paranoid nuts that last week, but luckily, our families were very understanding and accommodating and we had most of our get togethers and goodbyes outside, where risks were much lower. We never caught COVID, which was a stroke of good luck, supported by careful measures. Our time in China had already normalized a lot of these behaviors, so it was just a matter of switching back into those habits after a very stress-free summer.
We managed to get through it all and got our green codes to China, and before we knew it, we were off!
Arriving in China
This is where the real “fun” began. I’ll try not to bore you with too much detail, but the moment we arrived back in China, things got a lot more serious. The difference in the way we were treated was obvious. In Canada, COVID is basically treated as ‘no big deal’. In China, we were treated like we had bubonic plague and had the intention of spreading it to the masses.
The airport was all extremely sterile, with every worker in a full PPE suit, despite the heat. There was a lot of shouting as we were hearded from one line up to the next, walking several kms around the airport for the different parts of re-entry. This is a rough breakdown of the steps.
Recheck the codes that we had needed to board the airplane & sign consent forms for testing to be done (these tests were not optional, so I’m not sure why we needed to sign consent)
COVID testing- the most painful and uncomfortable test of my life. It took the guy 3 tries before he was happy with the results, and the swabs went so deep into my throat that I gagged and heaved the entire time. My throat was sore for hours.
Temperature checks and facial recognition.
Sorting into provinces for the quarantine hotels
Preparation for the hotel quarantine location we’d be staying in and the surrender of our passports
Getting onto the bus that would take us into quarantine
Check in and payment at the quarantine hotel
Preliminary testing at the COVID hotel, including temperature checks (with thermometers that didn’t work), another PCR (nose AND throat… different swabs, don’t worry) and logging in info so that we could be sorted into our next quarantine hotel.
We landed at 6am and it was probably about 1pm by the time we could finally sit back and relax in our quarantine room. None of it was particularly difficult, but the amount of walking we had to do, carrying all our luggage, was exhausting… especially in the heat & N95 masks. I was very glad to have a bottle of water for Dave and I to share, because there was no where to get water on the way. This was probably a good thing because I don’t think we were allowed to use the washrooms either.
By the end of it, I was jetlagged, sore and emotionally drained. I got yelled at so many times, and there wasn’t a smile to be seen anywhere… Just PPE suits, masks, visors and exhausted and overheating staff at the airport. It wasn’t exactly the nicest welcome back.
I have 1 week left of quarantine and plenty that I’m still planning to write about, including an entire post describing our life behind monitored doors, and several posts about Canada…
Stay tuned and feel free to leave your comments below!!
My relationship with Guiyang City has always been complicated. I spent my year there trying to be positive, when I was working at a school that treated me quite poorly. Culture Shock was hard on me, and I found myself extremely homesick. Making that big of a move can be difficult for even the strongest relationships. I had a lot going on when I lived in Guiyang in 2014 and 2015.
Since then, of course, I’ve changed. I’ve adapted pretty well to life in China, I’ve become more self sufficient here and learned quite a bit more of the language. I’ve also “found myself”. In Guiyang, I was trying to figure out who I was outside of my 8 years in sales. Who was I, if I wasn’t living in small town Canada? Now I know who I am. I’m a musician. I’m an animal rescue. I’m a blogger. I’ve accomplished things that I never imagined, like creating a Merchandise Line to raise money for animal rescue. I also weigh 10kg less than I did when I lived in Guiyang. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, and more confident in what I’m capable of.
All this is to say that going back to Guiyang these last 2 summers has been eye opening. So many of the grudges I’d held in my 5 years away are gone. I don’t feel small and shy, the way I did 6 years ago. I have since surrounded myself with people and peers who treat me like I am enough. I am adequate. I went from being on the brink of walking out of my job in Guiyang, to being put in charge of an entire English Program in the school where I’m teaching now.
Guiyang has developed so much in the past 6 years. There is a metro here now, and the city is much better connected with the high speed rail. Traffic has improved as a result of the metro, and with Didis being available now, transportation above ground has become easier too.
Of course, some things still haven’t changed. Many of our favorite restaurants are still there. The city still has a great street food scene, and all our favorite treats. On the other hand, Guiyang got its very first McDonald’s while we lived there, and now there are many all around the city. Starbucks has popped up everywhere as well.
The scenery around Guiyang is still as beautiful as ever as well. I haven’t seen a city in China as green as Guiyang.
Surprisingly, some of the closest friends we made in Guiyang have still been around over the last few years we’ve visited. Catching up with them was fantastic. Some of my students also got in touch with me to meet up. Seeing these people 5-6 years later reminded me that although we didn’t have many friends in Guiyang, we did have a couple of really great ones.
Going through all of these old photos got me thinking of all the incredible kids I got to teach, of course, and although my place of employment back then wasn’t ideal, the job itself is what kept me going. There are kids there that I will never forget.
Of course, visiting Guiyang is very different from living there again, but these last two trips have been so great, I can’t help but consider the idea of us ending back there for a year or two. Suzhou is beautiful and comfortable, but the food and excitement of Guiyang can’t be beat. I also can’t help but wonder whether things would have been very different for us if we had been there after we’d already been in China for a few years first.
I suppose this post is more of a reflection on how places and people change over time. When we left Guiyang in July of 2015, I could never have imagined I would end up loving the city so much just a few years later! Traveling really does shift perspectives, and I think there’s a lot of that happening here.
I have 2 posts planned for Guiyang. One to give people an idea of what can be done in the city, and the other with ideas of things you can do as a day or weekend trip if you come to Guizhou Province.
In 1577, a monestary was built at the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism. It was called Kumbum Jampa Ling, which means “supreme Buddhist temple with one hundred thousand lions’ roar Buddhist images”.
In its hay day, this temple was home to 3600 monks. Rulers during the Qing dynasty donated Buddhist art, stupas, statues and many other treasures. Even today, Kumbum is home to more than 100,000 relics. In other words, it is a very important location for Buddhism, and also for history.
Now, around 400 monks still live at the monestary, and even though it isn’t the same as it once was, it is still a very impressive place to visit. We spent 3 hours roaming around the monestary, admiring the architecture, Buddha’s, art, and the scenic environment.
What impressed me most about Kumbum temple was the architecture. I’ve never seen so many colours (except maybe in India!). Every building has elaborate designs and the most vibrant colors! There were a few rooms that allowed photos, so I was able to get some examples for you.
We saw worshippers praying, enormous prayer wheels and so many impressive Buddha’s. So much of the most beautiful things in the temple couldn’t be photographed, of course, but I was very happy that there were a few places where it was permitted.
There were quite a few tourists and pilgrims at the monestary. Kumbum is considered one of the most important temples in the Tibetan Plateau. Many people were there to pray, light candles, and worship in various ways. It always upsets me when I see people taking photos of pilgrims or items of religious importance. When we first walked in, several monks were telling off some Chinese tourists for photographing them as they were walking around the Stupas. I had actually been photographing the Stupas at that time and I made sure those pilgrims knew that I had my camera up and focusing on the structures, and not on them.
One other thing that really made me feel good about monestary was the wildlife. There were also many friendly felines roaming the monestary. They seemed well fed and friendly. A good sign that the people living there treat them well.
I certainly recommend this monestary for anyone visiting Qinghai. Located about a 1 hour Didi ride from Xining, Kumbum is a beautiful place to visit and with an entrance fee of less than 100rmb ($20), it’s an affordable place to see.
We’re just getting started on this trip! Check back soon for more!!
Qinghai is a massive province in China. I hadn’t actually realized how big it is, until I started deciding what we would do here. And in this massive province, there is also an enormous lake by the same name: Qinghai.
Qinghai is China’s biggest lake, but it only actually ranks 36th in the world. Lake Superior, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg are all bigger, but I have to say that Qinghai’s setting was still something quite beautiful to see!
Nearly 4500kms square, this giant body of water is located in part of the Tibetan Plateau. There is Tibetan culture here everywhere you look. From the Yaks to the prayer flags, you can feel that you aren’t on the east coast of China anymore!
On the lake itself, there isn’t a lot to do. You can rent a motorbike or bicycle, but we chose to walk along the beach instead, taking in the cool, fresh air. All along that particular area, you can rent traditional Tibetan Robes for photo ops, and you can even ride a Yak into the water.
Of course, getting to Qinghai Lake is half the fun, as far as I’m concerned. We originally intended to take the bus, but when we saw the lineup, we opted to hire a van instead. The roads were a little scary, and our driver was under the impression that we were in a Nascar race, but we made a few stops that certainly made the trip worth it.
On our way to the lake, we stopped at one lookout, and got some photos. I was happy to have my Canon with me so that I could zoom in. We didn’t get very close by, but at least I got to see some of the beautiful art!
On our way back, we also stopped for some more Tibetan culture at Jia Yi Temple. This particular spot was a bit off of a road and we were able to get out of the car and explore a little bit.
I actually prefer taking buses over hiring a van most of the time, but this last stop actually made the van ride worth it, as far as I was concerned. Sometimes it’s better to be a little cramped, and to spend a little more, because you might end up with extra experiences too!
Tomorrow we check out more Tibetan Culture! Check back!!
Sanya is a hot spot for tourism in China. It’s considered the Hawaii of China, and every Christmas and Spring Festival tourists flock to the beaches to catch some sun and do some surfing. It is quite possibly one of the most touristy areas in China, and it’s easy to see why.
I do think that a lot of tourists make the mistake of never leaving Sanya though. Aside from a few days trips, people head to the south coast of Hainan province and don’t really venture out to the rest of the island. It’s a shame, because there’s so much more to Hainan than just Sanya! The island’s capital, for example, has been one of the highlights of our trip!
We didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Haikou, unfortunately, but we made the most of the time we had. There were 2 things that really stood out to us in this city (aside from seeing our friends Jonathan and Duygu, of course): The Food and the Volcano Park.
We tried several great restaurants in Haikou. The first was for Christmas dinner. The Chimac is a popular western restaurant. The owner, David Chon, is a Korean American who clearly takes pride in his restaurant. He put together a special menu for Christmas dinner and we were lucky enough to get a table. I was so impressed with the smoked salmon! They smoked it themselves and ran out so quickly that they had to get more in before their Christmas event!!
Chimack is not the only place to get great food in Haikou either. We also enjoyed a great dinner at an Indian restaurant near the train station and University. Chilli Delhi honestly had some of the best Indian food I’ve had in China, and at much better prices than we pay in Suzhou. Best of all, there’s no loss of quality!
Our favorite foodie stop in Haikou though, was for breakfast. Now… I’m not really much of a fan of Chinese breakfasts. I’ve never cared for congee, which is essentially watery rice, and the dough sticks are pretty flavourless. I did like the spicy pancakes they serve in Guiyang, but overall, I generally stick with fruit here, if I have breakfast at all. Of course, there is 1 exception to this general rule of mine: DIM SUM!!
When we found out about Yipinwei Food Garden, we knew we were going… Even if we had to drive the wrong way across the city to get there (which is exactly what we did). We were not disappointed! The food was fabulous. The service was fast and efficient. The price was amazing!! From start to finish we were impressed. The first thing our server asked when we sat down was if we wanted coffee! I think this was the first time that ever happened to us living in China! There are plenty of coffee shops in Haikou… Just one more thing making it a great city!!
Honestly, as I write this, I wish I was back there now! If we lived in Haikou, we would be at Yipinwei Food Garden every weekend!! Unfortunately, there isn’t much about the place available in English online, but the link I imbeded above does at least give you the address. (Just click on the blue text!) I encourage you to try the place out!!
We didn’t have a single disappointing meal in Haikou, but food isn’t the only reason to make a trip to Hainan’s capital! I’ll be writing more about that in my next post!
Huge thank you to Jonathan and Duygu who recommended all these awesome places!
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Check back soon! I’ve already got lots of write about!