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Hello, Hainan!

Text and Images by Sara Grace Fojas

Video by Clarence Rivera

The monk would take three steps, then he would bow down, kneel, take three steps again and repeat his ritual over and over again until he comes to the foot of Guanyin of Nanzhan, the Goddess of Mercy, with the hope that his prayers would be granted.

It's been three days of no social media connections--no Facebook, Twitter, Messenger, Instagram, or anything Google-related--in Hainan Island, China yet the past days have never been a bore. There's always something new to look at, to hear, to taste, to experience.

Hainan Island is China's only tropical island and the country's most popular tourism resort destination. It is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. There, it's summer all year round, with plenty of sunshine, fresh air, and clean water.


Three days ago, we started our trip to famous Old Qilou Street in Haikou. This street, with its unique and exquisite carvings, is a mixture of Asian and European architecture. It has witnessed the development of Haikou for over 700 years. The street soaks in a strong ambiance of literature and art.

Walking down this long street reminded me of walking along the walls of Intramuros, but in a different way. Instead of the defensive walls built by the Spanish colonial government, I see walls of culture surrounding me in the shops selling local products and cafes selling traditional Chinese food. We got lost and found ourselves inside a temple where Chinese people are solemnly praying to Buddha, lighting incense, and offering money.

There was also a man in his window shop carving wood, and inside his small store was a trove of treasures all painstakingly carved by his hand. As we end our little cultural trip, we chanced upon two old men, like our lolos in the corner of the street, playing Xiangqi or Chinese chess.

We only stayed on this famous street in Haikou for an hour, but we were filled to the brim with so many stories to bring back home.


After exploring Haikou, it was time to pack our bags and go to Sanya, in the southernmost part of Hainan Island. The city is known as "China's Florida." Indeed, from 13 degrees in Haikou, Sanya's temperature spiked to 24 degrees.

We boarded the 9:30 a.m. train at Haikou Dong Railway Station, a high speed train that runs 245 kilometers per hour. There were seats assigned for every passenger, restrooms, sockets for charging, and a lady pushing a trolley around the train, selling snacks. I couldn't help but wish we had trains like this in the Philippines.

We arrived at Sanya after two hours. After lunch, we were off to explore the Binglanggu Li and Miao Cultural Heritage Park.


At Binglanggu Li and Miao Cultural Heritage Park, the customs and traditions of Li, the largest ethnic minority group living on Hainan Island, was in action. This tribe is believed to be the descendants of the ancient Yu tribe of China, who settled on the island thousands of years ago during the Yin dynasty.

At first you'd think it was just an ordinary park/museum, but after finding out that the Li tribe used the bark of a tree called antiaris toxicaria or poison arrow tree to make clothes, aprons, and quilts, and that the dragon, as the symbol of the Chinese nation, was woven into quilts with exquisite dragon patterns through a walk-through exhibit, you would know you were in the land of myths. This village is populated by women of all ages weaving quilts with intricate patterns, all of them willing to show you what they were doing. Some women teach little girls how to weave, passing the precious tradition to the next generation.

After that we were able to witness Li's traditional Chinese wedding, which takes even longer than the Filipino wedding.

Our group leveled up the merry making by trying baiju or a Chinese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice--one shot has eight percent alcohol while the other one has 52 percent. It is very much like the lambanog, or so I thought. When I drank the 56 percent shot, I felt the heat traveling from my throat right down to my chest and it stayed there for a few minutes. It tasted good but it was very strong I decided to not to get another round.


The highlight of the day was the Sanya Legend Show at the Sanya Romance Park. Staged at the 4700-seater Sanya Quianguqing Grand Theater, the one-hour show will leave you speechless, not just because of the rich Sanya legends and history but because of the way it is presented. The entire auditorium was the performer's stage. There were fighting scenes, dancing, circus, jet skiing, even acrobats. Flying carpets from the back will swoop above you.

One story that struck me was the story of Monk Jianzhen's sail to Japan. A storm would always start every time he began m his journey. On his fifth attempt, he ran into a storm again and instead of arriving in Japan, he arrived at Ning Yuan River in Sanya. There, he helped the people build a temple and introduced Buddhism to them.

There was also a story of a man who was desperately trying to catch a beautiful deer. For days, he followed this deer until it was trapped and couldn't elude him anymore. When he was about to shoot it with his arrow, the deer turned into a beautiful lady and they fell in love with each other.

The end to the one-hour show was a beautiful number from acrobats and when you looked up, there were mermaids swimming above you, saying good bye and thank you for watching their tales.

Before finally heading back to the Philippines, we visited Guanyin of Nanzhan. Here you'll see how the Chinese people value their belief and religions. The long promenade surounded by flowers and trees that leads to the shore, where Guanyin is located, is crowded with people of all ages kneeling and praying to the Goddess of Mercy.

The 108-meter statue has three faces, one facing the inland and the other two facing the sea. Her name means "the one who hears the cries of the world," and she represents the blessing and protection of China and the whole world.

Witnessing this intense faith made me say my own prayer, thanking God for all the beautiful things I'd seen.


Filipinos will now be able to visit China through the soon-to-be-launched direct flight between Hainan and Manila via Philippine Airlines and Happy Sun Travel and Tours, Inc. Soon to start this year, the flight was made official through the Haikou-Manila Direct Flight Inaugural Ceremony and Hainan Tourism Resources Symposium, organized by Hainan Tourism Development Commission and hosted by Hainan United Airlines Travel Group Co., Ltd. in Haikou last month. Fu Fenghua, deputy division chief of Hainan Tourism Development Commission International Marketing Office announced that soon, with this flight, Filipinos can enjoy a free-visa policy or a visa-on-arrival policy to China. The cruise route between Hainan and Philippines has been opened last year, and direct flight from Haikou to Manila, operated by Hainan United Airlines Travel Group, will open soon this year. This will not only boost the tourism between these two places, but it will also open the horizon for Filipinos to understand the tourism culture of Hainan and China.

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Title Annotation:Travel
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Feb 25, 2018
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