When you fly over Hainan, you can’t possibly miss this.
Say hi to Guanyin, the goddess of mercy.
She’s my favourite immortal, since in Journey to the West, she always helps the Monkey King when everybody else is out to get him. She also gave him three special monkey hairs that can save his life.
The statue is 108 metres tall.
It is also known by another name: the edges of the earth.
In ancient time, officials who were exiled here had to brave the stormy sea, the tropical heat, not to mention the lack of any suitable habitats a few thousand years ago. Living here was like being banished to the ends of the earth. Some of them would rather go to jail than come to live here.
But now the name has taken on a different, more romantic meaning. Couples come here to this stone, promising to love each other till the end of the world.
Sanya is one of the most popular destinations for winter holidays and honeymoons.
Five-star hotels, shopping malls with international brands, rustic cabins, private condos, infinity pool . . .
But Hainan is not just all skyscrapers and tourist spots.
The middle of the island is mostly mountains.
五指山 “five-finger mountain”
When the Monkey King wreaked havoc in the Heavenly Palace, the Gautama Buddha summoned a “five-finger mountain” and trapped the Monkey King there for five hundred years. Even though I knew Journey to the West was just fiction, I grew up believing that this mountain in Hainan was where the Monkey King was trapped.
Hard to believe we’re still in Hainan. This peak looks like it’s poking right through the clouds. Maybe Jack can grow his beanstalk here.
Taoist immortals could live here, too.
At the foot of one of those mountains is a village, its residents the pioneers of Hainan.
Legend has it that several thousand years ago, the Li people arrived at Hainan, which was still entirely covered by tropical rainforest. Needing a place to live, they turned over their boats, and lived in the space beneath.
Even now, their houses retain the shape of an upturned boat.
We don’t commonly see thatched roofs like this anymore.
Is that a monkey?
He sure can climb like one.
Some of the betel palms can grow to as high as 30 metres. That’s like scaling a ten-story building bare-handed.
At the top of the tree is the (in)famous betel.
Chewing betel nut is a popular pastime in certain parts of China, though I can never understand the appeal of chewing something that you can’t swallow, and ending up with your teeth stained black like you’ve been dunked in a tar pit.
With the tropical climate in Hainan, farmers can harvest three batches of rice crops each year.
The first batch of harvest is just in time for the Dragon Boat Festival.
Fishermen compete against professional rowers.
The fastest dragon boat travels at 4 metres per second.
Paddling in tandem with so many members in a crew can’t be easy. One time during camp, a friend and I got into a two-person canoe, our strokes are so out of sync that we capsized about 10 seconds after we got into the water. (Ours wasn’t even the worst. The fastest capsizing happened to a team whose one member was about 30 kg heavier than the other one. Their canoe went down as soon as they stepped foot in it.)
There are over 7,000 islands in China, but less than 500 of them are habitable, mostly due to lack of access to freshwater. Hainan is one of the lucky few.
Hainan really is a blessed island, even before the goddess of mercy decided to make this her permanent home.
Four major rivers flow over the entire island, making irrigation and hence human settlement, possible.
Yantian means “salt evaporation pond”.
These troughs trap seawater during high tide, and expose it to the sun during low tide. Water evaporates, and salt is left behind.
Since our helicopter can only take so many passengers each time, if you don’t want to see the rest of the island, you can take the pan-island high-speed rail. Three hours and you’ll have circled the entire island.
This is a Wenchang, a city famous for many things, including a satellite launch centre.
But to foodies, the city is better-known for its chicken.
There are many smaller islands off the coast of Hainan.
On some, you can go exploring sunken ships for treasure.
On others, you can learn free-diving from local fishermen.
Hainan has so much to offer: sights, activities, food, especially tropical fruits. But remember when you go there with friends, it’s important to share. Try to hog all the food, and you’d end up like this: