Greg's Occasional News & Views

29 October 2017

Tuesday 10 October

Our last day at the Outside Inn. Unfortunately, we all had grumbling tummies to some extent or another and so it was a day of restraint. We were to fly to Sanya on Hainan Island that night leaving from Guilin Airport at 22.20 so we had the whole day to relax and leisurely attend to the sorting and packing after 12 days at the Outside Inn. Ronald and his staff were wonderful throughout our visit; as always they were ever helpful and kind. They’ve become like family during our two visits.

The minibus arrived just after 19.00 and we said our “good-byes” and clambered aboard. As it was late there was very little traffic and the journey was very easy. We arrived at the airport just after 20.00, checked in seamlessly and made our way through the security checkpoint. Adam had remembered that they had, in their carry-on luggage, some powdered milk for Jessica and he wondered whether there might be any difficulty getting it through security. He went to speak with a security officer who assured him that it would be fine to carry it through provided he was prepared to dip his finger in it and give it a taste to satisfy the officer staffing the checkpoint. In the event, they waved him through without a taste test as they could see the adorable Jessica in his arms.

Domestic departures at Guilin is pretty well stocked with shops and provisions so we made our way to one of the several food establishments and Adam and I had a fizzy drink hoping that it might settle our stomachs a bit. Ava made Jessica some milk and she (Jessica) loved running around the wide-open spaces. Boarding was due to commence at 21.50 so we meandered down to Gate 9 about half past. There was a bit of concern as there was no plane waiting at the gate and soon after the announcement came that the plane would be a bit late arriving from Sanya so the flight would be delayed by about half an hour.

About 22.15 the plane did pull up to the gate and disgorge its cargo of passengers. This being China, all the passengers waiting to board scurried to the departure gate to make sure they were first on the plane when boarding commenced.

The sense of disappointment was palpable (and audible) when the announcement came that the flight would be further delayed due to some very inclement weather enroute. “Please enjoy waiting in the seats until further announcement.” Enjoy?

One of the frustrating things about airport delays is the lack of information. Being told to wait for a further announcement was frustrating but probably all they could do. And, with our grumbling tummies none of us fancied flying through significant turbulence. So we waited. And waited. And waited.

By this time Jessica was beyond tired but, at the same time, utterly unable to fall asleep. Adam, Ava and Penny carried her around, pacing up and down trying to gently coax her into a state of slumberhood. Eventually, about 23.00 she did drop off just in time for the announcement that our flight would soon be boarding! Once again this elicited an audible exclamation, this time of excitement, and prompted the usual rush to stand in a moderately orderly queue at the gate. I feared that the hubbub would awaken Jessie but she slept through it like an old dog on a hot day.

We finally boarded about 23.20 and took off about a quarter to midnight for the hour and twenty-five minute flight to Sanya. In spite of the previous protestations of stormy weather, this was a remarkably smooth flight and we landed  just after 1.00 am, a mere hour and a quarter late. It could have been worse.

When we de-boarded the plane and made our way to the arrivals hall and baggage claim I was astonished at the number of passengers from a multitude of flights making their way in the same direction. Why on earth were several thousand airplanes landing in Sanya at the same time? Of course, I had no idea how big (or small) Sanya is and in the dark it was impossible to see. Whatever, the place was heaving.

After about fifteen minutes or so our luggage arrived and having shown our baggage claim stubs to the agent guarding our exit and received her approval, we proceeded through the mayhem towards the hordes of taxi drivers touting for business. Adam contracted with one who assured us that he knew where we were going and, equally importantly, he could get us all in his van and we made our way to the car park. We waited while he fetched his van in what can only be described as cesspit. It’s clear that various folks wait at this particular point in a sweltering hot car park with 300% humidity with children who are desperate to “spend a penny”.  The smell of stale urine mixed with the acrid fumes of the city was almost sufficient to make Penny lose her lunch, as the saying goes.

We loaded our luggage and clambered aboard the van and in about ten minutes we were deposited at the entrance to the Ocean Sonic Resort, Sanya. By now it was approaching 2.00 am and we were dead on our feet. Jessica was exhausted and we were all feeling a bit tender. Bed was very welcome.

Unfortunately, the grumbling tummy and heat and stench of the airport car park finally caught up with Penny who was up repeatedly during the night, running at both ends with vigour, poor thing. White as a sheet and weak as a kitten.

Wednesday 11 October

In the light of day we could see just how big this resort area of Sanya is. There are hotels stretching all along the beach as far as the eye can see. Great big multi-story buildings and ours happens to be one of the grandest.

Pen was, not surprisingly, feeling pretty grim so she stayed in bed with the curtains drawn while Adam, Ava, Jessica and I went on a little explore to find some breakfast. The place is huge and very well appointed. Our intention in booking this beach side break was to give Adam and Ava a bit of a relaxing vacation – Adam works all hours God sends and looking after a 16 month old is more than a full-time job for anyone so we decided to splurge a little. We booked a “family” suite that consists of two good-sized bedrooms, two bathrooms (one ensuite), a small kitchen, a spacious living area and balcony with sea view and bathtub! Everything is to a very high standard but there are some interesting anomalies. For example, although one is provided with comfortable, fluffy white bathrobes, there are no hooks in the bathrooms on which to hang when having a shower. Similarly, there are no towel rails in the bathroom on which to hang your towel. Still, the hotel has a multitude of facilities – a gym, a spa, several different restaurants, a shopping mall, a kids café and kids play area, two pools and it’s all about 100 metres from a spacious sandy beach. Heaven.

Thursday 12 October

After a day of familiarising ourselves, we now have a feel for the hotel and its numerous facilities. One of the things we discovered yesterday was that breakfast (the only inclusive meal of the day) ceases serving at 10.30 prompt. So today we made sure we were there in plenty of time.

It’s a buffet style breakfast with a multitude of items available, Chinese and western. We wandered around the buffet area staring in amazement at all the choices – fried rice, noodles, various vegetables, dumplings, eggs, sausages, bread for toast, croissants, Danish pastries, fruit and a number of things which Pen and I have never seen! All very tasty if not always piping hot. There’s also a good selection of fruit juices and an excellent fresh bean coffee machine. Not surprisingly, I made several tours of the buffet selecting this and that with gusto.

After breakfast we take Jessica along to the children’s play area. She is a bit tentative for the first thirty seconds and then she’s off. The ball pit is an immediate favourite and as the week progresses she becomes more confident with the roundabout, the slides, the cars as well as the computer on which parents are able to choose from a selection of DVDs.

After the play area we all go for a swim in the large and beautiful swimming pool. There are various areas laid out for varying ages and Jessica makes herself right at home in the shallow play area conveniently located just by a row of sun loungers. It’s a glorious sunny day and within moments Jessica’s nappy swells up to the size of a small watermelon. In her purple bathing suit she looks somewhat like a very ripe blueberry.

About 2.00 a torrential downpour sweeps in and the staff around the pool leap into action like a well-oiled machine. They gather all the cushions from the loungers and pile them up under cover. All over the hotel complex workers are similarly taking covers off the various benches and seats around the place and placing them under cover for the duration of the shower. Within about an hour or so it’s bright and sunny again and everything can return to normal.

With such an exhausting morning (breakfast, kid’s play area, swimming) we all made time for a light siesta and then it was on to the truly important event of every day – where to eat dinner. The hotel has a selection of restaurants but on inspection they seem to be a bit on the expensive side so we decide to venture out. A quick investigation on TripAdviser reveals that an Italian restaurant just down the road a bit is rated the number 4 restaurant in Sanya so we decide to give it a try.

If you ever find yourself in Sanya make sure you go to Casa Mia – it was very, very good and perfectly reasonably priced. The staff were very friendly and, not surprisingly, fell in love with Jessica in a heartbeat. The penne with salmon was outstanding and the beef ravioli was also very good. Pen’s mushroom risotto was perhaps the only disappointing item we tried – it was tasty enough but too dry; it needed some cream stirring in at the end. Still, we were all suitably stuffed as we made our way back to the hotel and bed.

Friday 13 October

Friday was more of the same – I guess that’s what a relaxing vacation in a holiday resort is meant to be. Breakfast was good, the kid’s play area was even better than the day before as far as Jessica was concerned, and the swimming pool was every bit as inviting on another hot sunny day. I was, however, bitterly disappointed. The pool has two splendid looking water slides and I suggested to Adam that he and Jessica position themselves somewhere near the outlet to see Yeh-Yeh emerge. Unfortunately, as I was about to climb to the top I noticed the sign that very clearly stated that no adults were allowed to use the water slides! Quelle merde, especially as there were no children using them at all. I suppose I could have been difficult and ignored the sign but I decided not to be deliberately awkward and so complied with the instructions.

After our swim we took Jessica up for a nap and the rest of us spent another perfectly lazy afternoon. I scoured Trip Advisor for another restaurant recommendation but most of those suggested were on the other side of the peninsula, too far from the hotel when toting a 16 month old. There are several restaurants in all the hotels around here but they all appear to be a bit over-priced so we ended up going back to Casa Mia.

The staff were delighted to see us again and we asked if this time Ava might have a plate from the Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant next door – we were hoping they might offer a similar arrangement to that we had enjoyed at the Brew and Ganga Impression in Yangshuo.

“No problem,” was the replay from both Casa Mia and the Lemon Grass so Adam, Pen and I sampled another selection from the Italian menu and Ava procured some excellent-looking offerings from next door. Everyone was happy!

Saturday 14 October

Another lazy day at the Sonic Ocean Resort. At breakfast I finally discovered where the dumplings came from. For the past two mornings I had seen some plates with dumplings but in spite of wandering slowly around the buffet inspecting every dish and receptacle, I was unable to locate them. I imagined that they were simply so popular that they were gone by the time we arrived. However, Ava came down to breakfast after us and, when she joined us at the table, she had dumplings! I immediately asked her where she had acquired them and she pointed to a serving hatch at the far end of the buffet area. Sure enough, there was a cook continuously churning out pork and vegetable dumplings. I must have looked a bit odd as I sprinted to the other end of the buffet to get some. And, they were very tasty too!

After breakfast came the mandatory stop at the Kid’s Club where Jessica is becoming more and more confident. The slide down into the ball pit has become one of her favourite activities but she insists on climbing back up the slide rather than making her way up the padded “climbing wall” which is the “correct” way of getting to the top again. She is fearless both in the climbing and sliding and always emerges with a huge grin on her face before scrambling to her feet and clambering back up for another turn.

After Kids’ Club it’s out to the pool (again). Jessica had been somewhat tentative about going in the pool with the rubber ring Adam had purchased for her. She preferred to splash about in one of the many shallow inlets designed for kids and to play with the various toys with which we supplied her. However, Adam and Ava managed to borrow a rubber ring with a unicorn’s head and tail and this, it seems, was fine. She had a great time running over her father and grandfather both of whom fell with a loud splash when struck by the steaming unicorn. This caused huge amusement for both Jessica and just about everyone else around the pool, I suspect. What kid doesn’t love running their father and grandfather over with a unicorn?

Tonight we fancied a more traditional Chinese meal and, on our way home from Casa Mia last night, we had spied a collection just a few blocks from the hotel. So, we wandered along the road and inspected a few. We eventually settled on one that was clearly fairly popular and therefore, we hoped, might be reasonably good. There were banks of tanks with fish and other sea creatures swimming happily (?) waiting to be chosen as someone’s dinner but, since Pen doesn’t do shellfish very well, we were hoping for something else. There were no English menus, of course, but Adam ordered a few dishes that would suit – a lovely spinach with garlic dish, some beans and more garlic, rice, chicken and dumplings.

As with all Chinese meals, the food came when it was ready and we soon had the spinach and rice and soon thereafter the beans. However, it wasn’t until sometime later that the waiter arrived to inform us that there was no more chicken. In fact, as it had been some time in coming, Ava had already decided we didn’t need it so that part of the order was cancelled. Adam did, though, ask about the dumplings at which the waiter looked completely perplexed! Adam explained that we had ordered dumplings and that we were still waiting for them. He explained all this quite patiently I thought but then you never can tell when he’s speaking Chinese whether he is being quiet and reasonable or angry and cross – it all sounds the same to us!

The waiter promised that the dumplings would be with us momentarily and indeed they did appear fairly quickly. We were a little bit confused, though, when the waitress who brought them demanded payment straight-away. It turns out they were supplied by a neighbouring restaurant, in spite of being on the menu.

Throughout the meal we were wonderfully entertained simply by observing all the other diners, especially a group of about twelve mainly young men who were making their way through several gallons of Baijiu, it seems. Every few minutes they would leap to their feet, shout something incomprehensible, chink glasses and down their shots of Baijiu with great enthusiasm.

By this time Jessica was very tired so we asked for the bill. When it arrived Adam gave the waitress somewhat of a hard time. He pointed out that we had ordered five dishes of which only three had initially arrived, that we had to specifically ask for the dumplings and that the chicken which Ava had asked for hadn’t arrived at all and we were only told of its unavailability almost at the very end of the meal. He totted up the bill and reckoned that they were also trying to overcharge us by 2 RMB (i.e., about 20 pence)! In fact, the bill was correct – the extra 2 RMB was for the bottle of water we had requested for Jessica so we settled and made our way back to the hotel.

Along the way we observed a group of about a dozen young men, very inebriated, on the other side of the road who were hurling sticks up into the palm trees hoping, presumably, to dislodge a coconut or three. We chuckled to ourselves and wandered back to the hotel. As we got into the elevator, however, these same young men all piled/stumbled into the lift as well, proudly clutching the three coconuts they had managed to secure. I’m not sure what they planned to do with them – presumably crack them open and drink the milk. I did wonder what impact that might have (if any) on the state of the hangovers they would enjoy the following day.

Sunday 15 October

Breakfast gets better and better! Now that I have the lay of the land I can secure my coffee, juice, toast, rice, noodles, dumplings, etc. in record time. We also discovered another section that specialises in kids’ food so Jessica had a much better time of it as well.

The blazing sunshine of the last couple has disappeared and it was cooler, much more overcast and windier than it had been. In fact, there was a typhoon brewing to the east of us that was heading our way. Torrential rain was forecast for the afternoon so Penny and Ava decided to go shopping in Sanya! Adam and I stayed behind to look after Jessica (well, Adam mainly while I listened to the Dodger-Cub game on ESPN radio. Go Dodgers!)

The girls returned and regaled us with tales of the bus ride into Sanya and were happy to lay on a fashion show for us with all they had purchased. Adam and I made the appropriate noises of appreciation and admiration and we were then able to move on to the important decisions for the rest of the day such as where were we going to eat dinner?

Pen had thought it would be nice to avail ourselves of the hotel buffet on our final night so, without much if any hesitation, it was decided to go, once again, to Casa Mia where we have become regulars. They almost have my gin and tonic on the bar ready for me when we arrive! They were pleased to see us and once again the meal was terrific. Ava collected hers from the Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant next door and the rest of us munched our way through another excellent meal. I could definitely come back again!

Monday 16 October

The day dawned much brighter, clearer and cooler than it has been. In fact, it was just about perfect. After what has become the usual browsing round the breakfast buffet we took Jessica off to the beach. She was, initially, a little bit put off by the waves rolling in but once we settled her down with her toys she soon started shifting piles of sand around like a professional.

The sea was a perfect temperature – neither too cool nor too lukewarm. Pen and I waded and dabbled in the surf while Adam and Ava ventured a bit further.

On our previous excursions to the beach we had watched with some amusement as various Chinese couples took photos of themselves either in the surf or with the sea in the background. It seems that striking an elegant pose that could grace the pages of Vogue is a necessary requirement. There are even a handful of “professional” photographers hanging around who are willing to take a glamorous photo of you for a small fee and many couples take advantage of the opportunity, couples looking romantically longingly into each others’ eyes.

Naturally, therefore, we felt obliged to do the same although I’m not sure our selfies can compete with the products of the “professionals.”

Although the temperature was gorgeous and the sea breeze was cooling, we decided that Jessica had probably had enough direct sunlight so after a time we retired to the swimming pool. Jessie played with her toys in the shallow inlets and even felt brave enough this time to float about in the inflatable ring she had decided was too scary just the day before. Again, the weather was perfect and not much beats reclining in a sun lounger especially with the ninth inning of the Dodger – Cubs game playing on ESPN radio. I almost leapt out of the lounger and shouted with exhilaration when Justin Turner hit the game-winning, walk-off home run. Go Dodgers!

Eventually Jessica tired and we all retired to the room for some food (for Jessica) and some rest (for Penny & me).

Dinner for our last night was the multi-cultural offerings in the buffet at the Hotel. A bit on the pricey side but I think we managed to eat our money’s worth. Adam and Ava in particular managed to get through more food than a pair of baby elephants. There was the usual range of Chinese food but also some fresh meat that the chef would grill for you, however you liked it. Pen made sure that Adam instructed him that her steak and/or pork chop was well done! Even though we were all stuffed by the end, there were some delicious looking pastries, all of them just “wafer thin” and we naturally felt compelled to give them a try. I had just the one but I did have a scoop of strawberry ice cream to round it all off.

Tuesday 17 October

After one last trawl through the breakfast buffet it was back to the room to pack and catch the 11.00 shuttle to the airport. We had imagined that we would have time for leisurely “good-byes” at the airport but we soon discovered that the international and domestic terminals were separate. Pen and I, bound as we were for international destinations, disembarked first and the good-byes were limited to a quick hug and kisses on the sidewalk as the rest of the passengers looked on sullenly. Adam, Ava and Jessica then leapt back on board the bus for the ride to the domestic terminal and that was it – short and sweet.

We arrived at the terminal just as another holiday coach disgorged a horde of Russians who were returning home following their beach side holidays. As with many things Chinese, the embarkation process at Sanya Airport had its idiosyncrasies. We were checked and our baggage swabbed as we entered the airport. We were then directed to a long queue which grew with every passing moment as more coaches expelled more and more tourists. There was no explanation as to why we were not able to proceed through the barrier into what we could see was an empty hall where the check-in desks were located. We were none too pleased when a group of tourists who arrived after us were ushered through! After waiting about 40 minutes we managed to catch the announcement that those waiting for our flight to Hong Kong could now proceed. So, we had to make our way out of the crush of people and struggle to the front where, having shown our passports and confirmed that we were heading to Hong Kong, we were finally allowed through. Out of one holding pen into the second.

We joined the queue for check in and eventually reached the front where we presented our credentials and confirmed our destination. Our bags were loaded onto the conveyor belt to disappear and we were told to wait while the agent served the next in the line.

About five minutes later we were summoned through the check in barrier and led to an inspection desk where Penny’s bag was selected for further inspection. Apparently the x-ray had revealed the presence of batteries and the security agent wanted her to open her case and allow him to poke around until he found the source of the red flag. He had the x-ray image on the monitor and referred to it and then dug around in the case in an effort to find the offending items. The first was the electric toothbrush and the second was her travel alarm clock. OK, we were told, we could go. The ironic aspect of this was that my suitcase was jammed full with battery-operated paraphernalia – two head lamps with rechargeable batteries and a torch/flashlight which we had used when riding up the canal path from Yangshuo late at night. These, it seems, had been waved through without the slightest hesitation.

On to the next holding pen where we had to have our passports inspected and the all-important China landing card surrendered if we were to be allowed to leave the People’s Republic. Fortunately, we knew the drill from our previous excursions and had ours ready and were through barrier number three in next to no time.

The final barrier was the security check. Interestingly, as we entered the Disneyland style queue there was a young man standing in front of a small kiosk casually flicking a cigarette lighter. This was to remind folks that cigarette lighters, matches and liquids were not allowed in one’s baggage. There were also two other signs in Chinese, English and Russian to the same effect as we proceeded through the queue, each announcing that the penalty for attempting to secret matches or a lighter in one’s baggage was a fine of up to 5000 RMB and/or imprisonment! I was a little bit surprised, therefore, when the couple whose baggage came through the screening machine immediately after ours were ordered to open their hand baggage and remove the various cigarette lighters they had. Sadly, they weren’t fined or imprisoned.

The flight from Sanya to Hong Kong was short and sweet – only an hour and ten minutes – and soon we were launched into the hustle and bustle that is Hong Kong airport.

Because our onward flights were with different airlines we were only able to check our bags to HK. This time it wasn’t an error on my part, there was no option. So, we had to go through customs and immigration in Hong Kong, collect our bags and proceed back upstairs to check in. This time, though, we had a mere four hours before Penny’s flight and only eight hours before mine. So, no panic and mad dash through all the various components. We got our bags checked – the agent was mildly amused that although we were clearly together we were flying to different destinations – and then made our way through yet another customs and security check and on into the bowels of Hong Kong airport.

OMG! I had completely forgotten what an absolute zoo is Hong Kong airport! I suppose if one took all five Heathrow terminals and lumped them all under the same roof it might be of similar size and chaos. It stretches for miles in every direction, all the corridors, escalators and people movers looking remarkably similar, no matter where you are. It’s brightly lit with hundreds of swanky shops selling all manner of duty free items and it is simply awash with people of all sizes, ages and nationalities travelling somewhere. Pen’s flight to Melbourne and then on to Perth left about four hours before mine so I accompanied her as far as I was able, we said our good-byes and I waved her off on the train to gate 40. I was reassured to receive a text message about 20 minutes later to say that she had found the gate and was about to board. Fingers crossed the rest of her travels go as smoothly.

I tell you what, it’s hard to waste eight hours in an airport. I suppose that’s not terribly surprising but there are only so many corridors you can walk down, only so many glitzy shops you can look at and only so many fast-food (and more refined) eating establishments you can gaze at. Of course my wanderings at this stage had no direction – the gate wasn’t posted yet so I was aimless in my meanderings. Eventually, they posted the gate and I was amongst the first to reach it – gate 1 which was way down a limb of the concourse I had not yet explored! And there I sat as the seats around me gradually filled with fellow London-bound passengers until departure. Only another twelve hours to go!

No Picayune next week – we’re off again! This time to Los Angeles where our Ben is getting married on Saturday 4 November. With luck, Penny will fly in from Australia and I will fly in from London hopefully finding ourselves in more or less the same place at the same time.

Love to you all,





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