Sunday, October 14, 2007


The cover of this week's The Economist reads "China beware: The leaders meet, the cities grow, the peasants are left behind." The article describes Chinese leaders' failure to adequately address the gap between rural peasants and the increasingly wealthy city dwellers. I also briefly discussed this issue in "The Haves and the Have Nots," posted September 26.

On a different note: I had a good weekend! Yesterday Ruth and her friend Steven took Scott, Kevin, Jamie, and me on a day trip to a nearby park and then to the beach. Jamie is the new, mid-twenties Welsh piano teacher at the Normal College. He studied music at Oxford and then spent four years in the Ukraine working on two Masters' degrees and teaching English. It was great to meet someone closer to my own age who also comes from such an interesting background.

The park we visited in the morning is centered around a volcanic lake about an hour outside of Zhanjiang. I'd heard from all the students that the "volcano lake is very famous in Zhanjiang," but I certainly wasn't expecting the Coney Island-style amusement park stations that were set up around the large body of water. At the gate to the park was an elaborate fountain with a giant plastic turtle and dragon; upon entering, we tried shooting a cannon supplied with tennis balls for ammunition; played Robin Hood at an archery booth; visited several Buddhist temples; laughed our way through a fun rope bridge obstacle course; took pictures of a fake colonial-style water mill; rode a bright, gaudy train around the lake; and ate at a vegetarian restaurant. All throughout the park, speakers blasted a recording of a lion's roar. Random...

After lunch, we drove to the beach at Donghai Island, about 30 minutes from the volcano lake. Interestingly, the beach park sells visitors an insurance policy which provides coverage in case of any watery deaths (many Chinese people don't know how to swim). It being a windy day, we all paid the $1.50 in hopes that one of us would drown. :)

Although isolated miles of sand with not a soul in sight stretched to the horizon in either direction from the main beach access point, the two hundred or so Chinese beachgoers there yesterday felt the need to clump together on a small patch of sand inside a roped-off area. Seeking a relaxing swim, we all walked away from the crowds a few minutesand jumped into the ocean (yes, it's clean). Just as we were beginning to have a good time bodysurfing and playing in the waves, the beach authorities arrived. Frantically blowing whistles, waving, and shouting at us, they forced us out of the water. Too dangerous for swimming (AKA insurance scare).

Unphased, we relocated a little further down the beach and hopped back into the waves. A few minutes later, the authorities- whistles and all- reappeared. It seems that because of the "dangerous waves," the roped-off area was the day's only acceptable swimming zone. After our double violation, the park patrol was pretty angry. We decided not to push our luck and headed into Donghai to enjoy some cold beers and dry off.

On the way back to Zhanjiang, we stopped at a tiny restaurant to enjoy some seafood. If you're thinking fried shrimp baskets, don't. We had shrimp and fish, yes; but our table also featured octopi, sandworms, and the local favorite concoction of vinegar and Coke. I didn't partake of some of the stranger delicacies, but the rest of the dishes were delicious and we all had a nice time chatting and enjoying the meal together.

My first day at the beach, Chinese-style!

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