Homeless on Hainan & High Season Hysteria

So, here’s the deal. I’m in the city of Sanya, the southern part of Hainan, an island off the south coast of the People’s Republic of China. It’s a favorite tourist destination for many people, not just Chinese. It’s January 31, 2011. Chinese New Year is 3 days away on Feb 3rd. As a result, this is what’s called “the high season.” Yep, everyone’s high. There’s hysteria in the air. Not just the hysteria and excitement that comes with ringing in a new year, but the high that comes with the possibility of making a financial killing charging exorbitant prices on everything from food to hotel space. (Would you pay 20RMB for a papaya that should cost 5RMB? More on that later.)

Anyway, I’m currently staying at the Lost Youth Hostel. I’m currently paying 120RMB/night. It’s a nice place, friendly staff, piping hot water, and internet access. (No kitchen, but you know how I roll with the CPC!) I would stay here indefinitely, but on Feb 1st, I must leave because my room was booked in advance by others who planned to be here in Sanya with a bit more foresight than I had.

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
Lost Youth Hostel

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
My room 403, Lost Hostel

I also have to leave because on Feb 1, the rates go up from 120RMB/night (18US) to 450RMB/night (68US). That’s right, four times! Quadrupled! But, again, there are no rooms available anyway, even if I was desperate enough to pay that price.

So, soon to be homeless, I’ve been looking for a new place around the island. Here’s how it works. You walk around the neighborhood you’re interested in, look up at the buildings, and you’ll see typically huge orange banners with phone numbers on the balconies of specific apartments/rooms that are available for rent. They’re everywhere. You call the number, and…if you’re Chinese, you get one price. If you’re a foreigner, you get quoted another price. But, to be fair, while foreigners are, in fact, singled out to pay more (I hear the Swedes have it the worst), everyone, Chinese included, are paying “high season” prices to ring in the new year on Hainan.

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
Signs are everywhere

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
I mean EVERYWHERE

I’ve been looking and asking for a 30-day deal and a kitchen. Because it’s the high season, I’ve gotten quotes of 3,500RMB/month ($530US) and as high as 9,000RMB/month ($1,363US) for a single room. I was paying $250US/month for my studio on Saipan, but that’s another story.

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
It’s just a room and a hot plate, but she wants 4,000RMB for 30 days. Someone will pay it. It just won’t be me.

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
While on the bus on my way to check out the 3500RMB apartment, I met Wang, who was nice enough to call the landlord on my behalf, help me find the place, and help me gain entrance by communicating with the current tenants who were inside. Helpful Hainan!

The place that Wang helped me find was nice. The owner wanted 3500RMB/month (roughly 120RMB/day), and after checking it out, I was going to take it, but she wasn’t willing to bargain AT ALL. Neither would she let me pay for the first 10 days (rather than 30). You see, as nice as the place was, it didn’t have internet access, and I just didn’t see the point of committing to 30 days at 3,500RMB and still have to figure out how to get online (there’s no Starbucks, and I can’t use my laptop at internet cafes)

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
Modern, shared kitchen, refrigerator, 3500RMB/month, but won’t budge on the price or terms

The other reason I’m realizing I don’t want to commit to 30 days is this: In about 10 days, this will all be over. By about Feb 10, the festivities will be over, all the tourists will leave Hainan (except for a few stragglers like me), and prices will return to normal. Any deal I commit to now will be based on the high season prices. Why should I lock myself into paying 120RMB/day, for instance, and then continue to pay that rate once Feb 10 has passed? So, the new plan is, I’ll figure out a way to survive until Feb 10, and then I’ll approach some of the same owners anew to renegotiate based on the “not-so-high season” hysteria.

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
The cool kids at the Lost Hostel have been nice enough to make calls for me to help me find a place

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
Making calls

So, today I went back to a part of town where I had found a hotel at which I had been quoted 80RMB/night, and found out that they now wanted 200RMB/night! I walked out. Someone will pay it.

Lost Hostel Sanya Hainan China
Was 80RMB/night a week ago. Now, it’s 200RMB/night

And then, it happened. A few hundred hards further down the street, I walked into a nice establishment, and there was a 15 year old kid at the desk! Jackpot! I knew what was about to happen. I mimed for him to show me a room. He did. I asked him the price. He said 60RMB/night. I tried to contain my excitement. He was a naive, wide-eyed kid, and I was likely the first Jamaican he had ever encountered (trust me, I can tell), and I knew for a fact he was quoting me the “Chinese price.” Given the rarity of seeing a foreigner hotel-searching in this part of town, Mom and dad likely hadn’t forced Junior to read the part of the training manual entitled “How to Make a Killing Selling to Foreigners.” I accepted, and paid for 7 days. 420RMB for 7 days. He gave me the key, and I told him I’d check in tomorrow. He didn’t ask for it, but I left him my cell phone number because, even though I now had my receipt and the key, I knew what would happen the moment I left and the boss (mom or dad) found out what he had done!

So, in anticipation of that phone call I knew I’d be getting, I stopped at another hotel and started some negotiations for a room there as my “Plan B.” After much sign language, Pidgin-Putonghua, and calls to the helpful staff at Lost Hostel, I find out why I was having such a difficult time getting the receptionist at this new hotel to give me a quote for a 7-day stay. Turns out, that she could give me a room for 150RMB for TONIGHT, BUT she didn’t know what the rate was going to be for TOMORROW. This is like the freakin’ stock market!! The boss gets up the next morning and lets her know what the rate for the day will be. So, conceivably, I could check in today at 150RMB, and then tomorrow, I could be told the rate is 200RMB (high season hysteria)

Sure enough, about an hour later, once I return to the Lost Hostel, I get that phone call. It’s from an adult at the hotel where the 15-year old rented me the room. Turns out that the price on Feb 3rd is going to go up to 200RMB. But, I will get Feb 1 and Feb 2 at 60RMB/night! What a steal! So, tomorrow, I check out of Lost Hostel, and check in to a great 60RMB/night room on HighNan…I mean Hainan! Stay tuned, I’m sure this story will get even better.

p.s. Now, I know what you’re thinking: I took advantage of a minor. Well, the way I see it, I took the opportunity to get the money in their hands. With a paid customer, this close to the new year, I figure they have two options. (1) They could give me back my money (possible, but unlikely, given that as I’ve learned, putting the money directly into the hands of someone you’re negotiating with is great leverage. (2) They could honor at least a part of the agreement that Junior made (which they now have done), and attempt to extort me for more money after the first 2 days is up (which they are already preparing me for).

I’m sure they feel THEY have some leverage once I move in. However, the way I see it, is that I’VE got more leverage cause I’m not afraid to move out and sleep on the beach if I have to to make a point.

Now, I know what ELSE you’re thinking: “Pay the &($&($ money, Walt, even at 200RMB it’s still $30US a night which is WAAAAAY less than you could get anywhere in the US or its territories!” True, but what you don’t understand is that I’m now Chinese, and I think in terms of RMB not USD, and as all cheap people are fond of saying, “It’s not about the money, it’s the principle!”

Note from Walt: If you’d like my personal recommendations of places to stay in Sanya, check out the ad below:

On a moped built for 5!

From back in Xishuangbanna, when I showed you THREE on a motorbike, I promised you a photo of 4 adults on a moped. I’ve seen a few throughout my travels, but I just wasn’t quick enough on the draw to catch it with my camera. Well, this time it’s FIVE!  There’s actually a little child right between daddy, and big brother in the white jacket. You can make out his hand in the close-up. Well, since this is mostly children, it really doesn’t count. I’m determined to catch a snapshot of 4 or even 5 adults on a moped….just so you know I’m not making this stuff up!

moped for five on Hainan

moped for five on Hainan
note the blue sleeve and little hand holding on to daddy

Xishuangbanna Music Memories

Hope this works. Once you click on the link below, a popup window should appear. Please let me know if you see a panel to activate the excerpt of the song below. The name of the song is “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna” (Don’t Ever Leave). When I was hanging out with Rohana and Sultan, my friends from Myanmar who ran a jewelry shop in Xishuangbanna, this was the song we listened to to pass the time. This is an excerpt.

Click to Listen


Myanmar in Xishuangbanna
Practically all the jade stores in Jinghong city are owned by Myanmar nationals.

Myanmar in Xishuangbanna
I miss Xishuangbanna!

Myanmar in Xishuangbanna
Sultan, Rohana and me…Last hour in Xishuangbanna

From Russia with….you know the drill

There are many Russians vacationing in Hainan, China. I know this because as I walk or relax on the beach, all of them have come up to me to ask me to pose for a photo. … The photomeister….Takin’ photos….makin’ friends…Papparuskies takin’ photos with the Jamaicameister….(Saturday night Live? Rob Schneider? Remember? Anyone?)



Russian vacation on hainan china
Jamaicans have all the fun!

Russian vacation on hainan china
The lady from Baikal

Russian vacation on hainan china
My new friends from Siberia

Russian vacation on hainan china
Finally, someone as skinny as I am!

Russian vacation on hainan china
But, of course, I’m still rebuilding from the fast…

Russian vacation on hainan china
Babushka has a daughter who visited Myrtle Beach, Florida, and fell in love with a Jamaican….Can you blame her?

Russian vacation on hainan china
What??? No new friends?? Give it a minute…

Sanku Bay Marsh

Learning the Language Mandarin sanku bay marsh

As we taxied towards the terminal after the flight from Kunming to Sanya, Hainan, I listened intently to the flight attendant make the standard arrival announcement. She was half-way through the announcement before I realized she was speaking English! It wasn’t just the usual rushed, slurred delivery that many flight announcers are guilty of after giving the same announcement flight after flight, day after day for many years. This was different. I didn’t get the impression that she was giving a hackneyed speech, at all. In fact, as I’m often the only visibly non-Chinese passenger on many of these inter-city flights, I often wonder if the announcement would even be made in English if I wasn’t on the plane!

Anyway, as I did my best to listen and decipher what the flight attendant was saying, I realized that even in the context of an airplane flight, where I have a good idea of what she SHOULD be saying, I was still having difficulty understanding her. Of course, there’s the “accent”, the intonations and the way the Chinese tongue, teeth and lips pronounce unfamiliar English consonants and vowels after a lifetime pronouncing more familiar Chinese sounds. But, I also got the sense that she might not have been speaking English at all, but merely reading the phonetic equivalent of the English words the same way I might read the phonetic equivalent (goo-roo EEE-Key) of my Chinese name, 顾瑞奇. It brings to mind a similar experience of just a few days ago.

The other day, I walked into a local restaurant here in Hainan to determine if, at some future point in time, I might be able to dine there given my vegan proclivities.  However, even in the context of being in a restaurant speaking about food, my attempts to communicate in Mandarin that I didn’t want MSG or seasoning powder (very simple sentences, mind you) were met with blank stares by the wait staff. They, too, had no idea what I was trying to say!

Just goes to show that there’s more to speaking the language than just mimicking the right sounds. Even in a familiar context, one’s meaning can be utterly lost or otherwise indecipherable without the right subtlety–a subtlety that comes only with time, practice and a basic foundation in the language.

If you’re just mimicking sounds, you really don’t know where one word ends and another begins. You don’t know when to make the correct pauses in your delivery to convey the right meaning. And you’re never really sure if the phonetics is an exact replica or just a “reasonable facsimile thereof.” And, particularly in Mandarin, using the wrong tone can skew everything altogether!

Which is not to say that context is irrelevant. If I, a non-native English speaker, were to say to you, “Sanku Bay Marsh” out of context, you might not really understand what I was trying to say. However, if, after you gave me a birthday present, I accepted it, nodded, smiled and then said, “Sanku Bay Marsh,” you might then get it, and reply, as any decent English-speaker would, “You’re very welcome!”

Recipes from the Coffeepot Cookbook!

Addendum March 5, 2011: Great news! There’s actually now a Real Coffeepot Cookbook, inspired by the blog post!

Okay, there’s something you need to know about me for when we hang out together for the Jamaican in Russia adventure: I take my diet very seriously. At the same time, I’m not ruled by my gut, at least not the same way other folks are.

So, when I say that I don’t eat meat, I don’t mean just for today. I mean yesterday, today, tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that. I’m not suddenly going to forget and take the piece of pork you’re offering me because YOU forgot that I don’t eat meat. (I had a hard time explaining that on a date in Xishuangbanna.) I’ve been vegan since 1992, so I mean never. It also means I don’t eat fish, because last time I checked, fish aren’t vegetables.

When I say I’m fasting, I just don’t mean “just for right now,” and then proceed to take the rice you’re offering because it’s after 5pm. When I fast, it means I’m not eating.

And when I say I don’t eat MSG, or meat flavoring cubes or white sugar or table salt, that’s just what I mean.

So, today as I slowly resume eating from my fast, I felt like I wanted something warm rather than the fruits I’ve been eating for the past 2 days.

However, for reasons I’ve just stated, I won’t eat in a non-vegan restaurant, because I can’t be 100% sure that even though I request no MSG, no salt, no meat oil, no eggs, etc. I can’t be sure that the chef will honor those requests to my satisfaction.

So, even though there’s no kitchen in my hotel room I will still cook today, because I have…..wait for it….wait for it……The Coffee Pot Cookbook!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, The Coffee Pot Cookbook by Walt F.J. Goodridge, healthy meals you can make with just a coffee pot and a little creativity! I had the idea for this back in Kunming, but didn’t get around to blogging about it, so now it’s time.

Today’s dish is Walt’s Nomad Veggie Soup and noodles from Chapter 7 of the cookbook.

cooking in China, vegan in china, coffeepot cookbook

EQUIPMENT:
Electric Hotel Coffee pot (provided in most hotels)
Soup bowl (borrowed from the hotel front desk)
Knife
Spoon
Empty water bottle

organic food in china, coffeepot cookbook, hainan
bok choy not shown

INGREDIENTS (purchased from local supermarket; grab some extra plastic bags while there)
4L bottled water
Rice noodles (optional)
Bok Choy
tofu
scallion
Garlic
Ginger
Sea salt (ordered from iherb before leaving Xishuangbanna)

DIRECTIONS:
Before beginning the process below, If you’ve only got one bowl, you can pour hot water over dried rice noodles, let soften, remove from bowl, place in hotel teacup, and enjoy as a side dish or include in soup.


Wash bok choy, tofu and scallion with your bottled water. If no basin or pot is available, cut the top off a smaller empty 1.5L water bottle (shown) you’ve been saving in your room for just this sort of thing, insert vegetables, pour in water, cover with palm of hand and shake vigorously.

Finely dice garlic, ginger and scallion. If no cutting board is available, spread a piece of plastic (the extras you got from the produce section of the supermarket) across the wooden desk of your hotel room. Dice gently, then discard the sheet when done.

Dice tofu into cubes

Chop bokchoy

Place diced ingredients, tofu and bokchoy into soup bowl.

Boil water in coffee pot.

Pour boiling water over ingredients in bowl. Cover with plastic sheet or plate if you have one. Let simmer for a few minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add sea salt to taste.

vegetable soup with tofu hainan china vegan

Voila!

Enjoy!

(Total preparation time: about 10 minutes
EXPENDITURE (RMB):
tofu: 1.50
garlic: 1.20
scallion: 1.70
bokchoy: 1.00
ginger: 0.60
water: 10.0
noodles: 4.70
Total cost: 20.70RMB = 3.18US

Next time, we’ll make brown rice in a coffee pot. This could get messy.


Addendum March 5, 2011: Great news! There’s actually now a Real Coffeepot Cookbook, inspired by the blog post!


From Harlem to Hainan!

What do the free Summer concerts in New York City for 2011 have to do with me in China???

So, here I sit on a beach on a tropical island off the coast of The People’s Republic of China. Meanwhile, 8,361 miles (13,455k) away on another island in the United States of America, people are looking forward to what they’ll do for their 2011 summer in New York. I know this because one of my websites, www.FreeSummerConcerts.com has started to receive a marked increase in visits starting a few days ago.

Back in the summer of 2005, shortly before I left Harlem, New York, for Saipan, I started the site to provide a compilation of all the free music events throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The site was an instant success (“free” always works online), and as you can see from the tracker snapshot below, the interest and sign-ups begin as early as January each year even though the site won’t actually resume until the first day of Summer, June 21, 2011.

So, every summer, from wherever I happen to be (last year I was on Saipan), I research and compile the free music events throughout the city, and (1)post them to the website, (2) email them twice weekly to a mailing list of tens of thousands. The site generates money if/when visitors click on the Google ads on the site.

I promote the site thusly:

Never miss a free concert
in NYC’s parks, piers, plazas and pathways!

Every summer, New York’s parks, piers, plazas and pathways host some of best musical entertainment in the world! From Rock, Reggae, Jazz, European Classical, R&B, Electronic, Hip Hop, Country, Salsa, Folk and more– it’s all absolutely free! Wouldn’t it be convenient to know what’s going on and when so you don’t miss out? Let FreeSummerConcerts.com notify you by email of practically every morning-time, lunch hour, after work and weekend concert well in advance to make your plans!

400+ free events each year!

A Partial List of Events We Cover:

Central Park Summerstage | City Parks Events | River to River Concert Series| Martin Luther King Concert Series at Wingate Field | Seaside Concert Series Summer in The (Union) Square | Music at the (Chelsea) Piers | Harlem Meer Events| Lincoln Center Out of Doors| Charlie Parker Jazz Festival | JazzMobile Celebrate Brooklyn | 47th Annual Washington Square Music Festival | JVC Jazz Festival Namburg Orchestral Concerts | Jones Beach Ampitheater | Madison Square Park | Siren Festival | World Financial Center Concerts | NBC Today Show

Here’s what happened over the past 20 days

Here is what happened over the past 20 weeks.

And what happened over the past 20 months.

I find these tracker details fascinating. have no idea what happened on January 14 to have visits jump from a daily average of about 5 or 6, to suddenly 32. Then, once the tipping point occurs, it continues and grows.

Just another secret lesson in “Nomadpreneuring 101!” From The Jamaican on the island of Hainan, China, to you wherever you are!

shhhh….Secret behind the Secret: This particular post also serves as a promotional tool. Once the search engines record this post, it will show up in people’s google alerts, and also higher in the google listings for searches.

You can check out the ever-changing stats of my site yourself by visiting the site, scrolling all the way down and clicking on this little icon: Free Summer Concerts

Breaking my fast

I’m breaking my fast today! Yay! I’ve been on a water-only fast for the past 6 days. I started about 2 days before leaving Xishuangbanna, and have been on it for the past 4 days in Sanya, Hainan. So, if I look skinnier than usual in any of the Hainan photos, now you know why. So, this morning, I will have a watermelon, then rambutan, papaya and other fruit throughout the day to break the fast. In my initial travels around Sanya, I’ve found a protein bar and some wheat-free cookies and I’m anxious to taste them!

Sanya, Hainan, China, beach

Found a good way to pass the time while I fast

beach, sanya hainan, china

Meanwhile, I’m currently staying at a youth hostel near the airport. In between jaunts on the beach, I’ve been on a quest for an apartment with a kitchn here in Sanya. I have found a 80RMB/night hotel a short ways away (no internet). The challenge is that Chinese new year is coming up on February 7, and all the hotels and landlords raise their prices to take advantage of the rush to celebrate new year on Hainan. I was paying 40RMB/night($6US) ( for my third floor hotel room in Xishuangbanna with internet access. Here, the cheapest hostel charges 120RMB/night ($18US). Some of the quotes I’m getting for a one-month apartment rental start at 6,000RMB/month ($909US). I REFUSE to pay $900 for an apartment! That’s a New York price!!!

The secret, for those of you planning a similar trip, is to go out and find the smaller hotels that are NOT listed on the internet. (you can only do that once you get here, of course, or if you have a friend on the island)

hotels in sanya, hainan

Now THAT’S a small hotel

Dollar-a-day Nomad

For those of you who think it’s expensive to do what I do, here’s a little info:

As I do my travels to various cities in China, I’m able to establish a routine, norms and requirements for my happiness and comfort. Depending upon how “furnished” my accommodations are, I may need to purchase a few items at each destination. At my first villa in Xishuangbanna I didn’t have to purchase much. However, the second place I stayed was an empty hotel room which the owner equipped with a single-burner stove, a small gas-tank to allow me to cook, so I had to buy everything else except toilet tissue.

Here’s what I ended up buying, and which now constitutes my standard shopping list for new nomad destinations.


Item RMB USD
sponges 1.20 0.17
bleach 13.00 1.91
mop 29.00 4.26
plastic wash basin 22.00 3.23
hooks 8.97 1.32
manual water pump 15.00 2.22
dustpan/broom 9.00 1.32
dish washing liquid 9.00 1.32
hangers(12) 5.90 0.87
stove adjustor 2.90 0.42
small pot (rice) 9.95 1.46
bulbs (3@0.97each) 2.91 0.42
cutting board 9.95 1.46
3 floor mats 15.00 2.20

Total cost in US $23.31!

See? It’s not that expensive at all–particularly if you’re on a US-based/derived income. Of course it helps if you’re low maintenance minimalist, willing to shop where the local people shop, but the fact is, your dollar can go much further in many destinations overseas.

Notes:

– I get a mop and broom as I prefer to clean my own room (have you seen the mops and dirty bucket water in most hotels?)

– the “stove adjustor” is that metal ring that sets atop the stove burner for accommodating smaller pots

– the “hooks” are a paste-on 5-hook thingy on which I can place utensils (spoon, strainer, etc.) that I use for cooking

cost of living in China, china hotels
all the purchases in my Xishuangbanna mansion

cost of living in China, china hotels

I’ll compare the above prices to those on Hainan in a future post (rumor has it things are much more expensive here)
So, my point is, when you think to yourself that traveling around the world is something you could never do, remember the dollar-a-day nomad and Jamaican in China!

顾瑞奇, My new Chinese name!

I have a new Chinese name! From back on Saipan, my Chinese friends would ask me if I had a Chinese name. I’d gotten a few suggestions from everyone from girlfriends to waitresses, but none quite seemed to work. Whenever I would take an unofficial survey of a name with other Chinese friends, the responses would be lukewarm, and the names just didn’t seem to fit sound-wise or meaning-wise.

So, recently I asked my friend, Jian, to help me set up a renren account (the Chinese version of Facebook; social networking site) since the site is in Chinese, and I cannot yet read Chinese characters. In doing so, he chose a name for my profile. He chose 顾瑞奇; “Goo-ree-chi”; sounds a bit like goodridge).


You can call me 顾瑞奇!

When he told me about it, something clicked! So, I asked my friend, Gao Ying, in Beijing what she thought. She replied: “Yes,in Chinese characters ” 瑞’ means lucky and good , “奇” means special and rare. This Chinese name sounds good.”

I like it, too. Like I said, it sounds a little like Goodridge. Plus, it has the “guru” sound in it, and, as Gao Ying mentioned, the meaning is one I can definitely get used to!

If you go to http://translate.google.com, you can hear how it is pronounced.(copy and past 顾瑞奇 into the box and select Chinese to English, then click “Listen”)

I also have a kaixin account and a Chinese blog account. If you’re a member of either of the social networking sites (renren, kaixin, please do add me to your friends list!)

Here’s my Chinese social network connection information to help fulfill my destiny to conquer China:

RENREN: http://www.renren.com/profile.do?id=351725782

KAIXIN: http://www.kaixin001.com/home/?uid=98428953

SINA.COM BLOG: http://blog.sina.com.cn/jamaican

And here’s what the renren page looks like.

Walt Goodridge on ren ren



Hello, Hainan!

Every since hearing about the island of Hainan from back on Saipan, I’ve been curious to check it out. It’s an island similar to Saipan in many ways! Well, I’m finally here! I’m in Sanya, the southern part of Hainan! I’ll post at length once I get settled. However, here are a few early images of my first hour on Hainan!
Sanya Airport Hainan

Sanya Bay Hainan

Sanya Beach vendor

Sanya Beach

Above the Clouds of China…..I think I like flying

Well, let me clarify. I like the experience of being above the clouds for a few hours. I do my best brainstorming at those times, as I did on the flight from Kunming to Hainan.

I get a different perspective of life, and of all the daily efforts and activities and how they fit into a grander scheme when I’m above the clouds. Not surprisingly, when I want to visualize my books and writing reaching and affecting greater numbers of people, being above it all (and being able to peer down upon my market) helps me think of specific strategies and things to add to my task list.

China clouds sanya hainan