Gettin' Hainan: China Beach Fashion, Food & Fun

Culture | by Dan Shapiro
Posted: January 20th, 2009 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
Beach fun is the same round the world... or is it? China's beaches are full of surprises. Experience Hainan's finest in your PJs and snack on cucumbers with Dan Shapiro.... Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it's known on the mainland, is China's domestic travel high season. Most Chinese travel home to feast and shoot fireworks with the family. China travel veterans, meanwhile, might retreat to the hills of Yangshuo or the greenery of Yunnan. Or they might stay home to enjoy the strangely empty streets of Shanghai or Beijing. More likely, they'll head to Thailand, Bali or the Philippines for some sun, sand and surf.  But there's no need to leave China to find a warm beach. Hainan Island, often cited as the "Hawaii of China" (Chawaii?) is, without a doubt, one of China's most popular New Year destinations. And even better, it comes with a one-of-a-kind beach culture. Unlike beach culture in the United States, Central and South America or Australia, that of Hainan Island, specifically Sanya and Haikou, has a unique dynamic; there's an unofficial code and if you're unaware of it, it may leave you feeling quite silly. So grab the kids, round up the troops and pay close attention as we present the Insider's Guide to Hainan Beaches. Chinese beach fashion Step One: The Clothes While Western beachgoers sunbathe in bikinis, board shorts and even the occasional speedo, the Chinese have a much different idea of ideal attire. Rather than sport revealing clothing, the Chinese opt for bright floral prints, and, more often than not, matching outfits as a way to show comradery, partnership or simply help their ability to pick out their friends from the large crowds. Clearly the three men pictured above are on the prowl, while the lovers and couples below choose to display their unity with a nice set of matching jammies. Families also join in on the fashion trends, occasionally classifying generational gaps by alternate prints. Finally, whether it's daytime or night, floral prints never go out of style in Hainan, so if you're considering dressing like a local, perhaps you'll want an extra set to use as evening wear. Cucumbers are China's beach food of choice. Step Two: The Food Rather than consuming ice cream or Fla-Vor-Ice, the Chinese have their own take on beachside edibles. While this child to the right helps himself to a hefty serving of rice, he is definitely in the minorityAfter some close inspection it has become apparent that cucumbers are the snacking standard on the beaches of Hainan.  I was turned on to huangguaby the gentlemen below (pictured left), who referred me to the woman (center), his favorite dealer, inspiring my portly friend and me (right) to get hip to this delicious treat. For a mere RMB 1 (13-cents US) you can rip these suckers down all day. In case of extreme thirst, look no further than the many coconut vendors located around the beach. Step Three: Activities For those of you who thought that swimming was status quo on any waterfront, think again. Rather than swimming in the actual ocean, the Chinese take to the sand at a furious pace, digging holes in search of, well, nothing in particular.  Regardless, it's a tradition that has a special place in Chinese beach culture. There is no explanation for this love of digging, and honestly, it's a complete waste of time to ask why, but viewing this most popular activity is astoundingly entertaining. Chinese beach activities - digging! While some prefer to dig alone, others make it a family thing, teaching their children the secret to the perfect hole. And yes, kids in American grew up believing they could dig a seriously deep hole all the way China. Below are more shots of beach holes and those who love to dig them. Some kids try to break from tradition and attempt to dive in the great blue uknown, but the results are often dire. Therefore, most families stick to the standard routine. Still, if you're interested in more exciting activities, consider lounging with some peacocks . . . . . . or taking a nice gallop on a friendly horse . . . . . . whatever you decide, the beaches of Hainan make for a relaxing escape from the stress of urban Chinese life. I hope these few simple tips will help you fit in!
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