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Companions make hot, humid Hainan tour considerably cooler

By Jamal Branford | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-11 07:51

A woman from the Li ethnic group smiles as she and others prepare to participate in a performance in Mao'na village in Wuzhishan, Hainan province, in April. [Photo by Jamal Branford/China Daily]

Having spent more than a decade living in subtropical Florida in the United States, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect weather-wise when I was invited to participate recently in the "A Date With China" international media tour in Hainan province.

Palm trees, coconuts and the kind of heat that slaps you in the face the second you step outside — that's Florida. And, apparently, Hainan.

It didn't take long for me to experience all of the above after arriving in Haikou, the provincial capital, from Beijing on April 9.

Joining me on the five-day tour were Chinese and foreign journalists, photographers and social media influencers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkiye, Iraq, Cameroon, Russia and Germany. Each day, dozens of us piled on to two coaches that shuttled us to various sites in Haikou, Wuzhishan, the Lingshui Li autonomous county and Sanya.

Though the trip was one of the most exhausting I have ever taken, I was really glad that I had the chance to learn about the developments and innovations occurring on the island.

For example, we listened to a presentation from Wu Bing, founder and CEO of ChronoCloud Innovation, who talked to us about the array of impressive products his company is involved in, including the promotion of boxed human breast milk!

Jamal Branford [Photo provided to China Daily]

We also visited the 2023 China International Consumer Products Expo, where we saw myriad vendors hawking their goods and gadgets. In one area of the venue, we watched with other amused onlookers as a robotic dog developed by iFlytek pranced around the company's booth.

My tour group and I also had the chance to experience some of the beauty and traditions on the island. In Wuzhishan, we danced with members of the Li ethnic group in Mao'na village and trekked through the Tropical Rainforest National Park. Later, in Sanya, we took a boat to visit a remarkably modern hotel in the middle of an old fishing village.

Beyond the sweating and site visits, I think the thing I enjoyed most was getting to know my companions.

I was immediately impressed (and jealous) at the fact that the majority of the foreigners on this trip spoke Chinese very well — far better than me. Listening to them converse with Chinese tour group members motivated me to try to speak the language more during the trip.

Many of them have interesting backstories. Two of the foreign women on the tour — Nesli from Turkiye and Navina from Germany — told me about how they wound up in China. Nesli initially met her Chinese husband during an online language-exchange meeting and eventually moved to Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to be with him. Navina met her husband, who is from Shandong province, in Germany while studying Chinese there, and she ultimately moved to Qingdao, so they could be together.

A Douyin influencer on the trip named Toby came to China many years ago from the UK. He lives with his Chinese wife and three children in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, and has become so used to the local dialect that he says he's a bit nervous about speaking Chinese outside the region. He has tens of thousands of followers though, so he can't be that bad.

Cabrel, a native of Cameroon who is studying financial journalism in Beijing, was the social butterfly of the group, speaking Chinese with ease. Having come to China as a teenager, he has had plenty of time to learn the language, one of several that he speaks quite well. With his knowledge of French, for example, he pleasantly surprised a speaker from Belgium at the Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City in Sanya when he sparked up a conversation with her after she gave a presentation.

I also enjoyed getting to know some of the Chinese members of the group. A young college student named Alex, who joined us to serve as a translator, was really sweet and helpful throughout the trip. Zhang Zihan, another university student working as a translator, was also very kind and informative.

These are just a few examples of the many great people I had the pleasure of spending time with on this tour. While I enjoyed braving the heat to learn about Hainan, meeting my tour companions was the coolest part.

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