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Beauty, peace makes Beihai one of best places on planet

By Michael Dargaville | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-02-24 10:09

A view of Fengjiajiang River in Beihai, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Nov 25, 2020. [Photo/chinadaily.com.cn]

Guangxi's Beihai is a truly magnificent city of great beauty and wonderful beaches.

Beihai is situated 200 kilometers south of Guangxi's capital Nanning, located right on the southern coast. The city has a spectacular charm that in fact makes it my favorite place on the entire planet. My No 2 favorite place on the planet is Beijing in spring on a cloudless utterly blue day yet that is another story. Beihai, however, has to be my No 1 place.

This is because not only does Beihai have an extraordinary local culture of acceptance and friendship, its visual splendor of stunning harbors and radiant beaches is just a few of the major aspects of this truly peaceful and wonderous city.

The world famous Silver Beach became my favorite place to swim, surf and take long glorious walks. It's great to feel the sand beneath your feet and walk endlessly into the distance and experience its serenity that abounds.

In this huge and well-designed city, Socialism with Chinese characteristics, of course, is evident everywhere with excellent transport, schools, hospitals, colleges and universities, roads and highways, lovely well-designed parks and stunning new buildings. All of this reflects the tasteful development of Beihai as a major tourism destination for China's hugely successful State-owned companies that is China's industrial socialist backbone.

These State-owned companies have contributed massively to China's socialist development catapulting the nation as the projected leading economy on the entire planet. They are a huge part of making China the best country on the planet. And these workers truly deserve such a special location as Beihai.

Throughout the city there are targeted large event and recreation centers that cater for these workers, who often come in large groups to relax and enjoy their success.

Because of this the city can buzz with action of all varieties especially as the weather warms up and places like Silver Beach become a feast of fun, exuberance and joy as people from all over China flock to enjoy its truly unique character.

One of the key reasons why Beihai has such a special place in my heart is the magnificent fishing fleet and the city being a great port of huge vigor. And what especially holds a fascination is Beihai's truly beautiful wooden fishing boats that make up a large part of the fleet.

These fishing boats have a truly beautiful design that constantly leaves me in awe at their artistry and genius tucked alongside their functional practicality. I come from a nautical family and my parents and siblings together built ourselves a 15 meter yacht. My parents lived in that yacht for many years as sort of free spirited hippies travelling to many locations. Yet it was this experience that led me to truly appreciate boat designs. And nothing beats Beihai's boat design artistry.

Beihai's wooden fishing boat fleet is simply a visual joy with each boat an artistic expression, poetry in motion, a sculpture lying on the water that constantly leaves me dreaming. The master craftspeople who build these crafts are nothing short of geniuses. I would seek out amazing huge shipyards and watch for hours the intrinsic wooden handiwork of putting these vessels together. Wooden boatbuilding has virtually been abandoned in the West because of cost and the rise of fiberglass and an entire culture destroyed, but in China it thrives.

Some of the larger fishing boats being built in timber are as long as 40 meters, massive mini ships that all have that special Beihai brilliant design. What particularly makes them stunning is the fact they are also sailing vessels and have an elaborate mast and boom rig in addition to their engines. The smaller boats just use long shaft outboards.

The smaller boats have elegant cabins that families often live in located in a smaller harbor that absolutely thrives with the vitality of life. This smaller harbor teams with fishing families. It is truly a stunning place. And really lovely people, the salt of the earth, who would go out of their way to help on many matters. These fishing folk are the Dan people and they have a hugely vibrant folk culture of amazing songs. These boats, sometimes referred to as "cockleboats" or even "sampans", are the most beautiful boats I have ever seen in the world.

I grew to know many of the families living on their beautiful boats and at one stage I was just about to buy a lovely eight meter "liveaboard" classic Beihei fishing boat with cabin and sails and a long shaft outboard for 10,000 yuan. It was my dream home. Yet I realized at the very last minute at that particular time I would not do the boat justice in looking after it because I could be away for long periods of time. I have lived on small yachts when living out of China as a beautiful alternative way to live and save money.

The main harbor is large and houses Beihai's primary fishing fleet. These boats are the big guns. Hundreds line the port, most of these being built in steel to withstand those sometimes dangerous storms in the South China Sea. This area is utterly exciting with constant action as industrious sailors do their work to prepare for their fishing expeditions. They are really small mighty ships that can handle massive waves if necessary. And the men are super brave.

Surrounding the port area are amazing restaurants of all varieties and shades, brilliant wholesale cheap fish markets, street cafes, food vendors, markets, clothes shops, boutiques and the constant buzz of a seafaring culture that is steeped in brilliant and heartwarming tradition.

There is a real sense of liberation in Beihai, of exuberance as the lives of the fishing fleet is melded to the rest of the city creating this incredible energy. And the people are so kind and friendly.

As a writer, journalist and teacher/academic, Beihai is the perfect place to write books I'm working on. I have also taught in a local university there for a couple of semesters and this was the time when I truly realized Beihai is my favorite place in the world.

When you live there for a long period, a magic enters your consciousness and peacefulness becomes a way of life. Later I tried to get investment support for a holistic healing hospital that would essentially be a holistic mini "resort". The deal fell through just at the end but Beihai is the sort of place where dreams can be lived.

Of course there are some major resorts there, some very high level. The Shangri-La Hotel Baihei is a famous five star location right on a beach. Other massive and elegant apartment complexes abound that are stunningly tastefully built with architectural pizzazz. And this excellent modern housing really adds to Beihai's modern presence that further enhances the city's confidence as this totally unique and charming location. And this housing boom was funded by fantastic government loans that really boosted Beihai's population, which is nearly 2 million.

And what adds to this entire exotic flavor the city exudes is a lovely old quarter of Beihai with its amazing classic Chinese architecture and houses. The older quarter of Beihai is a fantastic area to breathe in the cultural charm and character the city offers. It is the perfect balance to Beihai's growing skyline. Also in that section are 18 Western colonial houses representing relics of the imperialist 1876 Sino-British Treaty of Yantai.

Yet it is the utterly amazing old town location showcasing classical Chinese architecture and an older way of life that is also fascinating. Beihai Old Street was founded in the second half of the 19th century and depicts Chinese life in Beihai during that time.

Beihai's central city area has some excellent restaurants, cafes, boutiques, parks and a vibrant street culture that still emits this relaxing atmosphere. In the center of town is Beibuwan Square which has a huge monument in the middle representing the Pearl of the South.

At night major streets come alive with an incredible night market that is something to behold. Fantastic stalls of all varieties, brilliant food shops and the constant friendly and peaceful vibe of the population makes it all so endearing. And relaxing and so good for your health. The city is a true place to find peace when the going gets tough and you need some magic to resurrect your life into a new direction.

Add to this wholesale markets for subtropical fruits, vegetables and gardens that adds extra flavor and a wonderful healthy diet. The shops along Zhongshan Road are especially famous including restaurants with tiger fish soup, a well-known treat. In the winter the city is much quieter without the throngs of people. It is a perfect time to have a second look and feel this cooler cleansing change and again its peaceful vibe of tranquility. It is also a good time to soak up the exotic charm that is everywhere, and to prepare for summer.

When summer comes, it is bliss. Long hot days lead to you a long daily swim or surf at the glorious Silver Beach. The water is so warm you never want to leave and if you don't like the crowds you can walk kilometers up the beach to find your own special location. There is always room for everyone and a friendly atmosphere.

President Xi Jinping inspected Beihai in 2017 and praised the city for its excellent environment and rich cultural deposits of the ancient Maritime Silk Road and pledged his strong support. The city has now become a strategic link in the development of the New Silk Road plan and the upgrading of the port will be further enhanced.

This is giving Beihai further confidence and strength that will only make the city shine even more strongly.

The author is a journalist, teacher/academic, philosopher, poet, novelist and scientist who was based in China for nearly 20 years. He has taught in more than 15 Chinese universities and colleges and also in schools and published many books of journalism, poetry, fiction and philosophy.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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