Thursday, April 10, 2014

Donghai Island and Landfill

I normally work weekends, but a very big festival and holiday happened last Saturday, so I got the weekend off.  What to do?  I contacted our Russian friends and we decided the beach might be fun.  I've been pretty fond of an underdeveloped barrier island, Nansan Island.  It has a nice beach, and not many people go there.  However, our friends had never been to Donghai Island.  I've been there once years ago, on a sunny day in September.  I remembered it as a busy place with a nice beach and good surf and a pretty good crowd of people as well.  Time to revisit!
We're off!
The big event that was the cause of the my weekend holiday was the Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day.  It's another one of those times where things go haywire while this giant nation does something en masse.  What happens in our city is that anyone who lives less than a day away from their hometown goes back home to pay homage to their ancestors, burn some fake paper wealth to placate the greedy spirits and hang with the family.  Our town's population consists mostly of first or second generation rural folks, so they all head back to whatever backwater they came from.  The city streets were nigh deserted, and most shops were closed when we boarded the stumpy, ramshackle bus to Donghai.  The weather was cloudy and humid with temperatures in the low 20's Celsius.  Not great swimming weather, but we thought it might get warmer, besides we were getting out of the city and were off to enjoy Nature!
  On the way to the island, we passed the usual red brick squat buildings that line the highway.  There were lots of roadside vendors selling holiday items:  fruit gift boxes, paper goodies to burn for Granny, and massive rolls of firecrackers, good for terrorizing ghosts and chickens.  The island is connected to the mainland by an unremarkable 4 lane viaduct set about 20 meters above the water.  If you are not paying attention, you have no idea you are going over the water.  This low lying bridge allows you a view of not much.  I noticed a few boats and some kind of dredge that keeps the channel clear enough for whatever kind of craft that is squat enough to go under this bridge.  Huck Finn's raft, maybe.  The dredge was not working that day.
Donghai island is very flat, with the highest point being a smokestack on a very large, unfinished steel mill.  Most people I know hope that it remains unfinished.  The view is kind of homely.  Red brick buildings, shacks, a few multi story homes, some apartment buildings, and some farms.  Litter abounds.  Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Donghai Island is the refuse that graces the landscape.  Plastic bags drift in the wind, and there are piles of junk all along the highway, some smoldering.  This gives the atmosphere a marvelous burnt plastic smell that wistfully reminds one of childhood experiments with matches and toy army men.
There are some OK places on this island.  I know, because I have been to one, but you do need to get off of the main road.  The bus stopped to pick up and drop off various passengers, and before the drive got too tedious we arrived at the gate to Donghai Island Resort.  (I'm assuming that's the name, since the gateway was written in Chinese.  It could have some jazzy title proclaiming the glories of Nature and or the Party, but I'll just refer to it as "The Resort")
Our bus, like most that do these local runs, had a woman who collected the fares on board, a conductress, if you will.  As we entered The Resort, the bus stopped and another woman boarded.  The two women exchanged greetings in a manner that was loud and had a tone similar to what one might have if the other had been sleeping with her husband.  Even though they were shouting in the local dialect, it was apparent there was no love love lost.  Our conductress got off in order to prevent physical violence and we were asked to cough up 10 RMB for the entry fee.  We were given tickets that had an Olympics theme, circa 2008, the gate keeper got off, our conductress got back on, and we headed into The Resort.
You wouldn't know you were in The Resort other than the fact that you passed through the gateway, which by the way, could have used a fresh coat of paint and some new graphics.  There were no lovely gardens or landscaping, unless you count the presence of blowing litter landscaping.
We pulled into the parking area, and decided to get some lunch before enjoying Nature.  We had our Chinese friends choose a dining establishment, figuring their knowledge of local customs and the lingo would give us a leg up in getting a good lunch.  Alas, we were doomed to feast on swill.  They had no shrimp.  They had no fried noodles, which every restaurant in Guangdong province does.  The marinated cucumbers were apparently sliced with a hammer.  The tofu was drowned in liquid smoke.  The soy sauce was cheap and turning bad.  The rice was leftover, and sort of reheated.  The tea was served in a plastic water jug.  In short, it was crap.  I have a feeling all the food along the strip was probably like that since nobody seemed to be enjoying themselves anywhere.  We asked to use the restroom and were directed upstairs to what was apparently the staff housing.  There was a dirty storeroom with a bunch of dead kitchen equipment and hanging laundry, some doorways that led to various living quarters, and a very nasty restroom.
It was time to try our luck at the beach, although had we known what was in store for us, we might have chosen to head home.  The Resort consists of two rows of run down restaurants and shops that sell snacks, drinks, beach paraphernalia and stupid hats.  It's all cobbled together with various pieces of plywood, sheet metal and whatever debris has washed up on the beach.  I was particularly impressed by the old Styrofoam box that was utilized as a trash bin. This Okie inspired promenade is the gateway to the AAA rated Donghai Beach. 
Since the wind was coming off of the water we were spared the essence of burnt plastic.  Instead we got a good face full of charcoal smoke and ancient cooking oil.  A woman was set up at the head of the beach with a rusty homemade contraption that held a large wok filled with what appeared to be fairly fresh motor oil, but what was most likely "gutter oil".  She was frying up some kind of dough and shrimp Frisbee, which is apparently a local delicacy and had many a rube jostling for their chance at one of those tasty carcinogens. 
Finally we got to the beach.  There were a few hundred people there, mostly college age.  It was cloudy and not exactly warm.  We waded in the surf and decided to stroll down the beach.  We didn't need to go far get to the "natural" portion of the beach, that is the edge of where The Resort ceases to clean.  It became a beach combers paradise, especially if you were interested in fluorescent tubes, light bulbs, old shoes, bottles, plastic, Styrofoam,  bits of fishing net, and plastic bags.  With a little effort I'm sure you could find some used condoms or medical waste, but we were satisfied with what was there.  If you grew weary of looking at the beach debris, you need only cast your eyes uphill to the embankment above the beach.  The trash there was thick enough to cause one to think it might be a landfill.  After about half a mile we reached a small stream.  With a little imagination about where that water had been, no one had the nerve to wade across, so we decided to turn around.

There is a fairly new hotel overlooking the beach at The Resort and next to it is a row of abandoned bungalows that look like they were never quite finished since they lack doors and windows.  The hotel was lacking guests, although I am not sure why.
We decided we had experienced all that The Resort had to offer, and although we could have had a pony ride if we had wanted, we decided to head back to the city.
The bus ride back was more eventful than our trip coming out. Since The Resort is at the end of the line for the buses, we were first on and got ringside seats by the door, for a good look at the mass migration back to the city.  People had finished paying tribute to the dead and were ready to quit their home towns.  The first stop outside of The Resort filled the rest of the seats and most of the aisle.  At the second stop there were about 20 people waiting and they all tried to get on the bus at once using the time tested methods of shoving, jostling and elbowing.  There was only room for about a quarter of their number, but they kept at it.   It was a peasant scrum of the first order.   I saw a couple of old women getting shoved around pretty well, and one had her face smashed up against the side of the bus.  I was beginning to understand my city friends' attitudes toward what they snidely refer to as "countryside people".  When it eventually became apparent that anyone who could squeeze in had already managed to so, the crowd reluctantly backed off to wait for the next bus so they could repeat this performance of human non- cooperation.
We dawdled back, pulling over at every stop so that the conductress could show each sullen crowd that the bus was full.  Occasionally a few people would get off at a stop and a few people would get on, with the crowd repeating their imitation of  refugees trying to escape the murderous Mongol horde.
We eventually got off of the island and the trip back to the city was a little slower thanks to traffic from the  mass exodus from the villages.  The high point was when traffic stalled right by a Sinopec petrochemical plant which was oozing some kind of toxic cloud that had everyone, even the plastic burning villagers, covering their noses.  When we reached the end of the line, it was a relief to get back to the fresh air and cleanliness of the city.  (I am not making that up, it really is cleaner in the city.)
There are many sites praising the beauty of the Donghai Resort especially the beach.  This one is my favorite.  I imagine that once the hot weather kicks in, there is more effort to clean the place up, but I doubt that I'll bother to return to see for myself.
China has a great challenge ahead in trying to clean the pollution that is choking much of it.  Of course, there is industry fouling the water and air, but there are hundreds of millions individuals doing their part as well.  The trash choking the beach and the burning garbage piles are all the result of individual ignorance and indifference.  Beijing has horrific air, and yet people heat their homes by burning coal.
When we were in Hong Kong last week I saw a public service ad on the TV.  It was encouraging people to pick up after themselves when visiting the graves of their ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day.  Apparently after cleaning the tombs, then having a picnic, they leave their cans, bottles and food containers laying about.  I guess they feel a need to leave something to clean next year.

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