Dear little brother,
You’re probably getting all the last minute things taken care of in anticipation of your arrival on the sunny island of Hainan. At any rate, I thought it would be fitting to write a letter to you as you prepare for your abroad program. I know you’ve never really taken with any of the advice I’ve given you on anything, but I know a fair thing or two about studying abroad in China. And while you may never read this letter (pretty sure you don’t read my blog), it’s still something I think is worth writing anyway.
Even though this is your first time in Hainan, you’re more familiar with mainland China than I was when I arrived in Beijing. (Tip: while Hainan is considered “mainland China” to people from Hong Kong and Macau, Hainan natives will refer to the rest of China as the mainland, too. Makes sense, as Hainan is a lone little island that isn’t physically connected to the greater land mass of China. Culturally, though, Hainan is just like the mainland.) You know what to expect from life in China, both from the visits we made in our childhood, the stories I’ve told you from my year abroad and the time you came to visit me in Beijing and experienced life in mainland China in all of its wild, uncensored glory.
Where do I begin? So much of what I would tell you I’ve already shown you when you visited me in Beijing. Remember that time we ordered 串儿, or meat skewers, at that roadside stall at some ungodly hour in the night? And while the chunks of lamb were roasted atop the fiery coals, the man selling them to us whipped out a hairdryer and used it to fan the meat from above? Or that time we were trying desperately to get a cab from the railway station to the hostel and cab drivers asked where we were going, and then quoted us some ridiculously obnoxious fare so I cursed out all the drivers that were trying to take advantage of us? Or that time we were in Tiananmen Square trying vainly to cut through the crowd to get to the Forbidden City and decided to yell “EXCUSE ME, COMING THROUGH!!!!!!” in English as we waved our arms around like birds flapping in the air and ran through the parting crowd, leaving a clear open path behind us so Mom could follow? Gosh. Only in China, right?
If your language program is anything like mine was, it will be hard. Insanely hard, but not impossible. You will get better at Chinese than you ever thought possible. You will despair at your Cantonese accent in the beginning, but you will slowly learn to overcome it as you find yourself becoming more immersed in the language. (I wonder what Chinese province your instructors will be from. Wherever they’re from, I hope they will instruct you in the “standardized” accent like how I was.) Locals will treat you slightly differently when they realize that your Chinese accent is not an American one, unlike your classmates. (They will also treat you very differently after they find out you’re part Chinese.) You’ll also realize that knowing Cantonese helps you with context clues. You’ll be able to pick up nuances that your American classmates won’t be able to simply because you’ll be able to recognize words that they have never heard before. You’ll justify going out for any and all occasions easily because you’ll tell yourself that speaking with locals is practice for that oral exam, right? Never mind that most of the Chinese you’ll feel most comfortable speaking and understanding is colloquialisms that you picked up in bar conversations.
You will have once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I can’t even begin to describe. There’s a certain kind of crazy that happens in China that is hard to put into words. You’ll gain a certain kind of “grit” from life in China, for lack of a better term. You’ll learn to not think twice about jumping the “line” and cutting ahead in front of others because, well, there is no line. You’ll shout 服务员! loudly in restaurants just like all the other locals when you’re trying to place an order for food. You’ll marvel at the astoundingly cheap liquor prices and wonder if your liver will be able to hold up throughout the duration of your program. You’ll realize just how much there is to see in China and panic that you won’t have enough time to see it all. Don’t panic, that’s useless. China is a vast and varied country; just see as much of it as you possibly can.
I didn’t spend much time in Hainan; the few days I spent there are paltry in comparison to the summer you will have. Even so, I still have a few tips pertaining to Hainan. Please go to 五指山 and go whitewater rafting! It’s a long drive to 五指山 but it is 100% worth it. When you go whitewater rafting, please let me know if your experience was any different to mine. Remember: if the raft leans to the right, tilt your body to the left, and vice versa. If you ever need a hostel in Sanya, stay at Thorn Birds Hostel and befriend the lady at the front desk. She’s a little prickly at first, but her English is excellent and she means well. Our last night in the hostel, the staff invited us out to dinner and we ended up drunkenly serenading each other in the hostel lobby.
I don’t need to give you pointers on food; I know you’ve come a long way from your picky eating days as a child. I’ve also already introduced you to tons of delicious Chinese food when we were in Beijing together. But have a bowl of 兰州肉面 (hand-pulled noodles) for me, would you? And TONS of 波霸奶茶 (bubble tea)? I know fresh, delicious seafood isn’t a big deal for you since you’ve been living in Hawaii, but when you’re in Sanya you MUST go to Chunyuan Seafood Square. It’s on par with the seafood meals we’ve eaten in Sai Kung growing up and during return visits to Hong Kong.
You’ll make your own memories in China, I know, and will begin to understand why I speak so fondly and longingly of my days there. You’ll make the best of friends, both with kids in your program and with locals. You’ll feel more connected with the Chinese side of our heritage. And, after the whirlwind that is life in mainland China, you’ll be more excited than ever to return to Hong Kong, the city we know and love so well, to begin to process your abroad experience and be welcomed into our family’s open arms.
Get ready, little brother. You’re in for the time of your life. As jealous as I am of the summer you’re about to have, I’m also incredibly happy for you. I can’t WAIT to hear all about it.
P.S. Is the club named Lady Gaga still there in the heart of Sanya’s nightlife strip? You can’t miss it. It was brand-new when I visited and filled with wealthy Russians, as was most of Sanya in the month of December. Whether or not it’s there, go to Club 88 instead. BEST. PLACE. EVER.