Extraordinary things about Hainan seen and heard this week

Your correspondent is enjoying Mandarin school (although 6 hours of Mandarin every day plus homework is not exactly something to be “enjoyed”) for three weeks in Hainan, a huge island to be found on the southernmost tip of China.

Just four days in and you begin to notice that they use paint on all new buildings that turns black with mould after one year. This is a tropical island so buildings are subject to dazzling sunlight, pounded by huge rain storms and subjected to high humidity all year round…

… and new buildings are going up like mushrooms. The warmth and sunshine is a boon for tourists and rich pensioners who flock to the island from Beijing and Shanghai.

The result is a building boom of incredible proportions. When they build new blocks of apartments they do it by the dozens. Construction sites can have 10 and 20 high-rise apartment blocks soaring all at once.

They like to do everything in a big way.

But once the buildings are ready, and the apartments are sold off, nobody seems to care about looking after the them. So the paint starts to turn black. The metal windows and doors go rusty. The walls start to crack and the pavements and garden soon start to grow cancerous bumps as roots and weeds proliferate. It seems that 10 to 15 years is the life-cycle of buildings here.

The apartment building where I am staying is no exception. The stairway (20 storeys) is filthy with broken steps and doors that do not close. The lifts urgently need a wash. The garden and pool are overgrown jungles and the windows have a grey film of dirt that does not want to be washed away. Water comes rather slowly from the shower, the drain pipe does not like receiving too much water, so the water stands around for far too long. The washing machine on the enclosed balcony is a rusting relic that still works, but for how many weeks?

All of this is in sharp contrast to the very big fancy cars – everybody wants to have a new big black Mercedes or Jaguar. There are so many big beautiful restaurants with traditional wood carvings and old-style Chinese paintings. It is prestigious to take your guests there and enjoy an evening out with the food on a broad circular glass top that spins around the circular table to allow guests to pick and chose from the 20 different dishes at will. And do they talk in loud voice and slurp their food?

This is all a far cry from the Nordic style of doing things… but fun to watch and experience…

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