1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

The End of the Sky

Taking photos of romantic rocks

A call on Monday changed my plans for the week.  I put down the phone with a smile.  Instead of freezing in Beijing, I instead flew to Shenzhen in Guangdong province the following morning for a business meeting in the afternoon.  The temperature in Shenzhen was in the high twenties and the contrast with Beijing could not have been more marked.  Beijing really is an inhospitable place in the winter. 

  So, faced with the prospect of flying back to the frigid north or staying in the pleasantly-warm south, there’s no prize for guessing which option I took.  The only question that remained was, where in the south should I go?  I toyed with the idea of flying to Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan – a place I have been to twice before – which is a great place to spend a few days (there’s even an outside chance of seeing wild elephants there).  But the flight was via Kunming, the provincial capital, and so would take about three hours. 

  The best option, I decided on my way to Shenzhen airport, was to take the short hop over to Sanya, in southern Hainan (China’s most southerly province and a popular island tourist destination) – a flight time of not much more than an hour.  I had visited Hainan twice before, but had never had time to do any birding there.

  I arrived at Shenzhen airport three hours early, with the intention of dropping my bag there and venturing out to find some birds nearby.  The golf course to the north had some good habitat, and so I spent a couple of hours walking around its fringes and the wasteland next to the airport’s perimeter fence – a little noisy perhaps, but I saw some quite nice birds.  

  The flight was delayed by an hour and a half and so it was gone 11pm by the time I stepped out into Sanya airport’s modern terminal building.  In front of me was a large map of the island; which was just as well because I hadn’t had time to do any desk research on exactly where to go.  I remembered that there is a famous nature reserve called Baihualing, but wasn’t sure where it was.  One look at the map made me realise that it was far too far from Sanya to make a trip there feasible (To go there, it would have been far better to have flown to Haikou, in the north of the island).  

  I had a fuzzy recollection that there was a reserve much closer to Sanya – the name of which, “Jianfengling”, had kindly been confirmed by SMS by a birding friend back in Beijing.  And there it was on the map, no more than two hours drive to the north-west.  I checked in to the hotel opposite the airport for a few hours sleep, before rendezvousing at 6am with the car that I had arranged through the hotel’s concierge as I was checking-in.  Two hours later I arrived at the forest lodge at Jianfengling, where I stayed two nights.  

  My time there was nothing short of wonderful.  I managed to see 21 species and sub-species of birds that occur only on Hainan island, including some very special “firsts” for me (the “Wild Side” section of this website has some of the photos of the them).  I also managed to walk more than 50km, and lose quite a few pounds in weight (as well as a layer of skin on various parts of my body that would eventually peel off – the ultra-violet rays here are a bit of a shock to skin that’s spent most the past six months much further north).

   And so, with a broad smile, I said goodbye to the reserve staff at 10am this morning (promising to return in the not too distant future) and headed back to Sanya.  I had booked a later flight back to Beijing so I could take a detour to one of China’s top tourist attractions.  As well as a good place for people-watching it transpired that Tianya Haijiao is also a good place to watch birds – I managed to complete the full set of 10 Chinese-occurring sunbirds by adding Olive-backed Sunbird to my list.

  Tianya Haijiao, which means something like “The end of the sky and the corner of the earth” is a must-visit site for visitors to Hainan.  As well as being the most southerly point of the Chinese mainland (despite Hainan being an island), the place is immortalised by a number of ancient poems that recount the poignant tale of two lovers who, under pressure from their respective families to end their relationship, flee to the furthest point in the world in an attempt to stay together.  Alas, they are tracked down and, rather than surrender to the approaching agents of their families, throw themselves into the sea in a sort of Romeo and Juliet finale.  But, this being Chinese folklore, the story ends with a dramatic twist when the Thunder God, impressed by the two lovers’ devotion to each other, sends down a thunder bolt that hits the entwined lovers at the moment they jump into the sea.  The magical power of the bolt turns them to stone and thus they are able to remain together for eternity.  These symbolic rocks have become the focal point of Tianya Haijiao and attract countless numbers of couples from all over China and beyond who come here to reaffirm their undying love for each other.

  Bizarrely, every year hundreds of couples arrive here to enjoy the “International Wedding Festival”.  They gather on the beach in their wedding clothes and participate in a number of activities including the piggy back race to the sea.  (The bride jumps on her groom's back, who races towards the lovers’ stones.)  

  I asked one couple here what they thought about the place.  Ms Zhang and Mr Yang are from Haerbin in Heilongjiang – one of the coldest places in winter in China (famous for its ice festival).   Ms Zhang recounted the story of the lovers and said how much she had been looking forward to visiting here.  Mr Yang nodded respectfully as his wife spoke.  “And also,” he said, “The weather here is great this time of year!”. 

On their way to the edge of the sky and the corner of the Earth