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Shensi Islands: Uncharted Territory


The lack of nice seashore for the coastal boomtown of Shanghai has long been a disappointment. But based upon personal explorations on the spot, Shensi stands out as the most beautiful and original around Shanghai. Though not Hainan, it’s a world of its own stories.


When I first learned that mind-boggling sea-to-land ratio of 7:3 in my fifth grade’s geography textbook, I could hardly figure it out. Born and grown up in a place thousands of kilometers to the sea, I could only get my early impression of the sea from that overwhelming blue color on a world map. That’s the color I’ve been longing for. And on the occasion of working in the Yangtze Delta, I landed myself a chance to realize my childhood’s dream on a personal journey.


Bound for the sea

This is my first day after I was released from being a desk jockey in that fancy office building. Well, that’s just another way of saying I quit the job. A bunch of friends of mine are having the same feeling with me that we should someday run away from urban life and enjoy some purely free days somewhere we can kiss nature. So I decide to have a try first. No wait. I pack up my stuff in that RMB60 pseudo north face back bag and race out to the bus stop in the golden sun after a pretty early get-up on Sunday.


During the half year in Shanghai, I’ve been to the sea from different directions: north, Hengsha Island, actually it is a small island right at Yangtze’s entry to the East China Sea, so I got to see a mixture of the muddy water and some greenish sea water. Anyway, the sea was better than I had expected; south, Jinshan, by the Hangzhou Bay, I almost went puke, extremely yellow water linking to the end of my vision; east, Waigaoqiao, just a very busy yet important port for ships from the world to Shanghai. But this time, after very careful reading on the map and pretty much search on the Internet, I located Shensi Islands, southeast to Pudong, Shanghai, right on the East China Sea.


After nearly two-hour bus ride through some busy small towns and country roads, I’m told I have arrived at the port. “What? Where the hell is the sea?” I rush out to the bank then I see it again. But disappointedly again, it is yellow, the same yellow as I saw in Jinshan. Think about it for a second. No wonder. It’s the same water from Hangzhou Bay. I’m a bit hesitating about whether I am going to the right holiday destination. It is said the water around Shensi Islands is somewhat blue. And I’m looking forward to making my dream come true to see the real blue sea, not the type of blue in Hawaii or even Hainan, but God, just show me a little bit of the true color of the sea and I belong to the category of persons that could be easily satisfied.


72 yuan for the ticket, while the weird thing is that there are two kinds of ships for the same ticket price: one is a speedy yet deluxe-looking white yacht, while the other is a huge, slow, three-floor ship. Same price but totally different speed. And the two just commute between Shanghai and Shensi Islands probably 3 times per day. Which ship you will come across depends on the time you arrive at the port. Who can make this out? Anyway, I just shell out some bucks for the ticket and lunch and try to be patiently waiting in the lounge room.


It’s a room full of Shensi Islands inhabitants, as I can see from their suntanned skin and smell from their clothes and luggage, kind of like fish and some shells. After three or four times of 360 degree glance in the room, I tell myself to be more self-reliant on this lonely voyage since there’s no one else dressing like a traveler, or say like me. At 12:10pm, we are allowed to go through the safety door and a shuttle bus picks us up and sends us directly to the ship.


Great! This is the biggest yet coolest ship I’ve ever boarded. Words are not enough to express my excitement: in contrast to the scene that most passengers are hustling into the room for a good seat to watch that big-screen TV, I keep sneaking around the deck and wish I had my closest friends to yell with me on the deck.


 The bridge on the sea


Half an hour later we sail across under an unbelievablely long bridge - the East China Sea Bridge which sits 32km long on the sea and connects Pudong with a small island called Yangshan on the sea. When this ship is moving right under the bridge, it’s well worth reaching out your head, look up and sigh: what a great project and human being is really the smartest species!


I spend most the two-hour sail on the deck until my legs can’t straight up and the wind is almost blowing me off the deck. But less than five minutes after I rest my butt on a seat I hear crowds stand up and squeeze out of the room. Arrived.


Though the water is still green, it looks much cleaner with some blue shines from beyond. Since this is the sea but not a lake, I bet I could see through the bottom otherwise. So yes, dream comes true! I can’t help rushing out the ship and bouncing like a monkey out of cage. I know this is not Hawaii, but it is really an island on the sea, which turns out to be slightly blue, though.


“Can I see the sea from the window?”

There are tens of Volkswagen taxis already waiting at the port. As a result, I am circled by these drivers almost dragging me to take their taxi. I pick one female driver looking like in her 30’s with that typical suntanned face.


“How much to take me to Nanchangtu Beach?” I’ve already investigated on the island so I’m trying to talk like it is not my first time here.


“30.” She replies like it is my first time here.


“Nope. For 20 yuan you will get the business or else I’m going to other taxis.”


She looks a bit nervous about her business after getting such a strong bargain from me, “Hmm, wait, I’ll try to get another two passengers then you can pay 20. How about that?”


“Sure, good deal.”


So she finds another two guys in no time and the taxi starts off.


“Actually there are five islands together called Shensi Islands, and now we are on the biggest one called Sijiao (means reef). You guys can have a stay on this island and travel to other smaller islands next morning. Be aware of the weather forecast because there will be no ship in case of a storm or typhoon.” She’s introducing the island.


Sounds a bit scarring? Maybe. At least I never saw a typhoon and I guess I wouldn’t be that unfortunate. In the bay area, rows of fishing boats are lining peacefully on the water, which, together with the blue sky and the hills around, draw a familiar picture that I used to see a lot on television. “Oh, yes, that’s it!” I yell, and the driver next to me looks at me like I’m a lunatic. “Ha ha, who cares.” I think.   


We drive through a pretty hilarious downtown and after passing over some hills and a tunnel, a sandy beach just stretches out in front of my car. It’s long, quiet and gorgeous.


“Can you recommend me a good place to settle down? Not to be very good but some 50 yuan a room is fine. Oh, better have a view of the sea.” I ask the driver. I’ve known that there are two sandy beaches on this island. One in the north costs RMB40 admission fee in the day and RMB10 in the evening because it’s “developed” with necessary facilities. The other one is in the south, free, the same beautiful. And that’s why I am going. But I expect there will be fewer facilities so I decide to ask her.


“Well, here doesn’t have many places to live in but you can live in my aunt’s if you don’t mind. Her house is right by the beach.”


“Can I see the sea from the window?”




So she takes me to one of the gray and old houses by the beach, just 50 meters to the tides. An older woman in her 50’s is called in to talk with me about the price. She doesn’t look like a landlord or anyone doing business. After showing me around the room on the second floor, the “aunt” stops at the door and seems she has no idea how much she should price it so she throws the right to me.


“Me? How’m I supposed to give the price? You do it.” In fact I don’t know how to price it, either. I think I’d better bargain after she gives a price first.


So she says 50.


“Nope. For 30 you will get the business or else I’m going to other houses.” The same old but pretty useful bargain skill.


My words made her so embarrassed that she can’t come up with an answer.


“Come on. That’s a pretty reasonable price. You see, this is the slow season and no other travelers are coming to live here. 30’s enough. Okay?”


She nods. After I give her the money she leaves and never shows up. Now, in the house, only three people: me on the second floor and two grannies on the first floor. I can hardly understand the dialect they are talking in.


My room is, according to the middle school textbooks on the bookshelf and some music tapes that only kids would like, actually the family’s kid’s. So it becomes simple: the kid is out for school most likely not on this island and the room has been empty for months. So they have me stay for a bit extra income.


 The sandy beach


The beach is a few steps from the house, where there’s no one else but me, my shadow and a stone mermaid on the top of a big rock in the water. And I enjoy my biggest hobby of taking pictures for half an hour.


Night trekker

Before sunset I start trekking back to the downtown I have passed. And everything common on the mainland becomes an object of curiosity on the island. Here are what I see: a middle school, a local government office, a theater, a reservoir for collecting rains, a two-floor supermarket which not only sells foods but also televisions and computers, even a Metersbonwe shop (a somewhat fashion brand in the downtown of many big cities on the mainland). Wandering in the supermarket, I feel it’s something interesting to imagine how they manage to ship these big electronics to the island and market them in reasonable prices. The more I walk and see in downtown, the more it makes me reflect on my over 20 years living on the mainland. Almost everything ranging from vegetables to building materials to electricity is shipped from the mainland except one thing, yet probably the only thing the island will ship to the mainland – seafood. I won’t come up with another option for my supper other than the dirt-cheap seafood here.


Since I come here pretending to be an urban escapee seeking life experience, serenity and soul food, walking is always my number one choice when it comes to the issue of going somewhere. It is all dark at 6:30pm and I estimate that it will take me only half an hour to walk back to my house on the beach. So I start my footsteps along the road by the sea.


No cars, no other walkers, no lights.


I reach out my hand and my five fingers are still visible under the moonlight and the whole sky of blinking stars. “Oh, I’m fine, the moon and stars are giving me both light and spunk. I’ll make my way back.” I try to encourage myself on my lonely way back to the beach. To be honest, a bit scared, though.


Unfortunately, every time I happily bump into a beach and understand it just looks pretty much like the one I live on but is not really, I become more frustrated and speed up my pace, even run some steps every other minute.


 The tunnel I passed through


At 7:30pm, I pop into another beach which, once again, looks like my beach. I hesitate, look at it twice and finally I’m able to confirm that’s my house.


Feeling exhausted but proud, I lied on my back in bed. The hush of the sea gently touches into my ears through my window. A perfect day. What else can I complain?


“You know how to use a camera?”

The rain on the second day can’t stop me from getting on the ship to Gouqi Island, which is lying further in the East China Sea with rumored bluer water.


Probably I shouldn’t call it a ship, it is just a boat, or some iron-made vehicle to carry people and cargo across the sea. 30 yuan for a seat at the bottom, while on the second floor there are sleepers which will cost an extra 10 yuan. “Only two hours, what do they sleep for? Rich island people?” I think to myself.


In the bottom room there is no window, so when the door is closed it seems like I am breathing the air other people exhale and the smell diffused from their clothes. Fortunately the old Changhong television in the front is playing some “anti-corruption” TV series, which I usually don’t take a look at. But I’m sitting among these local guys. Everybody watches it, laughs, and even wouldn’t leave when arrived. So do I.


  Nobody else


Gouqi Island is only half the size of Sijiao and that type of small white vans is the only taxi there. On a road up over the hill by the port, I’m stunned by the longest horizon between the sky and the sea I’ve ever seen. So I take out my camera and start panning the lens.


Two people are coming up close to me while I am focused on the viewfinder.


“You know how to use a camera?” The man asks, looking at my camera like it is a piece of cake. A woman is following him. They are a couple obviously.


I take one step back and grab my camera firmly, “What? I’m sorry?”


“I want to see if you know how to use a camera. Hmm… you know how to deal with the film?” When he’s saying this he’s almost staring at the LCD screen of my camera.


“Film? Oh, there’s no film in this camera. It doesn’t use film. It’s digital.” I raise it to show about it and hold it back in a second.


“It doesn’t use film?” He seems a bit confused and the pictures shown on my LCD screen don’t make any sense to him. But anyway, I’m still pretty cautious to his intention of talking to me.


He thinks for a second and tries to explain, “uh… I got a camera and took some pictures. Later I took out a small section of the film and I didn’t see any image. You know how to deal with it?”


“Oh, no, you can’t do that.” Now I know what this guy wants to do, “You gotta send your camera to a print shop to develop the pictures. You know what I’m saying? You can’t drag out the film by yourself or else the pictures you took will wash out, then you see nothing, man. Can you find a print shop here? I guess you probably can find one on Sijiao.”


I try my best for several times to explain to him that there will be no image on the film if he himself takes it out and exposes it to the light. He finally seems to understand, “Go to Sijiao and have it developed? Right? Oh… I see. Thank you.”


What a lovely conversation.




Rain man

Walking along the bank, I agree the sea looks better. But as the wind gets stronger, it starts to rain with some tiny icy stuff falling down at the same time. Wow, I realize it is hail and the bad thing is that I forgot my umbrella on the seat of Sijiao port! So I run!


With my hair soaking wet, I am running alone on the road by the sea and I can hear the plop-plop of the hail hitting on my clothes. Lucky the town is not far, I slip into a small hotel asking if there’s hot water supply. Yes! Right away I pay the money and duck into my room for the rest of my second day.


“You… you… got any medicine for seasickness?”

According to my plan, I should be back to Shanghai in the afternoon of my third day and the trip consists of two sections: first, two hours on a poor boat from Gouqi back to Sijiao; second, over one hour on that cool yacht from Sijiao to Shanghai, which starts around lunchtime.


I get on the same iron boat back to Sijiao. It is the same non-window bottom room, the same smell, and the same old happy feeling to watch that seemingly-never-end TV series with almost the same local guys in the first 20 minutes, until waves start to pull our boat, up and down, back and forth.


 Inside the boat


Though I can’t see the outside, I know waves are getting stronger because the boat is shaking like an earthquake. Never been carsick, I never knew the feeling of seasickness. But at that moment all I feel is the world is spinning and my stomach is swirling. There are several big boxes by the seats with plastic bags already embedded in, which I think are too big for the garbage passengers would discard. All in a sudden, I see the reason. The guy sitting next to me just goes puke and throws out some white nasty stuff all over the plastic bag in the box. The moment I see him puke, my stomach sends up an impulse up to my throat and I know I’m on the verge of losing control.


I pop up and rush to the vendor’s room in the middle of the boat, “you… you… got any medicine for seasickness?” I feel so bad that I’m speaking with difficulty.


The man looks at me like nothing happened, “too late, useless to take medicine now.” That’s such a cold and firm manner of speaking. He has seen a lot of sick people like me.


I lean on the wall, grab the handle, and take staggering steps back to my seat. “Uhhh…wooh”, finally, I’m out of control. A rush of brown stuff splashes out of my mouth into the box. That morning on that boat, probably 1/5 passengers shouldn’t have had their breakfast. Wasted. And later I figure out why they are white and I’m brown. They had congee, me chocolate. And I don’t forget to take a look at the room of sleepers: all sleeping and no one is getting nauseated! An extra 10 yuan? Worth it.


Nothing can hide my happiness of overcoming the worst two hours I have ever passed in my life. When the boat reaches Sijiao, right away I hail a taxi to the port for the ship to Shanghai.


  The ship’s cancelled.


Waiting for the dawn of tomorrow

“It’s empty! How come?” There’s neither a single ship nor a single person at the port, “why? Where are all the people gone? Because of the wind today? But the small boat has gone, why not the big ship? No sense.” I’m nearly mad due to the reason if it is because of the weather, the ship might still be cancelled for the next few days in case of successive windy days. Then I would be trapped on the island! And I’ve bought next afternoon’s train ticket back home to Chengdu!


Regardless of the over 200 yuan train ticket, a picture of a barbarian with a thatched cottage on the beach flashes on my mind. But in not time I calm down and tell myself this is not a Cast Away. So, I need to stay one more night on the island, at least.


A bit depressed by the fact that I have to stay one more night and whether I can catch the train totally depends on luck, I pick up a phone and call my girlfriend to explain what happened to me.


“You fool! Why didn’t you leave enough days then you wouldn’t be stuck in such a dilemma? Oh, you know I’ve been counting the days to wait you back? You fool! You got a nice tour there, huh? Stay there on the island, don’t come back to see me!” Miss Girlfriend is not happy with my awkward travel planning, so am I. After strolling down some streets, I slip into a small hotel, get a room and initiate a free chat with the boss about what happened to me.


“Oh, you are wrong! Why the ship at 12 o’ clock was cancelled is because of not enough passengers but not the weather.” she says.


“What? Are you sure?”


“Of course. It’s slow season now so the ship at 12 has been cancelled for several days. But the two ships in the morning are sure to go everyday unless extreme weather conditions such as typhoon. I promise you will get on the ship back to Shanghai next morning.” Her words turn me on from a disappointed stroller to a happy bird who is looking forward to the dawn of tomorrow.


  I’m back!


The next day, I miss neither the ship nor the train. I’m back safely. Shensi, a place to be missed.



Travel Tips:

Best time to visit: Everybody knows summer to the best time to hang out on the beach but the price of everything will double, even triple at that. So if you are planning a budget trip, go there before or after summer.


How to get there: Take a bus at Nanpu Bridge and it takes over one hour to reach Luchao Port in the southeast of Pudong. Ferries to Shensi Islands start 4 or 5 times everyday. Note that there’s only one ferry sailing between Sijiao and the other islands, so pay attention to its schedule and the weather forecast. Ferries might be cancelled in case of typhoon or huge waves.


Board and accommodation: All foods are about 50% more expensive than on mainland except seafood. There are a few hotels in downtown while the price of guesthouses along the beaches range from 30yuan to 100yuan.



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Wheels vs. Feet
"Pedestrians stumble and drivers grumble. The new traffic law got some trouble."

The new Road Traffic Safety Law took effect on May 1, 2004, which re-defines the drivers liability and is regarded as a milestone to Chinas traffic legislation.

Both the pedestrians and drivers used to display an affirmative attitude towards the new law, which was first drafted in 1993 by the Ministry of Public Security and was finally passed at the 5th session of the 10th National Peoples Congress Standing Committee in October 2003.

But the new law has become a hot role in a recent case of a traffic accident in Chengdu.

On June 28, two months after the new law started working, Wang Jianqiang was walking across a road and Wu Liangda knocked him down by his car. Wu sent Wang into a hospital and paid RMB4,533 for the medical care.

Two days later Chengdu Traffic Regulation Bureau issued a judgment that Wang was crossing the road at a section that was forbidden to pedestrians and it is Wang that violated the new traffic law and should take the full responsibility.

However, Wang first threw a lawsuit at Wu for a compensation of RMB 22,609 in July, and Wu stroke back at Wang for a return of RMB4,533, plus RMB 400 for car repairing.

Article 76 of the Road Traffic Safety Law says the extent of the driver's liability can only be reduced when proof is available that it is the pedestrian or the non-motorized vehicle driver who violates the law and the driver takes necessary measures.

Both parties used Article 76 for defense in the court as Wangs lawyer argued that Wus responsibility couldnt be fully eliminated according to Article 76, and Wus lawyer directly denied the order to pay 80% of the compensation.

And the insurance company got stuck in between the two sides because according to the new law the driver shall be only responsible for the extra compensation that exceeds the range of the insurance he has bought. Wang just spent less than RMB10,000 in hospital which is supposed to be paid by the insurance company. Yet, since the official judgment says its the pedestrians fault, the insurance company refuses to pay for compensation.

Mr. Deng, who sat in in the court said his friend ran into a similar situation, my friend knocked down a 12-year-old lad on bicycle and broke his leg. The lad was actually crossing the road under a red light. His parents came for compensation and my friends car is still detained in the police station. Who the hell is going to compensate for my friend?

Such cases also hit Beijing where many are calling for an amendment to the new traffic law since it has been constantly embarrassing both parties in the court.

Experts pointed out an alternative that is believed to nicely round out the dispute.

Mr. Liu from China Life Insurance in Chengdu said, From a perspective to alleviate social contradictions, break down risks and show sympathy to the weaker (pedestrians), it is suggested to establish a fund to solve this new problem. And the source of the fund comes from the insurance fee drivers subscribe, the government and the association of insurance companies.

Other people from insurance company expressed a same feeling that, as the vehicles have been ten times more and the roads have doubled, there is an urge to amend the insurance rules in accordance with the traffic law. Simply put, a third party insurance should be issued to facilitate such who-the-fault-and-who-gotta-pay case.

But the mess is still not cleared. Other than Article 76, the second item of Article 69 also plays an attractive role of controversy. It says that motor vehicle drivers will always be responsible for a traffic accident with pedestrians or non-motorized vehicle drivers, as long as the accident is not reported to the police or the site of the accident is altered to make the collection of evidence impossible.

Some applaud saying uh, sure, life is the number one stuff, not another right could beat it.

And this viewpoint makes significant sense as statistics could best justify it. The Ministry of Transport says over 100,000 people were killed last year on China's roads. Another survey shows that over 90% of traffic accidents are caused by drunk driving, speeding and violating the traffic rules, that is, the drivers fault, for the most.

They run on four wheels, but we got only two. They got metal armors, but we got nothing but flesh. What a contrary! someone who rides a bicycle everyday complained about non-motor drivers serious disadvantage.

This, however, doesnt seem to be taken for granted in others eyes. A big number of local citizens comment on Article 69 as unreasonable due to the fact that such a regulation will encourage and further the rule-breaking behaviors of non-motor drivers and pedestrians. They will beak traffic rules relentlessly since they know they would be compensated even if it will be their fault. Someone might even bump into cars intentionally in order to earn the compensation.

So far Wang and Wu have been still waiting for the verdict. If Wang wins the debate, it will be something bizarre because he gets both the fault and compensation. But au contraire, if Wu ends up the game not paying the compensation, it sounds like unfair to the injured.

Confronted with such a dilemma, it is believed that it will take more than laws and insurance mechanisms to care about people and pursue traffic efficiency. City construction planning has a core effect as Chengdus foreign counterparts have shown. Thats why the whole city has been under construction for it rings roads, major avenues and the subway system. They will stage out a new Chengdu for the real convenience of the wheels and feet, a gentleman from local government concluded.
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Moving Out and Around...
"They couldn’t stay, then they moved out, but where’s the real shelter beyond off-campus dwellings?"

Four years ago, I moved into a college dorm, in which there were four guys, sleeping in two double-decker beds and squeezing in a passage in between the beds and the bookshelves on both sides. But we were happy in the cell of the “beehive” dorm building, because it made us close.

Soon, a message flied in saying a girl in our class just moved out with her boyfriend. “Are you saying they are living together in the same room?” someone displayed a sensitive demeanor, someone grinned, and others kept on figuring out what that meant to us with wondering eyes. “C’mon, y’all envy? Or just don’t give a damn? Y’all think it got anythin’ to do with us whether she moves out or whatever she does off campus? Quit thinkin’ about her!” someone gave a conclusion to our hard contemplation.

From then on it was the same night talk in bed as usual, except we were losing interest in blah-ing about such stories as another classmate moved out, which slipped into our ears every other week. In the fourth year, half of the folks disappeared from campus, including two of my roommates, for the sake of exams as they said. So, only another roommate and I, haunted the room.

Actually I’d love to see them back occasionally but I favored their move only if that helped their studies. What would they get here? Lights out at 11:30pm, ears tortured by those harsh wake-up “symphonies”, and risks of being hit by empty booze bottles from undetectable windows. What a wise getaway they made! Yet, since the Sars outbreak school administration could no longer neglect the lodging issue and all the “outsiders” were forced to move back. Nonetheless, after a couple of weeks of pretense of dwelling on campus, more students flocked out as soon as the deadly contagious epidemic scattered away. And after several off-campus accidents, the Ministry of Education recently sent a notice to colleges across the country to forbid college students to live off campus unless both parents and school administration sign an agreement.

Will that notice make a difference? The reaction is no action, for most students. “They are not privileged to confine me to somewhere that I don’t want to go. I’m an adult and I have my privacy and the right to choose where I want to stay,” besides other reasons like looking for a quiet place for studying, such a voice represents the majority. As a result, the moving-out phenomenon has not made noticeable changes.

Being a newly graduate, I could call myself a bit more reasonable on the issue. The students make sense, so does the Ministry of Education. Most college kids are over 18 and they ought to, will and must seek independence. Moving out is a milestone to independence and maturity, and the Constitution protects their freedom. But the issue here is more of responsibility. When you move out, with yourself, friends or lovers, try asking how much responsibility you will carry for yourself and how much for roommates? The notice probably will not be that effective and we all understand it just intends to make the youngsters safer. Moreover, it is the call of responsibility, which means to fully manage one’s own life. Moving out, however, doesn’t necessarily mean independence and maturity.

I miss that beehive dorm and the other three guys for I have moved out to live with my parents, and no doubt I will move out again later, when I can be fully responsible with myself.
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