As far as I’m concerned, beaches are and always have been, the perfect backdrop for holidays. Where else can you lounge around all day snoozing and soaking up sunshine and come away feeling like you’ve chalked up some seriously virtuous hours in the outdoors? True, tanning oneself to toast is no longer the testament to trendiness it once was. But there’s all those negative ions to, um, ingest (?), soothing sounds, stunning scenery (if you know how to pick ’em), not to mention the endless entertainment; swimming, snorkelling, surfing, reading, people-watching, ice cream-eating, frisbee-playing, the list goes on. The boredom brigade (you know who you are!) has not a leg to stand on; get a new book/friend/ family, or take a leaf out of the book of the Chinese and bury everyone you know up to their necks in sand.
I actually had the rare privilege of observing first hand the beach behaviour of that ginormous nation when I lived in Shanghai for a few years, a short while ago. It can safely be said that when faced with a nice, sandy strip of coast, the vast majority of Chinese have not the foggiest clue what to do with it. Watching a famously sun-shy race, overwhelmingly and inexplicably comprised of non-swimming peoples try to have fun at the seaside became a whole new category of beach entertainment in itself.
For the ladies, an outing to the beach generally involves wearing as many clothes as possible, plastering oneself in the latest skin-whitening sunscreen, being shaded by the frilliest of parasols, taking more photos cumulatively than there are grains of sand on the beach, fingers forever poised in the enigmatic ‘double-cool’ position. For the men huge, alarmingly baggy Y-fronts replace swimming togs as the favoured attire and bizzare whole body exfoliation rituals involving much energetic rolling round in the shallows form the staple activity of entire afternoons.
You can imagine my horror when I unwittingly arrived upon China’s one tropical beach resort, Sanya, in Hainan, widely (and extremely generously) touted as ‘The Hawaii of the East’ during ‘Golden Week’ (again, a somewhat optimistic description of a 7 day period of holiday shared by 1.3 billion other people) at 10pm one rain-sodden night to find the place absolutely rammed. Busy, at night, in the wet? It didn’t bode at all well. My only strategy was to head for the much-feared and therefore considerably less-peopled sea and remain there all week, beyond the crowds, attempting to surf. As things turned out, I needn’t have worried; dark and wet were apparently ‘de rigueur’ for a Chinese beach holiday and quite the favoured conditions as sunnier daytimes were distinctly quieter!
In retrospect, as I glumly watch daily deluges pour from the sky over a pristine Costa Rican coastal landscape from the relative safety of a slightly damp hammock, it strikes me that rain is perhaps the only threat to peachy beachy-ness. I must give respect where respect is due; well done China – I wish I could muster some enthusiasm for beaches rendered cruelly inaccessible by wet weather! Instead I’m opting for full scale denial and am sharing some favourite beach-side snaps from sunnier times.