From Home to Home: Back to the Future.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Thursday, 15th April 2010
After a day of revisiting the past, it's time for the three travelling buddies to return to the city where they catch a glimpse of China's future. Yeoh Siew Hoon wraps up the story of a homecoming.

Tiger's paws on sale at Haikou's wet market

Replete from our feast with Lucas' family in Shibi village, we headed back to Haikou for the night.

On the return drive, we had an extra passenger – one of Lucas' grand-nieces who was studying at Hainan University and who had taken the week off to spend Lunar New Year with her parents.

Known as "Daughter No 2", she is a second year student, majoring in agriculture. I asked her if she would like to work abroad after she finishes her studies and she said, "No, maybe I'd just like to travel as a visitor."

And that's one of the things I noticed about the young generation in Lucas' family – they are fairly well-travelled and they showed no desire to leave their island to work abroad. They seem happy with their lot in life. Property prices are soaring, jobs are plentiful and family ties are strong.

They all carry mobile phones, Lucas' house has wireless access and Boh Hui, our patient and soft-spoken driver, manages the local Internet café, surely the busiest spot in the village.

I couldn't help but reflect on the change in just one generation.

Housing the future of China (left)

Dropping her off at Hainan University was also an eye-opener. This is one of China's top universities, and is known for its specialization in tropical agriculture. It has a population of 30,000 students, "a small university", we are told.

The grounds are vast and the student dormitories look like a major housing estate in Singapore. Boh Hui and Willy helped our student carry her bags up seven flights of stairs to her room, while Lucas and I watched the continuous stream of students returning to their dormitories from their Lunar New Year break.

This is when you appreciate the scale and scope of China's future labour force and why it is destined to become the world's biggest economic power.

Its people need to exercise less power on the road though. On the way back to our hotel, we encounter an accident – a motorcycle rider had been knocked down and was lying on the road, and there seemed to be more people watching him, than helping.

The Century Bridge (pictured left) that takes us back to the Meritus Mandarin Haikou also reminds you of the power of China's engineering feats. It is a formidable piece of engineering and is all lit up and makes you feel like you are on the yellow brick road to wealth and prosperity.

Exhausted from the long day, I didn't have much energy left to explore Haikou by night. Besides, I wanted some quiet time to reflect on the day's events and do some bedtime reading of the clan books I had collected from my father's village.

The next morning, Willy and I head downtown. Our first stop was the IT shopping centre which is an amazing maze of high-tech toys and gadgets, software, games, iPhone-lookalikes, mobile phones by the thousands … it makes Funan Centre in Singapore look like a mini-market.

In contrast, on the streets, roadside peddlers sell anything from tiger's paws to honeycomb to animal penises.

The wet market's all colour and noise and all the vegetables seem to be over-sized – perhaps it's the water and soil or could it be the fertilisers? The green chillies are the biggest I've ever seen. The long beans are fat and purplish in colour. And the watermelons are particularly round and enormous.

Honeycomb (left) and giant green chillies

We stop off at a local restaurant to have claypot noodles which were delicious.

I decided however that Willy will not be able to survive in China. He stood at a fruit stall for at least 15 minutes, politely waiting his turn to put in his order. Meanwhile, people were just pushing their way past him.

In a land of more than a billion people, where you have to constantly fight for space and attention, and compete with millions and millions for school places and jobs, people are not used to waiting for their turn for anything.

Sometimes you are forced to though as Willy and I found out when we got to the airport to catch our flight back to Singapore. We had arrived two-and-half hours earlier because we had been warned that customs would only be open for an hour and if you got there after they closed, you wouldn't be able to check in.

So we waited patiently for customs which by the way did not open for another half hour by which time quite a queue had built up. After that were the queues at check-in, with some of the queues leading nowhere.

A sign overhead instructed all to be "Just, Honest, Courteous and Efficient".

It was time to leave our ancestral home for the place we now call home.

Photos courtesy of Willy Foo

4Hoteliers Image LibraryYeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com. Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

WIT 2010: October 19-22 SUNTEC Singapore ~ www.webintravel.com

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