English crucial to Hainan island's tourism plans

14:45, May 06, 2010      

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The Chinese know it, and so do the Russians, but Hainan is a mystery to most of my friends.

On a recent visit to my Australian homeland, I told everyone I was moving to Hainan to study Chinese. I e-mailed a mate in London, and spoke to an aunty in Florida, too, and everybody asked: "Hi, where?"

But I told them they'll soon know. When I reached Hainan's sandy shores for the first time last year, the tourism potential was ripe as a coconut and ready to be picked.

The sun-kissed coastline with so many clean and empty beaches, is as good as in Thailand and life is cheap in Sea (hai) South (nan).

School fees are half of that in Beijing, and rent for a two-bedroom apartment is 1,600 yuan ($235) per month. For lunch, I eat 6 yuan chao fen (type of noodles), and for dinner, fresh BBQ seafood (30 yuan). And for 5 yuan, I ride to school in a three-wheel san lun che, which is like the tuk-tuks of Thailand.

There aren't the same professional opportunities here for expats like there are in China's bigger cities, but there will be when Hainan's international tourism campaign springs into action.

And at this time of brain storming my one suggestion is this.

Along with the new 5-star hotels, exclusive yacht clubs and 1,500-yuan-a-game golf courses, why not develop the world's best English language school to build an army of English-speaking hospitality workers to better serve international visitors.

They have to speak English, and provide a higher level of service, not just for foreigners, but also for the Chinese, who have toured the world and know what 5-star service is.

I've lived and traveled around China for nearly four years, and from my limited experience in Hainan, English speakers are very rare. There is David, a local who owns the 500 Mile Bar, named after that folk song, but I've met more English speakers during a weekend in Changsha, Hunan province, than in three weeks in Haikou, Hainan's provincial capital. This is an issue if Hainan wants international tourists, who don't want confusion.

My rich aunt in Florida wouldn't blink twice about spending 2,000 yuan a night in Sanya and love it, but she won't be able to buy anything outside the hotel without an interpreter. This is not the case in other non-English speaking holiday hot spots in Phuket and Bali.

This isn't a big problem because the young locals can become interpreters, or anything else they want to be, if given the chance.

One Saturday night, I bumped into a group of young fellows picking coconuts and we started chatting in Chinese. Interestingly, they were from Changsha, and after trying some English felt embarrassed.

"Mei wenti (no problem)," I said. "I also feel embarrassed when I speak but you understand? And if I can do it, you can too."

"Hao hao xue xi, tian tian xiang shang (study every day, and you'll get smarter)," I told the boys, who were stunned to hear the words of their home town's most famous son, Mao Zedong, coming from the mouth of a foreigner.

They laughed and said "goodbye" in English and one of the young men tossed me a gift - a ripe coconut.

Like any seed, whether it's an international tourism plan, or a desire to speak another language, the seed of the coconut palm needs time and nurturing to grow.

Hainan will rise up and grow, and let the Hainan youth, just one of the many seeds of China, grow with it.

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Source: China Daily


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