Brief overview of life in Haikou, capital of Hainan

Updated: 01 Jul 2010
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Hainan Island is a very desirable place to live, although not necessarily work. This chapter will provide a brief overview of what living in Haikou is like. It is based on the four years that I lived and worked in Haikou from August 2004 through July 2008 and should be regarded strictly as a personal account.
A bird's eye view of Haikou, the capital city of Hainan province 
Most foreigners in Haikou rely on the Internet and satellite TV as their primary forms of entertainment. Dream TV in the Philippines had been the essential package that was used until the company dropped several major channels, e.g., HBO and Cinemax due to financial difficulties, and soon thereafter ported the remaining stations over to new encryption systems. Legitimate Dream TV satellite receivers and annual subscriptions, as well as one decent alternative to Dream TV—a government-owned service called HBOCN—are available through a national company, China Satellite TV Service Center, that services all first- and second-tier cities in China.  
Hainan Island, like South Florida for example, is home to transplants from literally every other province in China. Consequently, you can find restaurants featuring authentic food from each of China's eight different cuisines (Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang). In addition, there is a Peking Duck restaurant that serves an entire duck for 38 yuan (at least that was the price back in August 2008) located just a few blocks from Hainan University's south gate on Haidian Island (a small island just off the main one connected by three bridges). It's as good as any duck I've ever eaten in the north of China. There are also numerous four- and five-star hotels offering a combination of Western and Chinese breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets running anywhere from 68 to 300 yuan per person. 
You won't go hungry in Haikou and you can find good food to fit any budget. 
Shopping in Haikou, as is true for all other second-tier cities in China, is abundant and cheap. You will find just about anything you may want or need, unless you are a particularly big person. Plus-sized foreigners who wore XXL or larger sizes in the West will probably need to hire a tailor. Foreign men won't really find pants larger than a 40-inch waist. As for your computer needs, there is a multi-level computer shopping center called DC City (Chéng) where you can find almost anything you need for PC-compatible computers. There are also a couple of Apple computer distributors as well. 
There is a "bar street" on Haidian Island, as well as numerous bars, clubs, and KTVs in downtown Haikou, but none of them had acquired the reputation as "foreigner bars" or hangouts that I was aware of. If you are relatively young and have a bilingual Chinese friend, he or she will know of the best places to frequent at night, but you'll probably be the only Westerner in the entire establishment. 
Haikou metamorphosizes into an almost carnival-like atmosphere after 8:00 p.m
While it is true that New York is a city that never sleeps, the same can just about be said of Haikou. In stark contrast to many second-tier cities in China that seem to literally shut down after dark, Haikou metamorphosizes into an almost carnival-like atmosphere after 8:00 p.m. Street vendors and numerous barbeque pits appear from out of nowhere, the relatively high percentage of "working girls" becomes more conspicuous, and one can find groups of friends and couples walking about until midnight and beyond. Kiosks selling newspapers, magazines and convenience items—such as milk, soda, and cigarettes—generally remain open until two o'clock in the morning. If you are a night owl, you will appreciate living in Haikou. 
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