Thurs., July 11 – Heading for Putuoshan

After work today, hopping a bullet train to the coast, then taking a bus/ferry combo to a tropical island in the East China Sea. No big deal.


Uh oh. Apparently, we’re not the only ones who may be headed for the Zhoushan. Super typhoon Soulik is also moving toward the east coast of Zhejiang. They call ’em super typhoons when they’re awesome and well worth seeing, right?


Stage 1 of our adventure complete. We’re spending the night in the very pleasant, prosperous seaside town (pop. approx. 5 million) of Ningbo, in a bright, cheerful hotel on the river. Oranges and cold water in reception. A beta fish with a friendly note in our room.

A beta fish in a glass fish bowl beside a Rubik's cube and a note with a prominent picture of a fish on it.

Outside, it’s a clear night — the sky is full of stars. The hotel fronts (and our window overlooks) a wide, lazy river lined with willow trees. A cool breeze blows off the river, a break from Nanjing’s stifling heat. On the tidy, thoughtfully developed riverbank, young people loll around chatting, singing and snogging. The locals we met are laid back and cheerful. Real southerners. A night heron (I think) lands in the nearby reeds. Across from the river, in front of the hotel, street vendors cook delicious things over open flames. We opt for skewers of grilled tofu, green beans and cucumber. The tofu is a miracle. So tasty. We can’t believe it’s tofu; we’re sure it’s swordfish or similar. Nope. It’s tofu. The cook insists. All three things are served piping hot, glistening with oil, with wonderful charred and spice flavours. We get six skewers for 10 RMB (about $1.67).

A teenage girl outside at night eating grilled green beans on a skewer.

We admire the tasty noodles being stirfried at the next stand, but opt instead to buy cold drinks — orange soda for the Kid and fizzy pink grapefruit with brandy (!) for me. it sets us back a further 11 RMB (just under $2) for both. We chill by the river before heading up to our room. No sign yet of Typhoon Soulik, but we’re feeling equal parts optimism and apprehension. The storm is a monster and is gonna do some damage. But, as long as it doesn’t change course, we’ll be safe and will get to witness some very impressive waves out our hotel windows. As far as I can tell, our going to Putuoshan as Soulik bears down on Taipan is more or less like going to Cape Cod as a major hurricane heads toward South Carolina — more interesting than dangerous. We’ll be in communicado now for at least 17 or 18 hours. I’ll report in again once we have internet, but not until after we’ve had a swim in the East China Sea. …because this much is clear — whatever happens, we won’t be swimming on Saturday when Soulik hits the PRC!

Fri., July 12 – We arrive on the island!

What an amazing day! Our travel here went of without a hitch. Easily found the long distance bus terminal and enjoyed a pleasant 2 hour bus ride along the bridges (and land) of the Zhoushan Archipelago. Then, easily transferred to a bus to take us to the penultimate island. From there, it was only a short wait for the slightly terrifying, but super cool boat ride to Putuoshan. Then, as if by magic, friendly folks swept us off to our very comfortable hotel. It’s a tropical island devoted to nature, swimming, Buddhism and seafood. So lush and green and lovely, with amazing fragrant flowers, iridescent insects, tons of frogs and many very pretty birds — some likely blown in by the typhoon. We immediately ran to the beach after checking in. The water was warm and inviting, but the beach was shallow and the water concealed rich mud flats. So, no swimming there, but plenty of splashy fun. Then, we walked around the island for a couple of hours, at first looking for somewhere else to swim. Unfortunately, no swimming for us. The other (magnificent) beaches are closed because of the impending typhoon. But we didn’t mind. It was enough to walk on the seashore, seeing amazing, giant surf break beneath misty mountains dotted with temple after temple. And, on one beach, there’s no one to prevent us walking along the shoreline, so we do. There, even with the water only a few inches deep, the pull of the surf is almost strong enough to tug my feet out from under me. We keep walking, up hills, through woods… So many pretty twists and turns on our walk, and very little traffic — motor vehicle, bike or pedestrian. We pass a bunch of really, really pretty wild pigeons, in mating mode. The males puff up their chests and follow close behind the smaller females, both of them bobbing their heads to seal the deal. …The air is such a comfortable temperature after Nanjing. The sky is brilliant blue and the sun hot overhead. The people are friendly and good humoured — teasing me good-naturedly for my terrible Chinese. It’s a very Chinese place too. We don’t see any other Westerners, and people are clearly surprised to see us. We shower off the mud and sand, then sip cold beer and lemonade in the lobby before heading out to look for dinner. By this time, the whole island has become one big seafood restaurant. In front of each restaurant are bins filled with water and live fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Nearby, fresh vegetables are displayed. You point out which ingredients you want and sit down. They kill and prepare your choices lickety split and serve them to you piping hot.

Three rows of plastic bins filled with live sea creatures in water

We opt for vegetarian all round, and find a congenial little outdoor place on a narrow alley up a hill. We choose eggplant, bok choy, green beans, potatoes, peppers, cauliflower and noodles. In no time, we’re gobbling all of this up along with cold beer and, to the amusement/amazement of the resto staff, hot sauce. It’s 180 RMB for four people – about $7.50 each. Expensive, by Chinese standards, for such simple food. But we don’t begrudge it. It takes some trouble to get the produce to the island, and food is always pricier at vacation spots. Afterwards, we wander the modest shopping area, admiring mala beads and linen clothing, and watching a Uyygur cook pull noodles. Amazing! Then, it’s ice cream on the beach under the stars, sounds of karaoke nearby, tons of people on the mudflats with flashlights, looking for clams, we think. Not much sign yet of Soulik, other than the beach closures. We resolve to start early tomorrow so that we can see as much as possible before the storm relegates us to our rooms. Speaking of our rooms, here’s one oddity worth reporting: the mini bar has available for sale, among other things, two gas masks. What do you make of that?