When I was asked to write a blog post about island life in China, I was a bit at a loss for where to start. I asked my friend Shadow for help. Nowadays, she runs a small café called “天涯海角” and serves the best mochas in town. About ten years ago, however, she worked in international relations at the local shipyards, where they manufacture massive ships that are sold to companies in several different countries. “My program [AYC] wants me to write a blog post about island living in China,” I told her. “What do you think I should talk about?”
In response, she told me about a friend she had in college. He was from Hangzhou and, like many Chinese people, had perhaps never seen the ocean before with his own eyes. He asked her one day, “How do you play football or basketball on an island? Aren’t you worried about accidentally kicking the ball into the sea?”
I asked her if he was joking. She said he wasn’t.
Lots of people have misconceptions about island living in general—Chinese people not excluded. I certainly had my own lofty expectations prior to moving here, rooted in dreamy images of sandy beaches, warm weather, and crystal blue ocean views. And while there are undoubtedly many differences to discuss, I feel obligated to insert this disclaimer first: small town island life in China is far more similar to small town life on the mainland than different, and I can only speak to the experiences I’ve had where I live.
So where exactly do I live? I’m located in Daishan, which is a sleepy little island nestled in the Zhoushan archipelago in the Hangzhou Bay. And when I say little, I really do mean little. Despite being the second largest out of roughly one hundred inhabited islands in Zhoushan, Daishan is small enough that a thirty-minute car ride will get you literally anywhere on the island.
With all that in mind, here are couple pros and cons I’ve found that come with living on an island in China. As you’ll discover, a lot of what you get out of it depends on what you bring to the table.
(1) CON: You have to take a boat to get anywhere…
To put it simply, traveling is inconvenient. It’s true that the more familiar you become with the ferry system, the easier it becomes to get around. But no matter how you cut it, it’s still a three-hour trip to the mainland to get to a train station. Weekend trips aren’t easy, and it’s easy to feel isolated.
(2) PRO: You have to take a boat to get anywhere!
I also just think boats are really cool! Sure, I don’t know the first thing about seafaring, but I find it exciting to travel by ferry. As long as you’re not in a rush to get anywhere, taking a boat can be a really relaxing and refreshing way to get around. Just don’t forget your sunglasses!
(3) CON: The views are probably not what you’re expecting…
If you came to China in search of the majestic, towering, misty mountains you often see depicted on famous Chinese scroll paintings… you won’t find them in Daishan. The highest peak on the island is Moxing Mountain, and by the most generous of estimates, you could hike to the top within thirty minutes. Great view, but hardly a mountain. A friend once told me his teacher said that a more apt translation of the peak’s name was “Moxing Hill.”
(4) PRO: The views are probably not what you’re expecting!
There is much more to China than misty mountainscapes and Great Walls. China is just as much these things as it is shimmering seaside sunsets and coastlines teeming with fishing boats. The island is small, but that makes the task of exploring all the more worthwhile! With every outing, I can check off a new part of the map—each just as intriguing as the last. By the end of my tenure here, I’ll know this island like the back of my hand.
I imagine that much of daily life in Daishan doesn’t differ terribly from daily life on the mainland, despite the preconceptions many people have. (You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone here that has actually lost their soccer ball in the ocean.) However, Daishan—like all places—does have its fair share of quirks and specialties. There are so many to talk about, like the sight of fish hanging out to dry in the afternoon sun (a tasty local snack), or the mountains of crab nets stacked upon the fishing boats that surround the island. But of course, these all stem from my own Daishan experience… and I don’t want to spoil all the magic.
If you truly want to know what island life in China is like, there’s really only one way to find out. You’ll have to come see for yourself!