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by Steenie Harvey

I’m eyeing my dinner, and all appetite has vanished. Faced with a plate of chunky brown objects, yours might vanish too. Stippled with warts, these culinary relations of what could easily be A Thing From Outer Space have a shudderingly slippery texture. In fact, they’re so slithery it’s almost impossible to capture one with chopsticks.

Forgoing the chopsticks, I try using a spoon to break off a wartless section of glob. When it comes to getting food to mouth, this is an exercise in frustration too. The quivering sliver scoots off the spoon, jives across the table, then escapes onto the floor. A passing waiter starts giggling.

I’m on the Chinese island of Hainan Dao, sampling the weirder side of local cuisine. Although I’d need copious amounts of alcohol to pluck up courage to try the curiously-translated "fungal infection of the hand of a goose," please don’t accuse me of being unadventurous. Not after ordering sea cucumbers.

Sea cucumbers aren’t crunchy green vegetables. Rather they’re slug-like creatures that inhabit ocean beds. Undoubtedly because of their phallic shape, they allegedly possess aphrodisiac qualities.

Love food, huh? Right now, the last thing on my mind is a night of passion. Maybe some people equate these warty brown things with love, but I’d hazard a guess they’re now safely incarcerated inside some lunatic asylum. After choking down one of these ocean-going cucumbers, most sensible folk would vow never to eat seafood again.

Although most travel writers generally enthuse about local food, I’d be lying if I said this meal was sensationally delicious. Stomach-wrenchingly vile seems a more fitting description. I’d advise sticking with the tomato omelets … with the sweet and sour pork … and if you can find an outlet, with the Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Chinese people call Hainan Dao (Dao means island) "the Oriental Hawaii." Covering over 13,000 square miles, it’s a steamy, sub-tropical island of palm trees, banana plantations, forests, and mountains — and in the south, golden beaches.

Before checking out those beaches, don’t miss Haikou, Hainan’s capital. One part of the city is palm-lined boulevards and new concrete high rises; the other features crumbling colonial architecture and narrow laneways with rickshaw drivers, tea houses, barefoot kiddies, and the kind of outdoor food markets that photographers go crazy about.

A particularly colorful market runs between the old quarter streets of Xinhua Lu and Bo’ai Beilu. Piglets get roasted on the sidewalk. Dried snakes are hung up like walking sticks. A lady is fattening up her dove-like birds with a baby’s bottle complete with rubber teat. There are live tortoises in plastic bowls … all kinds of fresh and dried seafood including sharks fins and sea-horses … skinned gray creatures that look suspiciously like dogs.

All for sale — and if you’re brave enough, all for eating.

For historical, cultural, and travel information about Hainan, visit:


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