Black Sand and Green Lipped Mussels
Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
36Trip End Feb 03, 2008
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"Foul! Drink!" we all yell, in our respective languages. Beer glasses emptied, smooth Macau brand beer flows.
Ah. Life at the beach.
We spent two days last week exploring Hei Sha Wan (Black Sand Bay) in southern Guangdong province, making friends with the restaurant staff and beachcombing for shells along an oddly-colored shore.
Black Sand Bay is really that--a small bay with a decent-sized beach of black sand. This sand is not volcanic, as I had pictured when we were getting ready to go there, but instead is brought from mineral deposits upstream on the small river that flows down to the sea. At the eastern edge of the bay are huge granite boulders, flecked with mica and the same black particles that I assume crush up to make the sand on the beach.
Scarily enough, once back in Foshan, I started to look up black sand on the internet, and found this lovely article about natural radiation coming from black sand beaches in India, southern China, Iran and Brazil. Healthy.
There is also some garden-variety white sand on the beach, mostly at the high-tide line, that might come from some coral reefs off shore. If we go back (assuming we're not suffering from radiation poisoning) it might be possible to get some fishermen to take us snorkeling. There didn't seem to be much in the way of scuba diving or snorkeling near the shore, though, as the river brought not only black sand but also a lot of silt and plastic trash down from inland.
The beach, which is gated off like a park, had three small cordoned-off swimming areas with lots of lifeguards armed with whistles who took their jobs seriously, two hotels, three restaurants, a small convenience store and a shop renting inflatable tubes and rafts. Farther down, on the sand, were a few sad-looking ponies and tired ATVS you could hire for a 20-minute trip along the shore.
The beach is dominated, however, not by the black sand, the granite boulders or even the swimming area. The main feature is the huge power plant that takes up the western point. We tried to ascertain what kind of power it was making, and I think we were able to understand it was coal, but my Chinese is not up to that kind of translating skills.
We arrived around noon on Monday, checked into one of the hotels--100 RMB (about $13 US) for a double room with an ocean view, Western toilet and working AC. Fantastic!--and headed for the restaurants.
Each of the three had several levels of small tanks with live seafood waiting for us to eat them. Our first meal we went straight for the green-lipped mussels, followed by a whole fish netted from his swimming just for us and a nice vegetable soup. Beer was cheap, so we drank some of that and then headed down to the shore for a swim.
The water was warm and not rough. We bought an inflatable raft and dodged floating plastic bags and other unidentified icky waste for awhile then went for a walk along the beach trying to photographically capture the blackness of the sand.
Thousands of tiny ghost crabs skittered at our feet, and I spent a good while trying to catch some of them. Where the small river met the sea, we started finding shells and interesting driftwood.
That night we tried a different restaurant, eating more green lipped mussels (5 RMB per pound), a plate full of scampi (18 RMB per pound), two small crabs and more vegetable soup. We were the only customers. After we finished our meal and were watching the dusk come in across the bay, one of the staff approached us with another bottle of beer and asked us to join their table and chat.
There were two young men, an older man, and a very old man. The cook, Ming, could say numbers in English and say "Yeah." The others spoke Cantonese to themselves and Mandarin to me. We tried some basic conversation stuff in Mandarin, and I was thrilled how much I understood, but frustrated by some things I wanted to express but couldn't. As usual with language, the more beer we drank the better I spoke Mandarin and pretty soon we were getting along great.
We started playing the dice game, which only requires speaking numbers occasionally, as you can do it with finger signs anyway. Dan and I just learned the numbers 1-10 in Cantonese, so we were trying that out too.
We ended up drinking beer and playing dice games with these new friends until 1 a.m., when we stumbled back to our hotel room with promises of going swimming with them in the morning.
I was in no shape for swimming in the morning, but Dan kept our date with Ming, for a quick swim. We met up with them again for lunch, eating more green-lipped mussels, another fish and yet more vegetable soup. No beer this time.
Dan and I beachcombed for the rest of the day, swimming a little in the evening. A lot of people came to the beach that afternoon, filling all three of the swimming areas. Our new friends said it was for the Dragon Boat races, but there wasn't any racing going on at this bay and my Chinese wasn't good enough to get more information.
We walked around to the eastern edge of the bay, fording the stream and climbing on the granite boulders. Stuck in the boulders we found all sorts of strange flotsam. Shoes of every size, underwear, shirts, even a pair of glasses. Dan found a Barbie doll, too.
That evening, and long into the night we played more dice and drank more beer with our new friends, who said they hoped we could come back with more people some day.
They helped us the next morning too, taking us to the bus back to Tai Shan and and giving us some free soup at lunch.
It was a little disappointing to have to leave but it was interesting taking the bus back to Tai Shan as well. The area between Tong gu and Tai Shan city looks worth exploring. From the rickety bus I saw lots of old-style villages populated by barefoot school children and overgrown with broad-leafed plants like banana and taro. There are also a number of islands off the coast we want to go to now, if we can find the place to catch a ferry.
And, now that we've made friends with Ming and his coworkers at that restaurant--maybe another trip to the sea will be in order soon.
Where I stayed
Black Sand Bay Hotel (on the beach)