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  • Writer's pictureAlizée CCM

Jiawei, Surfer & Environmentalist | KAILU Ep 10 | Sustainability Documentary China | Hainan Island

Last Minute Flight to Hainan Island

It takes us a flight, two trains, and a cab ride to get to Shanhai Langren, the surf hostel.

The moment we got off the highway, I rolled down my window to smell the ocean air. As we drive up off the main road onto a dirt path I can hear the waves, as we drive deeper into the tropical forest. I feel light. I feel happy.

We take another turn and we see light coming from a small establishment on the left. 

Surfboards, old skateboard-turned decorations, and some Hawaiian trinkets tell us we have arrived. 

A young guy in a loose flower shirt and shorts meets us with a big smile.

This is Lele, he supervises the place and makes sure the guests are happy.

The place has two buildings and a skating ring, how cool! One of the buildings, the minsu (guesthouse), hosts 6 rooms, two on every floor built with a lot of local wood and resources. It’s simple and warm. Driftwood has been used for decoration inside the rooms to make clothing hangers, frames, and even lamps.

The smaller building next to it holds a bar and surf shop, called Sanbays. Just outside of the shop large benches are made from old skateboards.

Lele shows us to our room to get settled in. It’s late, we’ve had a long day, but we don’t feel like going to bed as of yet. Music is coming out of the surf shop, a couple of other people are hanging out on the benches and the atmosphere is good.

Sounds like a local beer is just what we need at this hour.

A Gentle Approach

The sun pierces through the painted windows of our little room. You can hear the waves crashing on the rocky beach just outside of the minsu. I can’t wait to go out and discover the surroundings. I put on some pants and walk outside. From the front door, you can walk down to a manmade platform of concrete where they have set a large table, a hammock, a large daybed, and easy access to the small rock-strewn beach.

"This spot is for experienced surfers only", says Lele. Indeed, you can see large rocks in the surf spot just in front of us.

"It must be quite the sport to avoid them." I think out loud.

"Or you learn where they are the hard way", he says, showing me the scars all over his body. Lele (or Flow) is an artist, trance music lover, and all-in-all a big pile of love.

His baby corgi, Kele (Cola in English) is never far away up to some mischief.

Besides the surf shop, the guys built a small skating ring as well, with a seating area around it. In the evenings, they set up chairs in the middle, and screen a movie on the walls. What an incredible place to live, I think to myself. Why don’t we live in nature like this anymore? Waking up to the sound of the waves, throw on some pieces of clothing and walk near the water, and breathe in fresh good smelling air. This is the life.

The sweet spot between the mountains and the sea

There’s no plan really, except for interviewing one of the guys. Time to go with the flow, and blend into the space a bit more.

As I sit at the large kitchen table outside, eating breakfast, one motorcycle pulls up, then another, and ten minutes later another one, followed by a couple of large cars all holding their surfboards, a pair of sunglasses, and a smile.

By 10 am the place is filled with guys preparing their boards, putting on their wetsuits, and getting ready to jump into the water.

Shan is one of the only girls here. She tells me she joined the crew a couple of months ago, leaving behind her busy corporate life in Beijing. I understand her choice, I tell her. She smiles but she seems concerned. Being here is one thing she says, but I need to think about making a living.

My boyfriend Daguo and I are building another minsu down at the beach, she continues, I hope this will allow me to live here without worrying about money too much. "This place is a small piece of paradise", I tell her, "it’s great to share it with others. The minsu sounds like a good idea."

She smiles, and says, "you should come down and have a look! I hope we can finish the work in a few weeks and then you can come and stay here next time you come."

"Done deal", I tell her.

She stands up and goes to the kitchen. "Will you stay for lunch? I am making dumplings and some vegetable dishes if you like this."

"Sure thing, I love Chinese food, especially homemade, and especially dumplings. Count me in!" I reply in excitement.

Finding the root

With only a few days left before my flight back to Shanghai, I ask Daguo if I could interview him to learn more about the sustainability project. He replies that he wouldn’t mind but he says Hu Jiawei would be better at explaining this since he’s the mind behind all of this.

Since I am not exactly sure who is amongst all the different men who come and go all the time in the place, I ask for Jiawei’s WeChat. He’s happy to do the interview and we meet the next day in front of the surf shop.

The place was built by the three guys, Hu Jiawei is the sustainably minded one.

The others comply with his ideas but have yet to fully integrate the values within their own lives.

It's clear Jiawei is at the root of all this.

When we sit down for the interview I am joined by my friend Marion who speaks much better Chinese than I do, and a new friend, Mattias, a Swedish photographer.

We are seated right in front of the surf shop, surrounded by upcycled furniture made from skateboards and thrift wood. The interview has been conducted in Chinese and has been translated by my friend Myles Chen Kaiang.

Read the full interview here below!

Thanks for journeying with us :-)

Watch the episode on YouTube here!

KAILU, The Open Road.

A cross-country journey to meet the Chinese Changemakers in sustainability.

Roadtripping in China


Watch it here: The KAILU Docu Series


Rio Hilo - Sustainable Designer - KAILU Documentary
Rio Hilo - Sustainable Designer - KAILU Documentary

Read an excerpt from the book here:


Hello Jiawei, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and have this conversation. Can you how to introduce yourself?

My name is Jiawei, I am from Beijing where I used to be a tattooist. A few years ago, I didn’t want to live in Beijing anymore and I came to live here in Hainan to surf. My friends and I used to skateboard back in Beijing, and there aren’t many places in China where you can surf. It’s either Guangdong or Hainan.

Before I came here, I never surfed before. We found this place when we first came here on a recreational vacation. We were exploring the surroundings and found this little path uphill by chance. As we went higher, this shack was waiting for us here.

I thought to myself at the moment, this is such a beautiful and enticing spot for people to visit. Seems I was right.

The location is not bad. There are no neighbors. It’s a bit hidden on a mountain facing the sea. I find it beautiful and romantic, yet my life is not ideal. There are still so many things to do, and goals to achieve.

For example, I’ve always wanted to have more time to paint. I might paint my walls one day, and more chairs and tables are to be made. Anyway, I guess I just want to make this place prettier, it entertains me.

What do people come here for?

A special experience I suppose. This is not a place where people usually live. People would usually choose the countryside when they are looking for an experience in nature in China. Besides, houses right on beaches are hard to find in China, not to mention the ones that are on mountains and beside the sea at the same time. It’s a rarity. As far as I know, there are quite a lot of places like this in foreign countries, but in China, it’s rare.

Hu Jiawei - Surfer & Environmentalist - KAILU Documentary
Hu Jiawei - Surfer & Environmentalist - KAILU Documentary

What does “huanbao” mean to you?

Well, I think, the fact that we’ve brought up the idea of “huanbao”, indicates that the environment is already harmed, and damaged, and therefore needs protection. If we don’t protect the environment, we will probably harm ourselves.

What I think is important is to change the way that people live or even the way that human beings survive. Recycling is not the answer, I think.

Garbage being recycled and reused doesn’t matter. There shouldn’t be any garbage in the first place. The problem resides in the most fundamental things and that’s I think where we should start our work. We need to analyze and act. I think it’s important.

Our business here doesn’t qualify as an environmental protective project. I mean, it’s environmentally friendly but not protective. Unlike what you guys are doing right now which is trying to make some videos or documentaries based on the subject, I don’t see “huanbao” as my profession. I do have my thoughts on this subject and all I do is just live and act according to my understanding of it.

Here are my thoughts on the subject: I think the problem exists in the ways we live, or say, survive. The ideal way of living for me is a most primitive one: to coexist with the earth we are standing upon. What I mean by that is by culturing a small piece of land ourselves, our demands as living creatures should be easily met and with very little damage to the environment, and of course, this means creating less waste. But this isn’t how people live now.

Most people live in cities and needless to say how much waste and pollution we’ve created over there. Everything centers around the economy now and everyone’s involved. You’re involved, I am involved, everybody is. The very idea of an economy is unsustainable.

If my ideal way of life is going to be realized one day, no one would spend one more penny on anything, and thus, there would be no economy. The nature of the economy is against nature. As long as everything and everyone continues to be about the economy, “huanbao” won’t be implemented.

I don’t think human beings are naturally very needy. For me personally, I only need bread to feed my family and a bed to sleep on and the rest is entertainment. Now we’ve created too many demands and desires and the more we create them, the harder for us to fulfill them, and the goodwill of protecting the environment is being discarded further and further away.

Our common friend Livia told me about your idea to turn plastic waste into surfboards.

That’s a thought we had, however, being environmentally friendly doesn’t make it effective enough to solve the problem. You can turn plastic into resin with which you can produce surfing boards, but plastic could also be turned into fuels. Honestly, plastic should have never existed at all.

A surfboard is filled with plastic foam and then covered by glass fiber with some glue. We could turn ocean plastic waste into new resin to make surfboards but you can also transform it into gasoline. None of these two works will stop the use and production of plastic.

What’s going to happen when you’re done using the surfboard? You will still throw it away. What difference does it make even if it is made from recycled plastics? Nothing, you just kept it longer and that’s all. It’s feasible. Someone could spend some money on it to figure it out.

Since I got here, I started hating plastics more and more. In Beijing, I wasn’t liking it already, but now I hate it. The reason plastics are continually produced is that it’s cheap convenient and useful. It helped us a lot in developing the economy. For example, without plastics, food cannot be sold in the supermarket, and it cannot be delivered between two different cities thus no online market.

People are trying to make as much money as soon as possible and that’s the key to this dilemma we find ourselves in. People are focused on the material and are made numb. They forgot about their life, their spirit, and their soul. They are trapped in a cage of desire.

What is the dream or ambition for you guys to be here?

We are getting closer to realizing our dream. At first, our dream was simple, which was just to be able to live our lives freely. And after a while, we’ve come across some financial problems. I just said, maybe we should start a business.

After some consideration, we figured that this is probably the most suitable business for us because I’ve always enjoyed building and making stuff with my own hands. We started to build the house. It’s not as easy as it looks.

I’m going to find a place with a beautiful environment and climate and maybe grow some vegetables on our own. I will keep surfing, keep painting, anything. Just to enjoy my life, I guess. Now I have a kid to raise, and I want to provide the best for them; I want to feed them with the most healthy food.

Besides that, we are going to shoot some videos, vlogs maybe, to show and share with people our way of life out here in nature. People need to know and see that there are different options to live their lives. We will show them what it looks like and how it feels like to lead the simplest and most basic life in nature.

It’s better now than before, and more and more people are trying to get out of the cities to pursue an experience of living in nature. More and more people are camping, or spending their night out in the mountains.

Some people would go and try to manage a farm. Lots of individuals are doing this now. Anyway, what I want for myself is that someday, I want to shift people’s mindsets about life in a positive way.

For me, working till I am in my 60s to buy a car and an apartment in a major city is not life. It doesn’t seem like one. I love my life now and I want to share this enthusiasm with others.

I believe you already are. It’s just subtle. Tell me how did you get to this place and this dream? Walk me through your journey.

We started by converting to vegetarianism, and then we looked into the livestock industry and since then we’ve turned vegan.

The livestock industry is a huge threat to the environment in two ways: it occupies too many land areas and it produces a huge amount of CO2. Meat is not necessarily healthy for the human body anyway. In a nutshell, it’s not a good bargain.

Then we are surrounded by people who share the same point of view as me, but no one is identical to another. Surfers like me probably care more about the health of the ocean. It’s rather direct, I mean, when you see garbage in the water, you will be upset. But this is how the world is.

The only thing we can do is just to use less plastic if we don’t like it, but that won’t solve the root problem. I think the best way is for everyone to disperse, and not live too densely, because it has proven to be extremely destructive.

I share that same belief. When I compare my friends in Shanghai and Dali, I see that my friends in Yunnan are happier.

I believe that as long as the lifestyle changes, things will consequently get better.

"Sometimes when we think too much or too deeply, we lose the power to act."

Shanghai has been implementing regulations to improve waste disposal and management, and people in the city are becoming more aware of their impact on the environment through waste.

Still, it’s a matter of consumerism. Even if you classify garbage into a hundred categories, it wouldn’t make a penny worth of difference.

As long as you make and spend money, the damage to the environment will not stop.

Everything comes from factories nowadays thus the pollution. No one needs all that much, clothes, bags, etc. All we need to wear is probably just a couple of pieces of clothes, to keep ourselves warm and decent. Wearing clothes became about dressing and making up and then there comes vanity.

A lot of people are living for vanity now and that is also why the economy not only harms nature but also takes control over the way that people live. Men became a slave.

Why do you think people don’t change their behavior to better protect the environment?

Because if human beings don’t see it, they don’t care. All they care about is money.

It would be a miracle if the idea of “huanbao” even ever crossed their mind. Some of them might be under-educated, and some of them might just be shortsighted. It doesn’t feel as important to them so they don’t care.

Hu Jiawei - Hainan Island - KAILU Documentary
Hu Jiawei - Hainan Island - KAILU Documentary

How do you see this changing in the next couple of years?

It’s hard to say. I can see that more and more people are changing, but we can’t say what will happen in 2 years or 3 years. We can only hope that it’s going the right way. The first thing, I think, is to let people see.

We need to arouse the awareness on a massive level that what we have now, is not normal or healthy. I think it’s going to take longer than we expected. But changes will have to happen in the future.

For example, we make small changes here. The chair over there was made from the wood I picked up, but this kind of work is my game.

I believe the most effective way is what you’re doing right here, documenting it, to pass it around so that people can witness it. The chair I made can only be used by the people who are sitting on it, but the videos you guys made can be shared all around the world.

That’s our goal. Anything else you would like to share?

I don’t think I have any words to say to the public. I’m not a public figure and I don’t have the right or power to change people’s ideas. The most important thing I can do is to live according to my understanding.

If I were to say anything it would be this: try to see more than you’ve already seen, and expand your vision from your daily life to a wider world.

Try not to think about making money all day long and get in touch with nature, get in touch with your spirit. Why not raise a cat or maybe a dog, or even keep a plant?

I just don’t get why people have to squeeze themselves into such a crowded bunch, leaving all the beauty of nature behind.

It takes so much money, sometimes savings of the whole life of a person, to purchase an apartment in a high, crowded building, a lot of times people even have to borrow from the bank whose money comes from the people in the first place.

I found that a lot of people fighting for life in big cities like Beijing or Shanghai have already nice places to live back in their hometowns and they’d rather squeeze in a 10m2 little bedroom in big cities than enjoy their lives back home. This confuses me.

There are a lot of places in China where you can find empty houses and a lot of space. Fundamentally, I don’t think “huanbao” is solely about the environment, it’s rooted in the very way that human beings survive. 200 years ago, no one talked about “huanbao” and it was before the industrial revolutions began in Europe.

All of a sudden, there was a steam machine that needed fuel to work. And after that, oil has been massively sucked out of the earth. The vicious loop started, people are gaining less money and spending more time working and this is the way that employers chain people to their working posts.

Words are just words. Simply put, I just hope that people become aware of these issues and maybe change. It is a challenge for a lot of people who are still struggling to figure out their way in urban life, especially for those who have a family to feed, but it is an option.

The problem is whether you are brave enough to take the first step, the step away from the popular and traditional opinions. We all die one day and money to me is just wood, it’s a means to an end.

Sometimes when we think too much or too deeply, we lose the power to act.

Alizée CCM - Hainan Island - KAILU Documentary
Alizée CCM - Hainan Island - KAILU Documentary

"I believe the most effective way is what you’re doing right here, documenting it, to pass it around so that people can witness it. The chair I made can only be used by the people who are sitting on it, but the videos you guys made can be shared all around the world."

We wrap up the interview, and my friend asks Jiawei how he feels.

He explains that this type of conversation feels like a psychic ritual to him. “I’ve had these thoughts a very long time ago. If it were not for the interview, I would have forgotten that I’ve ever had these thoughts at all. I’ve been drifting away from the public for a long time now.

He shares how he used to be enthusiastic about changing other people’s ideas but now he finds himself powerless when it comes to this kind of issue.

I used to enjoy talking a lot when, for example, having dinners with my friends”, he continues, “but gradually I figured that the best thing I can do is to listen and try to understand.

He believes people can’t change according to what we have said. I can relate to what he’s sharing because I found myself in this situation as well so many times.

We used to feel a sense of urgency about wanting to change other people’s ideas, but what we both later figured out was that to achieve this, what we need is not merely enthusiasm, but also patience.

Moreover, we came to realize that it is more convincing to prove your point by doing rather than by just talking. It’s similar to growing up: People teach who they are. Not by what they say.

Jiawei explains that he doesn’t like to talk that much anymore. “Don’t get me wrong”, he explains, “I still love to share my thoughts with people, I just talk less.

Sometimes our thoughts can be perceived as rather radical. But if we don’t fix the problems at their roots, we won’t fix them at all.

Still, we believe that recycling is a step forward, there’s no denying that. We can’t always be radial. Sometimes when we think too much or too deeply, we lose the power to act.

Sustainability Documentary China


Watch it here: The KAILU Docu-Series



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