After being in Beijing for 6 days we travelled to Sanya, a city in the island of Hainan. We had three lectures at Sanya University. Professor Yu Yanling conducted our second lecture and we discussed tourism in Hainan. The lecture provided us with information on the rich culture of Hainan, the beautiful scenery and the recent growth and development due to tourism.
After the lecture I asked Professor Yu a question. The island of Hainan is located off the southern coast of China, very close to the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and the Philippines. These countries are notorious for sex tourism; with Hainan’s close proximity to those countries I wondered and asked Professor Yu if sex tourism was a problem in Sanya or any other city in Hainan. Professor Yu stated that it was not a problem in Sanya or Hainan; she explained that it used to be a problem in Hong Kong but the government has cracked down on prostitution. Therefore I trusted her knowledge and was glad this was not an issue as sex trafficking destroys the lives of nearly 4.5 million globally (Polaris, 2014).
While at the Sanya University Campus the local students were always extremely welcoming and would often approach us and introduce themselves. Interestingly enough the mobile application WeChat always provided easy communication with local students. One local student in particular approached fellow students and I engaged in a conversation about the student life at Sanya University. The student was a South African native and he was at Sanya University studying architecture. This student put us in connection with other local students who accepted to show us around the city of Sanya. Unfortunately, due to our busy schedule we were unable to meet with these local students and instead we had to explore the city ourselves.
While roaming around the city I found out the benevolence of the local people in Sanya. The locals were exceptionally friendly and I always felt welcomed. They provided the best hospitality one could ever experience. The tourists were also extremely nice and we always seemed to speak about the same issues, the current political state of the United States.
Later in the day fellow students and I went to a bar in the heart of the city were I noticed something that shocked me and completely differed from the answer I received in regards to sex tourism. While conversing inside this bar a man approached me and handed me over his business card. My initial response was that the man was the bar owner and was simply greeting us and being friendly. While at the bar I noticed three ladies speaking Spanish, I was surprised because we were very far away from any country that spoke Spanish. Two of the ladies were Cuban and one was Russian, they were all immigrants currently residing in Sanya. We engaged in small talk about Sanya and the reason for their long journey to Sanya. Our conversation was brief but they did mention they were students in Sanya. The three ladies returned to their tables. At this moment the atmosphere at the bar changed. The man who I thought was the owner of the bar approached the three ladies who were recently speaking to us and they were all staring towards where we were sitting. Suddenly the man brings the three ladies and introduces them to us. However, I noticed this man was doing the same thing to every foreigner at this bar. This happened several times, the man would find a group of girls and introduce them to our table. This is when I realized that these ladies were victims of the sex trafficking industry; I mean what else could this have been?
I was very disappointed because by witnessing this in front of my eyes, I realized this was happening right in front of me and I could not do anything to help the situation. I left the bar that night thinking deeply about the lives these girls experience and how far away they were from home. Do their parents know where they are and do they know their living situation?
They are stuck in a tunnel with no way out.