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Sanya Journal: Welcome to China’s Florida: Sun, Sand and Retired Snowbirds

As the head of the migrants association in a suburban community all but taken over by snowbirds, Mr. Zhao spends much of his time coordinating meetings and music rehearsals.

On a recent morning, more than 60 retirees gathered together in the community recreation room to rehearse sentimental favorites like “Onwards, Chinese Communist Party” and more recent hits like “Together Build the Chinese Dream.” Accompanying the chorus was a boisterous band of graying musicians, including a piccoloist and an electric guitarist.

“Before, we thought retired life would be very dull, just sitting on little stools in the sun and shriveling up and growing old,” said Mr. Zhao. “But our lives have transformed. We had no idea that after coming here we would be so happy and have so many friends.”

Not everyone is happy with the presence of Sanya’s snowbirds. The annual influx, which began in the early 2000s, has created tensions with local residents, who are increasingly outnumbered by their seasonal visitors. Locals complain that the retirees have driven up the cost of housing and food while simultaneously taking advantage of public services like transportation and hospitals.

They find peace only in the off-season summer months, when the snowbirds retreat to their homes up north to escape the sweltering temperatures and monsoon rains.

Several years ago, the local government began razing large tracts of housing in the city, in what many see as an ongoing effort to drive out the often frugal snowbirds by denying them places to rent. Others say the goal is instead to attract high-spending vacationers to boost local tourism, already one of the city’s main industries in addition to agriculture.

“Sanya wants to be known as an international tourism destination, not as an elderly retirement community,” said Huang Cheng, a lecturer at the University of Sanya who has studied the local snowbird phenomenon.

Source: NYT > World

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