I want to start by talking about the weird relationship between China and Taiwan through the lens of a tourist traveling from Taiwan to China.
Whereas Americans have to pay exorbitant fees ($100-200) and wait some time to obtain a Chinese visa, residents of Taiwan have a less expensive/time-consuming route to enter China using a document called the “Tai Bao Zheng.” Because China doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, China doesn’t recognize the Taiwanese passport. Residents of Taiwan holding a Taiwan identity card instead apply for a Tai Bao Zheng, which is issued by the Chinese government. The Tai Bao Zheng looks like an identity card and is an entry permit (not a visa, which implies international travel). To enter China, people holding a Tai Bao Zheng go through Customs’ domestic entrance and present the Tai Bao Zheng.
Up until the past 2 years, the Tai Bao Zheng looked like a passport book. Two years ago, China changed the Tai Bao Zheng to look like an identity card, which enraged a lot of Taiwanese people because they said this was another step toward ignoring Taiwan’s sovereignty.
As an aside, my parents have always called themselves Chinese, not Taiwanese even though they were born and raised in Taiwan. Their parents (my grandparents) immigrated from Mainland China to Taiwan during the 40s and 50s after their property was confiscated by the government. The people who moved to Taiwan during this time were (and still are) called “waisheng ren” which literally translates to “foreign province people.” Typically waisheng ren believe Taiwan should remain a part of Mainland China. Obviously, this is a source of contention between the political parties in Taiwan.
Ok so back to Shanghai. We arrived at Shanghai Pudong Airport on Wednesday evening and 大伯伯’s (dà bóbo which means “father’s elder brother” aka my uncle) driver, Xiao Huay, picked us up. We met dà bóbo and some other people for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. (I tried raw shrimp, which was really slimy! It didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would, but the texture definitely threw me for a loop.) I loooved the Hokkaido corn, steamed egg, soft tofu, veggie tempura, ginkgo nuts, Hokkaido corn, and eel rice. Obviously I stuffed myself.
When we got back to the hotel, I tried logging onto the wifi. I thought my phone wasn’t working since Gmail wouldn’t load. I tried Google Chrome which failed too. Then I tried Google Maps. No good. Turns out, China really blocks all Google services.
The next morning, I hit up the hotel gym before eating breakfast in the hotel lounge. THEY HAD CEREAL. AND MUESLI. I didn’t realize how much I missed my beloved cereal until I saw that I downed three bowls. I then prowled the tv channels to find ESPN and the Duke vs. UNC game (WHAT A GAME!). Around noon, Xiao Huay drove us to meet dà bóbo for lunch at a restaurant that serves Shanghai style cuisine. After, we went to Jing’an Temple and the Oriental Pearl Tower. We grabbed some coconuts from the grocery store and walked around the Lujiazui district. In the evening, we met dad’s friend’s for dinner. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet recovered from jet lag and I finally broke, asking if I could skip dinner and go back to the hotel. Because dad already told Xiao Huay to take a break during our dinner, Vincent’s driver took me back to the hotel.
Woke up to a surprise the next morning: the person who invited the big group out to dinner gifted mom and I Hermès and Gucci scarves. But since mom doesn’t wear scarves (or any accessories for that matter), they are both mine. These scarves are probably the nicest clothing items I’ll ever own. Xiao Huay picked us up in the morning and we left for Wuzhen, which is a canal city. We meandered through the streets bordering the central canal.
In the evening, we went to dà bóbo’s house in Pudong for dinner. It’s interesting how extremely wealthy people also tend to be extremely frugal. It seems like it’s always the people who hang around the wealthy are the ones who spend all the money whereas the people who actually make money don’t spend any at all. Back when him and his then wife built the Pudong house, his wife wanted everything to be grand and grander. They put in marble floors throughout the house, but because marble is cold, they also installed a heating system under the floors. They built a sauna in the basement bathroom. They built this and that. Really, this house is excessive. Now that his kids and ex-wife no longer live in Shanghai, dà bóbo is all alone in this massive house. To save on electricity, he doesn’t turn on the heat, which means the floors are so, so, so cold. I guess he’s frugal so his ex-wife and kids can spend the money. The reason why I’m going on and on about this is that I felt like my feet were going to freeze off.
On Saturday, we went to the bookstore and had lunch at Wagas (juice is top qual) before heading to the airport. One of my favorite parts during take-off and landing is looking at the city below me. Unfortunately, after we took off, all I could see was a mass of gray. Several minutes later, the blanket of gray cleared and I could see some clouds over the ocean. That’s when I realized, that gray mass wasn’t a massive cloud. It was pollution.