Learning My ABCs: A Trip to China (Part 1)

Hello and welcome back to Learning My ABCs! This week, I am sharing a part of my life that is very dear to me. When I started this column, I had the intention of reconnecting with my roots through sharing my immigration experience, traditional recipes, and Chinese folktales, but a few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to visit China and experience the authentic culture in person.

The last time I went to China to visit my relatives was four years ago, and a lot has changed since then. Back then, I was still kind of ashamed of where I came from. I would separate my American identity from my Chinese heritage and live in two different worlds (I was a freaking Asian Hannah Montana!), which is why, for me, going to China is like going to another world, one where I can be everything that I tried to hide in America. The only difference is that this time, I was not ashamed anymore.

In the four years since my last trip, I’ve often missed my grandparents, their house, and walking around the streets of Shanghai, but oddly, actually being there in person made me kind of sad. In my memories, everything stays frozen in time, like bugs trapped in amber. Which is why when I went back this year and was physically present in the setting, the changes that I saw freaked me out and hit me with the full force of reality. My grandmother’s house now seemed so much smaller than what I remembered (in part, since I had physically grown bigger). My grandparents looked older than my mental image of them considering they too have aged four years since the last time I saw them. And the city…

Shanghai is a city of constant change, where the old juxtaposes the new. Standing in the middle of People’s Square, you can look up at the buildings and see a dramatic contrast between the different styles of architecture. In my opinion, the scene looks kind of messy, but it clearly encapsulates the urban development that is a constant in Shanghai. At a glance, there are poorly painted buildings only five-stories high with rusting air conditioning systems outside of each iron-fenced window and leaky pipes decorating the sides; but if you were to tilt your head upward 45 degrees, you see infrastructure that looks like it came straight out of Futurama. I’m talking glass windows, flashy signs, triangular bridges, etc.; it really is an impressive sight. Unfortunately, with the constant change, everywhere you go, there is construction as well, which is not an aesthetically pleasing sight. But in a city where the only continuity is change, what else would you expect?

When the old juxtaposes the new architecture. Shanghai is a city of constant change.

My trip lasted only for a week, and though it may seem like a short time to explore the megacity of Shanghai, I had a very fulfilling experience! Here are some of my highlights:

1. HOT POT!!!!!
When I went to China, I had a list of things I HAD to do before I left and hot pot was right up at the top of my list. The restaurant that I went to this time wasn’t the same place that I went to last time I visited, but that’s because it closed. Like I said, constant change.

Let’s be real, I LIVE for HOT POT!!!

2. Spending Time with My Grandparents and Uncle
I love my grandparents and my uncle so much! In the years before coming to America, they were the people who raised me and took care of me while my mother was away at work. My fondest memory of my grandpa is of him cooking super delicious food for the family and taking me to the park to see wild sheep when I was two-years-old. My fondest memory of my grandma is of her teaching me moral values and going on adventures with me and my mom every time we visited. I love my uncle for caring about me so much and since Chinese people show their care through food, the last time I visited, he brought home a live snake, which my grandpa beheaded and stir-fried. (I didn’t eat it because I was scared!)

3. Riding the Subway
Growing up in San Francisco, I’m transported everywhere by car. Since everything is very local and a moderately short distance away, we’ve never had the need to develop a subway system in the city, which is why riding the subway and seeing the underground system in China is so exciting to me! Can you believe there are actual underground malls, with clothing stores, food markets, and shady stores that sell weird trinkets?! It’s a labyrinth down there!

That is all folks! Thanks for Learning My ABCs with me! Tune in next time for a post which will detail every day of my trip! 再见 (Goodbye)!