TIC: This is China

– This is long overdue, gotta get it out before it’s too late…. feedback from my trip to Shanghai in October, 2011

How should I describe my recent trip to China? How many words do I need to record the bizarre sensation of experiencing the circulating rumors turning into reality?

It began from a very attractive title of a symposium, International Mechanobiology Conference, with a hesitating finish: Shanghai-Hangzhou, China. China, the communist, the red, the Marxist, the great fire wall, the crowded cities, and of course…the “Taiwan has been an unalienable part of China since 5000 years ago.”

But still, I gotta have an open-mind. I can’t really criticize the things that I don’t know about. And honestly speaking, the majority of my knowledge about China have come from the internet and indirect gossips of the people. I left Canada just when the Chinese were beginning to swamp all other nations in the world, so there weren’t that much personal stories to recall. Of course, too much has happened to China since then, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the 2010 world expo in Shanghai. This trip was the right opportunity. Plus, I had 7 other colleagues with me, I thought I would be all right.

I’m just gonna record “the moments” by lines.

– The “Chinese Resident Living in Taiwan” is so lame….but it saved me 5000 NTD. That’s how Taiwanese sold their identity for cheap money.

– The flight only took just over 1.5 h. We spent more time at the airport “in advance” for the flight than the trip.

– I could hardly understand any Mandarin spoken by the locals. Not to mention the dialects. However I was delighted to find out how common the dialects were; a very good sign for language preservation.

– Shanghai is a mega city. Seriously.

– People definitely honked TOO MUCH. Also the 2-wheelers were going both way in the same lane. Regulation? Custom?

– The majority of the residential houses looked exactly the same with red roofs. Clones? Where was I? Prague?

– People were smoking in any humanly viable condition or chamber. Including the elevator.

– A 3-star hotel in China is equivalent to a 1 or 2-star hotel in the US, or worse because at least the 1-star hotel in the US would get the non-smoking right.

– There were a lot of street vendors, including food vendors, except we were strongly suggested NOT to consume any.

– “FamilyMart is your Home!”

– Made In Taiwan has superior branding over those Japanese products. Wow.

– Ground road painters couldn’t care if pedestrians step on the undried paint.

– The majority of the motorcycles were electrically powered. Strong potential to be quiet and clean, except the honks ruined everything. Plus no cyclist would use the headlight despite possessing one and riding in the dark.

– I HATED cyclists HONKING on the pedestrian walkway!!!!!

– Downtown Shanghai is certainly world-class level. I haven’t seen Tokyo, and NYC was a long time ago for me. But Shanghai is definitely up there.

– Shanghai cuisine is greasier, saltier, and sweeter than Tainan. WOW. The most frequently served vegetable was the small bok choi.

– The subway system is extremely convenient. However, people entering the train did not wait for the passengers to exit first. This seemed to be a common practice in all transportations.

– People were loud. Maybe it’s because of the colorful accent. Maybe it’s just because they were excited. It didn’t bother me too much, however. Maybe I was prepared for it.

– CM, CK and I witnessed a motorcyclist honking all the way down the street when apparently there was no one ahead of him.

– Pedestrians always come LAST. After being cut off my a motorcyclist and followed by another car on the pin stripes, I got it. Pedestrians always come last.

– No guidebook could match up with a local friend. Period. CM, CK and I enjoyed the best local-meal guided by CK’s local friend. Incredible dinner.

– Shanghai, just like Taipei, has different sectors that represents different area of activities. We walked from the richest through the nightlife neighborhood, business sectors, residential area, to the hood-where we lived. CK pulled his groin after the 2.5 h walk.

(I gotta wrap this up soon… or else this could take forever)

Our last full day in China pretty much represented my bits of puzzles for China. As we joined a local Chinese tour to Suzhou, the tour allowed us to personally experience what was it like to be a local tourist in China, as the tour was “Chinese-only.” We went through a bunch of baloney, whether it was the “I was born in Formosa Taiwan” proclaimed by the so-called manager. There was the booshit servant at the temple trying to rip money off followers for those self-proclaimed “inspired-gold-cards.” At last it came down to the simplest of behavior: souvenir selling lies. There were these very beautiful Chinese paintings that only costed 20 RMB (or something) per, yet by the detail of the lining and the texture of the paper, they had to be printed replicas, which I would still be willing to purchase for the price (after bargaining, of course). Yet the lady kept on insisting they were hand painted… until I found out of the piles, 2 exactly the same paintings. Ooops. This   honestly value really meant nothing. Not to mention trying to sell a product at a price that’s over 10 times or more to the naive customers. I just can’t accept that.

If anyone asks me, what do I think of China? I would say it is certainly one powerful nation on its dynamic mode. Is it on the rise? Probably. But at the same time it is also carrying so much uncertainty with it, just like those rusty MRT lines rushing to completion just for the election; it may look astonishing and all, yet you never know what’s gonna come up next and victimize the poor bastard. For all and all, it’s still China, the land that inherited all those millennium years of culture. Heck, we visited a newly-build town tagged “the city of Song,” while it would had been called “Song amusement park” had it been built in the US. Because 1) everything is newly built (FAKE!) 2) even the mountain was built by cranes and workers, 3) it’s got an haunted house, and 4) there’s entrance fee and souvenir shops. Yet people (including myself) still went and toured. Why? because “China” is the one with the authority to “define” what Song was like! Who else? I knew the town was a baloney because all the business people in those old suits were using their cell phones….. no, not this, I meant, majority of the Chinese signs were printed, written, carved, in “SIMPLIFIED CHINESE!” But hey, if the Chinese said so, who is there to argue? It’s like the whole world is recognizing simplified Chinese as “Chinese,” because the PRC uses it!

Another example was the taste of Shanghai soup dumplings, or the Crap-egg dumplings. They were all right, but nowhere near the delicacy or the intricacies of Dingtaifeng. But so what? It’s Shanghai, and I was having Shanghai soup dumplings! No matter how good the soup dumplings of Dingtaifeng are, they are not the authentic “Shanghai” soup dumpling.

So whoever thinks that Taiwan should develop “authentic” Chinese culture with Taiwanese characteristics must be some of the dumbest strategists ever. Period. Yes, there is a West Lake Holiday resort in Taiwan. Yes, I just saw a sign that directed traffic to Jiang-Nan Holiday resort during my new year trip. Yes, there are countless places that tried to imitate beautiful tourist sites in China. And I feel ashamed for seeing that happening to my be loving Taiwan. I know it was named by the nationalists to make-up for the lost in the “mainland,” but damn, it’s ironic and irritating.

So to sum it up. Out of all these unimaginable and the “heard-off-turn-witnessing” experiences, there’s only one line. One simple yet significant line: “this is China.”

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4 Responses to TIC: This is China

  1. China definitely makes for an exciting trip with lots of confusion along the way. It was the first real foreign country I’ve been too. If you’re going to do something for the first time then you might as well make it wild. And I too get tired of Chinese people going on and on about Taiwan.

    • harnh says:

      yeah I like your attitude of “if you’re going to do something for the first time, might well make it wild.” It was certainly quite a wild experience, even though I didn’t intentionally make it. What kind of things were the Chinese going on with you about Taiwan?

      • They know I’m very knowledgeable about world affairs and all that stuff they ask me “Do you think Taiwan is a part of China?” And I always tell them that what I know is a lot different than what they learned in school or what they hear on TV. If they prod around for it I point out that Taiwan has it’s own independently elected government, has it’s own laws, military, foreign policy and relations and has a much higher standard of living, So I tell them what I really think without telling them what I really think.

      • harnh says:

        That’s a very good way to express your opinion. When the Chinese (or anyone, actually) ask me about how I feel about China and Taiwan, I’d always start with how cities like Shanghai is the strong evidence of the uprising, and yes China IS the authority of China-sphere. Which leads to the so-called ROC of/in/at Taiwan is the biggest baloney ever, THEREFORE Taiwan must develop and emphasize its own identity and brand in order to survive.

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