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Shanghai Travel Blog

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The days I spent in Shanghai passed in a whirl of family and food. I got to meet a ton of relatives I'd never met before and don't remember a moment I wasn't full to bursting. I probably ate more my first day in Shanghai than I had all my previous days in China. I'd timed my visit expressly to see my grandma and uncle visiting from Taiwan, and meeting so many new relatives was a pleasant and unexpected bonus.
My grandma grew up in Shanghai but hadn't been back in 18 years. Because of this, her visit was a grand event and the families held many amazing meals to commemorate. Her two older brothers still live there with their respective families and are now 91 and 93! I stayed with the uncle (actually my mom's cousin) who lives with my grandma's eldest brother. This grandpa is in amazingly good health. He used to be a doctor of Chinese medicine and earned a number of extremely distinguished awards for his calligraphy. I took pictures of the awards but don't know if they came out very well.
On my last day in Shanghai, my uncle's family took me to an old neighborhood called Zhujiajiao, and this grandpa demonstrated his impressive knowledge by reading out 4 characters on a sign that, according to the teashop lady, no one in the last 20,000 visitors had been able to recognize. Even she didn't know what the sign said, and she works there! The sign was written in an ancient version of Chinese script, and she asked him to write the characters down so she could pass the information on to future visitors. Neat, huh?
My grandma and uncle had already left by then, staying only 5 days as my grandma's not in the best of health and the special direct flight from Taipei to Shanghai only existed for the Dragon Boat Festival. This flight shaved off several hours of flight time and didn't require a transfer. Most flights between Taiwan and Shanghai pass through Hong Kong first.
In terms of the relatives themselves, I couldn't believe how warm and welcoming they were. I guess since we only have a few families in CA, I'm not used to what it's like welcoming new relatives. Basically, it was like if you're family then that was it. No questions asked, they'd give you the shirt off their backs and think nothing of it. Pretty awesome. This visit along with the following to my Hangzhou aunt's family made me feel really selfish and think how differently I'd treat visiting relatives in the future. I can definitely try harder, particularly to speak Chinese if it helps to make them feel more at home.
One day we were heading towards the oldest temple in Shanghai, and a man hit my uncle's car in the crazy traffic. My uncle got out of the car and the two of them began shouting at each other in Shanghai-nese, pointing and looking like they were going to fight. The man was totally in the wrong so had no right to be mad, but the point of this story is my aunt and two other uncles also got out of the car to support my driving uncle, arguing with the man and yelling at taxi drivers who slowed down to shout at them for backing up traffic. They very much have each other's backs, and I was duly impressed.
So, besides my grandma's first visit in 18 years, this trip also marked my uncle's first ever visit from Taiwan to the mainland. If I didn't know, I could never have guessed it was his first time meeting the relatives. He's very gracious and got along with everyone super well, seeming like he'd known them all for years after a day or two. He said he found it particularly moving how much everyone cared for my grandma, and that it showed how being a warm and loving person will inevitably mean you're also loved a lot in return. He's not at all a sentimental man, so the trip must have had a big impact on him.
While my grandma and uncle were still in Shanghai, we visited a number of places. In the city itself, we hit main attractions like the Bund, Donhua Miao, the Hyatt, etc. We also took a separate day trip to Tai Hu and Suzhou. Obviously, traveling with elderly folks is much different than traveling on my own. A lot more time is spent in cars and making sure there are proper facilities to accomodate their needs. Since a lot of China is not handicap-equipped, the relatives always checked for wide enough pathways, Western-style toilets, and not too many stairs as soon as we got to a place.
The day my uncle and grandma left, my cousin returned from school in New Zealand just in time to see them off. We visited the Shanghai historical museum the day after, and it was nice to have someone with whom to speak English.
My uncle and aunt were super sweet. Because I didn't have particular plans for Shanghai (thinking I would leave for Huangshan on the 19th but getting sick and staying an extra few days instead), they tried to think of things that I'd enjoy doing as a young person. For example, on my second to last night, my uncle came home and announced that my aunt had bought two tickets for me and my cousin to the circus. Since my cousin already had plans that night, my uncle accompanied me instead. At first I thought the idea was hilarious 'cause I imagined the circus the way Homer Simpson imagined the ballet - as a bear driving around in circles with a little fez cap on his head. However, it turned out to be this awesome Cirque du Soleil type circus (but China-stylez) with amazing acrobatic feats, contortionists and daredevil acts. I had an excellent time, and my uncle seemed to enjoy it very much, too. He said they'd have to take my grandma if she visited the next Chinese New Year.
I'm sure there are a ton of other things I could say about this visit but will end this entry for now. Suffice to say, I had an excellent time and feel more than lucky to have witnessed my grandma's return, uncle's first visit to Shanghai, and to have had the opportunity to meet so many of my relatives at my age. I'm often very grateful for my American passport.
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photo by: spocklogic