I’ve been in Chengdu for more than two weeks, after a long multi-hop one way journey of more than 27 hours.
It used to take less than 14 hours direct flight before the pandemic. But I don’t complain and even was grateful that I was no longer required to be quarantined for more than 4 weeks when I landed in China.
Mom made sure she only gave up her last breath when I and my brother could get to her without any quarantines, I guess.
China changed a lot in last four years during my absence. We all have changed a lot in last four years. But it has never been this evident this time for me to realize that staying in China as a non-citizen made it felt you are entering a parallel universe with most of your daily basic capabilities stripped and you are becoming almost a penniless homeless person at the mercy of your friends and relatives there.
First for most, China is already super digitized in money payment through WeChat app on each person’s mobile phones. 99% of daily transactions in food, transportations are conducted through mobile QR code.
As a foreigner, you could not use your foreign country VISA or Mastercards nor the cash in almost all the chain stores for food and groceries on the streets as these stores are super linked with WeChat QR code system and many stores’ staff do not even have cash registers anymore.
Nor you could apply for a temp bank account to be linked to your WeChat app. The banking for foreigners is problematic as the only time a non-citizen is allowed to open a bank account is when a long term China residence card is presented.
Nor you could drive around in a mega city like Chengdu with 20 million’s population and layers after layers of mint new highways. Because China does not accept any non-China issued driver license.
If you don’t have your cellular data international roaming turned on, all the social medias like twitter, facebook, instagram , WhatsApp and search engine like google are not accessible.
All these restrictions make my daily experience there surreal and paranoid and obnoxious, to say the least.
China is a country playing catching up for the last 40 years with the burden of a base of over populous people to feed and limited land and resources. It has done an incredible job to upscaling its people’s living standards but it has never been easy to live there.
The rules and laws and policies are constantly under changes so you should never expect you will have a easy ride when you go through the paperworks and red taps no matter how prepared you are when you started the process as you are almost certain will run into some new surprises and exceptions that block your way.
Mom is finally at peace in heaven so my nine (minus three years of pandemic absence) years “parallel universe” paranoid travel experience is coming to an end.
I finished almost all the critical paperworks. I distributed most of mom’s modest funds to our most needed relatives before my Chinese bank card finally failed on me on its mobile access. I lent my parents apartment to my dad’s sister to put onto market for rent so that they could earn some much needed money to support my ailing uncle’s medical needs.
Then I finally got sick today. It’s the familiar upper respiratory infection that I used to suffer frequently but eventually could avoid while traveling in China. I have not had such a hit for more than a decade ever since I started to wear mask while traveling.
But I got it today.
My immediate reaction was that I want to go home, my beautiful home in California, at any cost.
But there is no direct flight in Shanghai from United Airlines app. And the only one way non stop ticket I eventually found through Google costs USD12,539!
With the help of my cousin’s Chinese herbal medicine and lots of water and sleep, I felt better now.
And my high school BFF couple insisted me flying to Shanghai as planned tomorrow and stay with them for two more days before I am going home (through Taipei) in another 23 hours long journey.
I left behind too many good friends in China and I always wonder how I could survive traveling in China as a foreign citizen without them. I could not even book a flight nor a train ticket on my own. And worse yet everyone there thought it’s ok and eager to jump in to help out — placing flight tickets for me, driving me around.
China is a civilization that has been cursed since two thousands years ago when the Qin Dynasty unified China for the first time in history and built a super efficient and advanced central government system that the sole purpose was to carry out the emperor’s will to every citizen the emperor owned. It was so powerful and advanced that the following dynasties had never be able to surpass it nor break out from it even until today. It was also that same first great Qin Emperor invented the Great Wall which is still applying to the population today.
I even got fatigue and felt exhausted and hopeless just by watching my loved ones and friends to live through their daily lives there with the slow burning mental stress.
I want to go home, sooner and faster.