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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Visiting China: same person, a completely different experience

Bill Huang
The sun set in the sky at XiAn.

As 10-year old me stared at the TV in my grandparents’ apartment in WuHu, an iPad blasted Geometry Dash music in my hand. My only wish was for my parents to allow me to stay up past 9 p.m. to watch cartoons like Boonie Bears and Zhu Zhu Xia, a show about a pig superhero. This wish was usually granted, as the sofa would always end up being my bed for the night before my parents would carry me to my actual bed. 

This was just one of a few faint but memorable moments I have from visiting China throughout my middle school years. This summer, when China opened to the public after COVID-19, I got a chance to spend two weeks in many of the big cities in China after not visiting for five years — including Xian, Shanghai and HangZhou — and the new memories I gained quickly replaced the faded ones from my childhood.

Some aspects of China were exactly the same as I remembered: the unbearable heat and humidity and the countless number of mosquitoes and people. 

Everytime I stepped out, I felt the searing sun burn my face. I’ve been spoiled by California’s comfortable climate of sunny skies and occasional breezy winds. In comparison, the sun in China felt as if I was a lasagna in an oven, baking for hours with no end until my skin bubbled like the cheese.

Besides the hot summers, everything else was completely different in interesting and exciting ways. 

Since the previous time I visited China, I noticed everything felt much smaller. 

For one thing, I was a whole foot taller. The same buildings from my grandparents’ town in Xiangtan and Wuhu felt ever so slightly shorter, and new housing development added in organized rows made me feel overwhelmed from seeing tall buildings everytime I looked up.

Similarly, the aunts and uncles I haven’t been able to see for years looked up at me when we talked, rather than my neck flipping backwards to see their faces. These changes made China seem bizarre and almost unrecognizable.

In Shanghai, I lived in a hotel next to five malls all adjacent to each other. Now, when I say malls, you may be thinking of something like West Valley Fair. But those malls make West Valley fair look puny. Each mall was at least 10 stories high with multiple stores on each floor. From food and clothes to movie theaters and arcades, it would take days to finish exploring even one mall. 

Foodwise, I tried a lot more different types compared to previous visits because I had more time to explore by myself. I actually got to buy McDonalds in China for once, something my parents would never let me do as a child. Most of the other food was as I remembered, just more variety like frog meat and stronger flavors like spicy and sour.

Everywhere I went, there were people covering every square foot. When I went to Xian, one of the most popular tourist cities in China — a single water show — got me squished in a crowd with over ten thousand people. Every mall, store or open area I went to, was packed with people. 

Although I certainly didn’t enjoy the moment of being with that many people along with the intense heat, the experience will forever be memorable.

I changed my perspective on China tremendously. If this trip had never happened, I would have never realized the countless number of shops, malls and restaurants China has to offer, and my thoughts of China would forever be of me stuck in my grandparents’ house playing games as a small child.

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