What it’s like to travel in China in 2020

We left Shanghai this past weekend, for the first time since arriving in March. Actually, that’s a lie. I left for a weekend in Moganshan back in May, which was a two-hour drive away into the mountains of Zhejiang. But it took almost 4 hours to register with the police, verify our arrivals, our QR codes, etc, and that put me off of traveling for the next few months.

What is the airport like in the age of COVID?

It’s lots and lots of face masks, temperature checks in airports, airport staff donning masks, protective face shields, and plastic gloves. During the pat-down, the security agents ask you to pull down your mask, to make sure you are not hiding a weapon underneath. Doctors in full PPE checking for everyone’s QR codes upon leaving the airport.

It’s masks on the airplane and airplane legs without food and drink service (though that’s common in the States, I feel like in China we are spoiled with a full meal even on a 1.5 hour flight). On the way to Qingdao, Juneyao airlines gave us a bottle of water. China eastern airlines gave us a bottle of water, a banana, and come cookies.

In March, flight felt much less safe. There were hourly temperature checks on the plane. Medical staff in full PPE boarded the planes to check our temperatures before deplaning. We could only disembark in groups and had two rounds of interrogations regarding travel history.

The Qingdao beer festival

This was a real China weekend. Questionable seafood – ga la steamed clams, xiao long xia crawfish, razor clams, giant shrimp, sea scallops, and even starfish (they tasted like fishy bread, not a big fan). Squat toilets everywhere. Cheap beer, or rather cheap qingdao on tap in every bar we went. I feel like after the weekend my body is half clam and half qingdao beer.

There is an organized chaos to events in China that I often don’t feel back home. The annual Qingdao beer festival is kind of like a music festival, if all of the headliners were breweries owned by Anheuser-Busch. There are massive tents with dancers, techno music, and drinks and people sitting around giant 3L towers of beer, snacking on pickled edamame and dried fish. There are lamb skewers, the ground littered with plastic gloves (the type you use to eat steamed crawfish), and bubble tea. There are light up headbands, electric fans to cool you off, carnival rides that offer more nausea than thrills and what looked like either a bounce house or a haunted house (we weren’t sure, so we steered clear). Every time a group leaves a table, it looks like a hurricane left utter destruction in its wake, but it’s cleaned up within minutes. Men are all sporting the ‘beijing bikini’, t-shirts and white tank tops pulled up over their beer bellies and tucked under their chests to cool off, because there is no AC. By the end of the night, the beer suds, sweat, chuanr skewer smoke, fried oil, and you become one entity.

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