Feng was born and raised in Shenyang, Liaoning, in Northeastern China. And this is where we were heading after cosmopolitan Shanghai—an industrial city, close to North Korea. Feng often speaks of his childhood in China in the 1970s and 1980s and while he has good memories of it, he has never painted a very glamourous picture of Shenyang, so my expectations were pretty low.
Our journey started in Pudong Airport, yet another Shanghai futuristic masterpiece. The airport was huge and we had to walk about 15 minutes to our gate. “It’d better not change!”, we joked. I was expecting restaurants and stores around the gate but it was strangely empty.
We boarded early, but we were stuck on the tarmac for 45 minutes. I guess only the trains run on time.
Two and a half hours later, we landed in Shenyang. The sky was blue and there were no North Korean dictator in sight, but several family members were waiting for us: my mother-in-law, an uncle, an aunt, a cousin plus husband and baby, and a cousin’s wife.
We first drove to Shenyang’s suburb—I’m not sure why, a story of car being borrowed and some people knowing the way better than others—then headed to the city centre. An aunt was lending us her empty apartment by the train station. We discovered building 12-12, floor 27, second apartment on the right, in a huge apartment community. The place was brand new and big enough for the three of us plus my mother-in-law—perfect! Okay, maybe not perfect: I didn’t know my mother-in-law was going to stay with us, I thought she’d be with her own mother. But hey, like the Chinese say, “if you can stand your mother-in-law’s constant criticism, you shall be rewarded with a chocolate cake”, so I didn’t complain (out loud).
Then, of course, we went to eat. Several traditional Northeastern dishes were on the menu, including dumplings and sweet potatoes dipped in sugar.
My first impressions of Shenyang were actually pretty good, and it got even better after we explored our area. It’s more modern than I had expected. The train station district, like most around the world, is busy, slightly dirty and packed with small businesses catering to locals. It’s fun and lively.
We walked all the way down Zhonghua Jie, where a huge statue of Mao Zedong looms over Shenyang’s main avenues and a busy roundabout. There are several popular pedestrian streets, the weather isn’s bad at all and there are a few sights to explore.
If it was my first time ever in China, I’d probably be shocked. But by now, I’m comfortable enough to just enjoy Shenyang and fake a Northeastern accent if needed.