Beijing - At 81, Chen Yuying is not as steady on her feet as she used to be. Yet, when she stepped off the airplane in Taiwan she might as well have been floating on air.
After more than 20 years apart, she was finally standing face to face with her elder brother.
Chen Yuying, 81, heads to her gate at Beijing Capital International Airport before leaving to meet her brother in Taiwan on June 28. Grandsons Ji Jianchun (right) and Liu Ruisong were accompanying her. [Zou Hong / China Daily]
"I can't believe this is happening," said Chen, who was one of the first mainlanders to travel to the island as an "individual tourist" since the pilot program started on June 28.
Chen, who is staying with family in Taichung, 170 kilometers south of Taipei, has longed to make the journey since her brother moved to Taiwan six decades ago.
The duo last saw each other in 1990 in Beijing. However, due to their ages and the fact that both had to overcome complicated procedures to visit each other (until mid-2008 mainlanders had to fly to other countries or regions before landing in Taiwan), Chen admitted she was not hopeful of them seeing each other again.
"They kept in close contact, writing and calling a lot," said grandson Ji Jianchun. "But at the bottom of her heart I think she feared they'd never meet in person again."
As cross-Straits cooperation has developed, an agreement was reached to allow mainlanders to travel directly to the island as part of group tours from July 2008. However, as visitors had to follow set itineraries, it would have left little time for Chen to spend with her brother, so she gave up the idea.
That was, until the free individual travel (FIT) program across the Straits was announced.
"I still remember calling my grandma on the phone in early June to give her the news," recalled Ji, smiling. "She was shocked. 'Really?' she asked. She thought I was kidding her."
Ji said he learned from a friend that the FIT program would allow residents from Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen in Fujian province to visit Taiwan as individuals from June 28.
After making a successful application, Chen was among the many mainlanders waiting to board flights at Beijing Capital International Airport bound for Taiwan on the first day of the program.
"It took no more than three days to apply and be approved," said Ji, who along with his cousin Liu Ruisong is accompanying his grandma on the trip.
After a more than three-hour flight, the separated siblings were finally reunited at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport.
Both were speechless, said Ji, as he recalled the scene. The only thing Chen managed to say was "brother". Taking her hand and with tears in his eyes, her brother replied: "Sister, I feared I wouldn't see you again."
Chen has spent much of her time catching up with her 86-year-old brother and his family in Taichung. Ji said when his grandma came across a photograph of her mother in an album she could not help weeping.
Chen's grandsons have taken the chance to travel around the island, taking in the sights and getting a taste of local delicacies. They had planned to return on July 2 but have instead decided to stay the maximum 15 days allowed to help take Chen sightseeing.
The family will visit Tainan, a southern city on the island, and Sun Moon Lake, a popular tourist resort.
"Sure, I'll come again if my health allows," Chen added.