My first encounter with this program was way back in March. I was on the school PC and there was an announcement for summer partner schools program on my.qmul.ac.uk. I chose to attend Sichuan University mainly because of the dates and with the knowledge that food and lodging will be covered. Ever since my application was accepted, I went through waves of excitement and anxiety prior to the trip.
On one hand, I was already on Trip Advisor and even Baidu (China’s version of Google) searching for the top tourist attractions and things to do when in Chengdu. At the briefing, I was elated when I knew someone else that I know, was going as well.
“OMG! I’m not alone”
Shortly after, a Facebook group for all ‘like-minded people’ was created. My friend and I monitored the flight prices and made plans for visa application.
On some days, I would ponder over what my time in Chengdu will be like. I have been to Beijing and Shanghai and they were both metropolis, I wondered if Chengdu will be the same. Will my time there be as advertised by study abroad programs; laughing with my group of multicultural new found friends under the sun? Can’t wait for exams to be over and fly across the globe for this!
And then there were also days when I feel vulnerable and insecure. Are the streets of Chengdu safe? Will I fit in with the rest? Is the long flight with Thai Airways going to be alright? Why did I sign up for this in the first place?
The day came when I had to leave London for Chengdu. I delayed till the very last minute and made it to the check in counter just minutes before it closes. When boarding the plane, I met my friend and 3 other students from Queen Mary. They were warm and my excitement to be in China grew stronger.
It was hot and sunny on the Sunday afternoon we arrived. Although drained from all the travelling, I was eager to explore Chengdu. We were greeted by the teacher in charge from Sichuan University at the motel. This was just the beginning of the day. After checking in, there was only 45 minutes to change and get ready for the opening ceremony in the Sichuan University Sports Hall.
While waiting to be picked up from the lobby, all of us met each other for the first time. Everyone casually chatted and the ice was broken; or rather, there was no ice in the first place. A group of students then came to greet us. They were our buddies. Each of us was assigned one (or more) student volunteer to guide us through the two weeks.
Photo: Us from Queen Mary and our buddies from Sichuan University met for the first time.
The opening ceremony began with some speeches. Then, the night was filled with a string of singing, dancing, martial arts and poetry reciting by the Sichuan University students. Due to sheer tiredness, I couldn’t absorb all that was presented that night. Our buddies brought us for dinner right after. It was my first encounter with authentic Sichuanese food. Love it or hate it, they were spicy. A Whatsapp group was created and we exchanged contact information with our new friends from Sichuan.
Every day in Chengdu was filled with activities. Basically, the first week was attending classes during the day and then exploring the city at night. Due to some email complications, I only met my buddy on Monday, a day later than the rest. He gave me an extensive campus tour and then we had dinner together. On Tuesday, we went to Jinli Old Street where shops are preserved in their original oriental design and there were stalls along the way selling souvenirs and local handicrafts. I stayed in on Wednesday to do laundry and catch up on my sleep.
On Thursday, we watched a changing of masks performance. Later that night, we had dinner at a restaurant that happens to sell 50 bottles of beer for 1¥. We certainly enjoyed the beer though we didn’t maximize the deal. And on Friday, I went for a Chinese tea party where a professional tea artist performed. The tea performance was over 10 minutes where she explained the significance of the tea set followed by brewing a chosen type of tea before serving it to the audience.
Visiting the Chengdu Panda Sanctuary on Saturday was the highlight of this trip. The experience of seeing a real panda is irreplaceable. It amazes me how a baby panda, sized of a palm, can grow into a bear so big. They also arranged for us to visit the Wenshu Yuan Monastery which still serves as a religious worship place for Taoists. To wind down after a day of sightseeing, some of us went for a massage.
It started off slow but one week has come and gone. Now that I’ve warmed up, there is only less than a week left in Chengdu.
The second week seemed to fly by in a blink of an eye. We went to hike Mount Qing Cheng（青城山）on one of the days. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the 3 hours of climbing steep staircases and the rain just made it tougher. Reaching the peak was a huge relief as we were clueless about how much more to go during the whole journey up. That said, a great sense of satisfaction filled me knowing that I survived the climb.
Photo: Some of us at the peak of Mt. Qing Cheng
On Wednesday, we went for karaoke. It was actually my first time in a KTV and I really really really enjoyed singing! That was something new I discovered about myself. I could also sing soundtracks from Taiwanese drama series that I’ve watched when I was younger. After spending the afternoon at the KTV, we had baked fish for dinner. They were cooked with black pepper sauce and tasted like fusion food to me; Sichuan ingredients cooked in Western sauce.
As the program was coming to an end, I had to do two presentations on Thursday; one for the social inequality class and the other for the closing ceremony. For the final assignment, we had to discuss a topic for 5-7 minutes in groups of 5. My group chose to talk about gender inequality.
Photo: Social Inequality with Dr. Fayyaz Hussain from Michigan State University
For the closing ceremony, my group recited a poem, The Traveling Cat, and sang a Chinese nursery rhyme, 两只老虎。All of us made videos or slide shows that compiles the photos taken throughout the two weeks. We took this opportunity to express our gratitude and appreciation to each other especially to the ever so wonderful buddies. Unfortunately, my buddy couldn’t make it because he was preparing for a test.
Before this trip, I didn’t expect to meet a bunch of kind people who were only too friendly for the introverted me. Most importantly, the buddies who helped us throughout our 2 weeks were the best thing for this entire trip. I wouldn’t have seen so much of Chengdu without their recommendation and company. Without them, I wouldn’t have climbed a mountain, tasted rabbit’s leg and pig’s brain or stumbled upon a place that offers beer at an insane price.
Thank you Sichuan University for this once in a lifetime exposure. I had no regrets spending that 2 weeks in China and I might go on another exchange again next year!!