The other day, I was asked what I thought my luckiest moment had been. It’s a bit of a silly question really, didn’t know how to respond to that one – luckiest moment?! Pfft, stupid. In the end, I think I muttered something about my job and knee-jerkedly changed the subject. But it did get me thinking…
*flashback 3 years* China, yes that’s it. China changed everything.
I mentioned Chengdu briefly in my Places I’ve Been: In Pictures post, but here’s the full story. Back when I was 20 and a proper keen bean, I was just graduating university and eager to be paid for what I had slogged my guts out training for – a job in the media dahling. ‘Cos, let’s face it, everything seems exciting and sparkly at 20!
Just as I was about to log out of my old uni account for one of the last times, an email popped up – Subject: ‘Free trip to China’! At this point in my life, I’d never travelled further than Florida before, so what was the harm in having a quick nosey?
Turns out the University were offering paid bursaries for students like me to fly out to one of our partner colleges in Sichuan, on a summer trip to learn Mandarin and Chinese culture. Err, YES PLEASE! Long story short, I applied, got the gig, whacked in a visa application to the Chinese Embassy, booked flights and Bob’s your uncle – I was jetting off to Chengdu International 4 weeks later, on my own.
Yeah, I’d say that was a pretty lucky day.
A gruelling 19 hours travelling from Manchester to London Heathrow, to Hong Kong, and finally landing in Chengdu, I arrived bleary-eyed, totally alone and unable to speak a word of Chinese. Just as I was about to panic, I spotted an English girl across the baggage carousel – Lauren. She was on the same trip as me and we hit it off straight away. We wandered out of departures wondering how on earth we were going to explain to a taxi driver where we wanted to go, when we heard this whooping and cheering and people calling our names! There they were, just by the exit, a little student welcome party all dressed in blue T-shirts and waving bright red banners.
I fell in love with China right then.
Life lessons from Chengdu
Anyway, this blog post isn’t going to be all about me gallivanting around Sichuan and having a reet jolly ol’ time, though it was probably one of the best experiences of my life (aside from being awarded a Blue Peter badge, but let’s save that story for another day)! Here’s a few of the things I learnt in Chengdu which have shaped me into the person I am today.
Disclaimer: If you’re of a nervous disposition or feel queasy at soppy stuff, look away now. I’m about to get totes emosh.
You have been warned.
Ever seen that video of panda cubs whizzing down a slide? If you haven’t, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?! I watched it on repeat before I ended up in China. I’d watched documentary after documentary about pandas; pandas in the wild, pandas in captivity, pandas moving to Edinburgh, pandas on a panda plane, Kung Fu Panda. Argh! So cute.
Whilst I was in Chengdu, we were taken to the main panda research base where they breed and look after some of the only remaining Giant Pandas in the world. As you can imagine, I nearly had a meltdown.
Chinese way of life, enjoy food.
The Chinese love their food, just like me! To them, sitting down for dinner is a happy and shared experience. They have lots of little dishes, of mainly vegetables, which everyone is free to pick at. More food means abundance and success, so sitting down for dinner was often a 2 hour marathon! I wasn’t complaining!
We noticed that residents of the city seemed to walk extraordinarily slowly, despite the buzz of a 14 million strong population in Chengdu alone! It was quite frustrating at first, they just didn’t seem to be in a hurry, for anything! Our guides informed us that after the devastating earthquake in 2008, where just under 70,000 people lost their lives and many more families were affected, the people of Chengdu liked to take their time, slow down and appreciate life. We soon got into the swing of things. I mean, really, what’s the hurry?
Keep calm and drink tea
Bamboo gardens are possibly one of the most tranquil places on earth. The Chinese base their lives around them. They wake up, head to the park, do a spot of Tai Chi, stretch, drink tea, play Mahjong, get an ear massage – I’m not kidding! It’s wonderful, the garden – not the ear massage!
In the picture here, I’m trying my hand at Mahjong – with help. It’s all very confusing if you can’t read numeric Chinese characters. I won! It was a fluke.
Learn more languages
Each of the students we met had to pass an exam in English to be able to meet us, which was incredibly humbling! Most of the people I spoke to who were my age or younger, and already fluent in 2 or 3 languages!
I came away from China feeling totally inspired in so many ways, but it wasn’t until last Autumn that I pursued Mandarin by signing up to a class one night a week. I was totally surprised about how much I loved learning again, so much so I’ve decided I want to study my Masters degree in China in a couple of years time. I’ve just passed my first exam, so I’m well on my way to making that dream happen.
For now, I can cherish the photos, memories and lifelong friends I made in Chengdu – and remind myself how incredibly lucky I was to be chosen to take part.