Sichuan Summer Camp Diaries: Week One

airport-selfie3 July 2015: Leeds Bradford airport to Sichuan

Friday 3rd July finally came around and we all could not believe this was actually happening – seven of us students from the University of Bradford would be going to China for two whole weeks! We were all very excited and it was great seeing everyone again at the airport. All the checks-baggage checks, weighing, check-in, ran smoothly and soon enough we found ourselves in the waiting area, grabbing a bite to eat before the short journey to Amsterdam and then a longer one to Chengdu. We spent this time getting to know each other as well, and sharing our thoughts and feelings. Since we were surrounded by food, a hot topic amongst us was the Chinese food we would be consuming very soon.

The change at Amsterdam quickly went by, as we went from one end of the airport to the other where we would board, and the walk itself was at least 15 minutes. It was a lovely brief stop, giving us a chance to see a tiny glimpse of Amsterdam whilst also sending a quick message home. Overall, the journey and especially the flights were incredible, with beautiful views of the sunset, and 12 hours flew by to land us the next day on the other side of the world. With a time difference of 7 hours, we were all slightly disorientated, but the excitement of finally being in China on a bright and sunny Saturday morning over-ruled this and left us all feeling amazed.

4 July: Walk around the local area in Chengdu

On our first day of arriving in Chengdu, we met our student guide Rainny and her friend. She was really nice and took us on a pre-tour of the Wanjiang campus. The mini tour started at the North Gate, a red gate that we will become very familiar with throughout the trip, since it was to be our main meeting point. We then wandered around the local area near our hotel. From there we went to find a China mobile shop to get sim-cards. In China we needed to have our passports to scan to receive sim-cards. We would have to go back before we left to delete our sim-card accounts according to Chinese law. We were also on the hunt for an ATM that accepted international bankcards. We did not find any on the first day but after getting to know the city a bit more we did find one. This brief tour gave us an early mental map for the start of our trip. It was a good first day in Chengdu.

After our long walk enjoying the scenery of the wide campus and city, we joined Dr Shang to go for our first meal together. The majority of the group was new to the dining in China. It differs from the western method of each person ordering an individual dish. The table had a Lazy Susan in the center and everyone was given a bowl of rice and chopsticks. The main dishes were spread across the Lazy Susan, which allowed everyone to sample what they fancied. It was a bit of an adventure to try the Chinese food, as it was not something we were used to and many of us were struggling to learn to use chopsticks (which we had to pick up quickly to survive in China).

5 July: Tianfu Square and Shopping

In the morning we travelled via taxis to Tianfu Square, which is in the centre of Chengdu. The square contains a statue of Chairman Mao, who was once a Chinese communist revolutionary. Tianfu Square also boasts scenic features such as fountains, various art structures and gardens. The tall skyscrapers of downtown Chengdu surround the perimeter. Whilst looking around, we were greeted by many local people who were taking photos of us and eventually photos with us. It was the first time this happened since we had arrived and so we were all a little thrown back by the amount of attention we were receiving, but the people were very friendly and excited, so it was a fun little celebrity session. We also came across the sun and bird symbol, which is of great importance to Sichuan historically, and one we would frequently come across in other places. From an aerial view, Tianfu square is seen as the yin-yang symbol.

In the afternoon, we went to do some shopping in the city center and have a look at the streets and shops around Tianfu Square. We then entered a huge shopping mall, which was designed in a zigzag pattern, and had many modern designer shops, so we had a relaxing look around. There were food places too, and due to the heat outside, we found it fitting to stop at a dessert café for some delicious cold fruit juices. There were lots of interesting flavours but most of us fell in love with the watermelon juice. Ice creams were a must, but nothing can beat trying the green-tea flavoured ice cream! The day was nearly ending and off we were back to our hotels in taxis, which turned out to be very cheap as most transport in China is.

6 July: Wangjiang campus tour, history museum, nature museum, and welcome dinner

All of us were very excited to see the main campus closest to our hotel, through the North gate entrance, which we had seen in pictures prior to the journey. Within the hour we established that it is huge, but stunningly picturesque, with only the university buildings alluding to it being an educational site. We all particularly enjoyed the sight of the North Gate entrance, and took many pictures of it and of us standing beneath it. The tour also allowed us to get acquainted to the University of Connecticut students who were joining us on our adventures

In the early afternoon we initially went to the Sichuan University History Museum, where we were given a guided tour. The tour showed us the ancient priceless Chinese relics that included marriage culture to the start of different beliefs in china. It gave us insight into ancient China and allowed us to make comparisons to modern China.

In the afternoon, we visited Sichuan University Nature Museum, which was located at a different site. The museum hosts a broad collection of exhibits, having 600,000 animal and plant specimens. The tour gave us a glimpse into what ecologic abundance thrived in the fertile regions of the Sichuan province. It was equally interesting to learn about the features of early civilizations.

In the evening we attended the welcome dinner hosted by our organiser Professor Sun, from Sichuan University. The meal had many traditional Chinese dishes around the Lazy Susan, allowing us to sample a wide variety of delicious dishes unlike western set meals. We got closer to our newly met companions from University of Connecticut and Tennessee University.

7 July: Jiang’an campus tour and Professor Yang lecture on environmental and natural resources: China vs USA

On our fourth day in Chengdu, we went to visit a different campus of Sichuan University, called Jiang’an Campus, with the students and staff from University of Connecticut. It was a newer campus and was exceptionally beautiful. It had lakes, peaceful gardens and two cafeterias. This campus is built outside the city and so we travelled by coach. We spent the morning walking around the lakes of the campus and admiring the greenery, whilst chatting away about university studies. The campus has the longest bridge of any university in China, stretching 418 meters long across the river.

In the early afternoon we had lunch at one of the cafeterias. They have a kiosk system where dishes are made by chefs and are lined up in bowls. You take whichever dish you want and scan your prepaid student card to pay for the dish. The prices of lunches, and food in general, are very cheap compared to the UK.

Later in the afternoon, after our tour of Jiang’an campus, we returned to the Wangjiang campus for a lecture with Professor Yang from the University of Connecticut. We learnt about differences between China and USA in terms of natural resources, topography and climate. The lecture was very interesting and gave us a chance to learn more about China. The building where the lecture occurred was old but the interior has been renovated with modern teaching facilities. The windows are tall allowing a cool breeze to drift into the lecture room, which helped keep the room cool along with the ceiling fans.

8 July: Chengdu Panda Breeding Centre

The Panda Conservation Center was one of the most fun filled activities. Most of us had never seen a panda before so we were all excited to see them.
After a couple of hours drive, we arrived to find a massive area with a screening of the Kung Fu Panda film on a big screen. To begin with, we had a guided tour that told us about the different types of pandas, their natural habitat, food intake and daily life. The adorable pandas were sleeping, playing and eating bamboo sticks. Once the tour finished, we went in smaller groups to leisurely look around, admiring both the pandas and the exquisite greenery around us. We even found out about a type of panda most of us had never heard of called the red panda, which looked like a raccoon and was much smaller than the normal black and white pandas.
Half way through, we even had one of the red pandas stroll right past us whilst we were journeying around the huge center.

IMG_0538We all seemed to drift towards the nursery direction of the center. Usually at the nursery there is a baby panda available in an incubator for everyone to see, however unfortunately we were not able to see any baby pandas because of tests and other pregnant pandas. Instead, we did enjoy watching the toddlers play around, who were pretty big and active. Forests, bridges and flower gardens, which we enjoyed walking through, surrounded the center. Shortly after, we all had a rest next to a beautiful lake consuming noodles and ice cream. Some of the group continued their adventure past the lake to explore the places beyond, finding tea gardens and tourist shops. The day was fun filled and definitely one of the big highlights of the trip.

9 July: Professor Yue lecture on conservation of the giant panda and Water Living Park

We had a lecture by professor Yue at Sichuan University where we were educated about panda conservation and musk deer conservation. This was very interesting because after having visited the Chengdu Panda Center, we were excited to be able to learn more about them, in particular about the effort involved in looking after them. We learnt that pandas are an endangered species due to loss of habitat, which isolates panda populations, thereby preventing mating. A further reason they are endangered is due to hunting, which is an ever-present threat. The Chinese government has now made it illegal to poach pandas in an effort to sustain their numbers. The musk deer are hunted because of the musk the males produce, as it is used for Traditional Chinese Medicine, which has led to the declining population. The period of musk production is brief which leads to increased periods of poaching. We learnt about methods of tracking the deer and pandas, which will help to conserve their populations.

This lecture was an eye opener to the efforts that China is going to stop the panda and the male deer from becoming extinct.

In the afternoon we visited the Living Water Park, where the pure beauty we found astounded us. Not only is this park a refuge for wildlife and plants and a stunning place to be, it also cleans 200 cubic meters of polluted river water each day, making it clean enough to drink. In this international award-winning park, the locals, who were having one of their many gatherings, welcomed us. Here they play music and sing together. Some of our group were pulled up on stage where the band started to play jingle bells, as it was the only English song they knew. It was so amazing to feel so welcomed by so many strangers.

After the water park we headed to a local famous landmark called Anshun Bridge. We took photos and rested after our busy day at the Living Water Park. The bridge has a traditional Chinese design that made it a beautiful sight. In the middle of the bridge is a restaurant.

See the whole Sichuan Summer Immersion Camp blog series.

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