One Year

I cannot believe that it has been a whole year since I went to Chengdu. That trip affected my life in so many ways, I am not completely able to comprehend.

My Three Favorite Things:

1. Sichuan Food

I MISS IT SO SO SO MUCH. It was so good and there has not been any real substitute for me. I thankfully brought back some spices with me, 花椒 (numbing pepper) and 辣椒 (hot pepper). I can still use them to cook green beans or fried rice. I also found this Sichuan restaurant in Gainesville where they serve hot pot, pots of tea, and my favorite dish 回锅肉 (twice cooked pork). The one thing that definitely has not been the same is the fried rice. I miss the fried rice from the restaurant we used to go to every day that was right next door to the university.

2. Subway Transportation

My appreciation for public transportation increased 100000%. The subway system was new, clean, cheap, and incredibly efficient. You could get to many places with just the subway at your disposal. Even if the subway did not have your stop (because more lines were still being built), you could take the bus. We had a large bus station right near the university where you could go on multiple routes. Even with these modes of transportation, you could always take a taxi. I just appreciated my ability to get wherever I wanted without having to drive. I did not even need to plan a trip, sometimes we would just look at the map at the station and then decide where to go. My trip to Chengdu has convinced me that I want to live somewhere with great city-wide public transportation available.

3. Constant Discovery

Although it did not always feel like it at the time, I learned something new every day during my trip. I either tried a dish I had never eaten before, went to a new shop, met a new person, traveled to a new place. I was studying in a classroom with students from all over the world. I got to partake in new games, like mahjong. I had the ability to go completely outside of my comfort zone: I stayed in a hostel in Hong Kong, slept in the Beijing airport, and ate meals of dumplings and chocolate shakes. I admit, coming home felt as if I were giving up all of my freedom I had gained. But, I have found ways to incorporate that attitude into my life. I try to spend weekends going to new places around my hometown, and traveled with my friends to Atlanta. While I do have my usual places I go to often, I go out of my way to try new things.

Looking back a year later, I am so grateful for this experience. You can be sure I will be going back.

 

Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are only an hour apart via ferry, so we knew we had to go. We took the ferry there, since it is the fastest and cheapest route. It was surprisingly comfortable and nice. When we arrived, all the signs were in three languages: English, Chinese, and Portuguese. It was so strange entering a place (special administrative region) with such Portuguese characteristics. Obviously, this was due to Macau being a Portuguese colony until 1999. I knew beforehand that this was true, but it was very interesting to see the effects of Macau’s history.

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Inside The Venetian

Macau is the world’s largest gambling center, so visiting some of the famous casinos was a must. The first thing we did was take a free shuttle from the ferry to The Venetian. The gambling age in Macau is 21, so none of us were losing any money, but we did look around. It was crazy to see all the work they had put into recreating the city of Venice, including the architecture, the water, and even the gondolas.  It was kind of breathtaking. And this place was gigantic! There were so many expensive stores, to the point where you could get lost in there (probably their intention).

We then left the big city area to see another monastery. Though it was not as intricate or large as some other monasteries I have seen over the past month, I feel like it was the most authentic. All of the other monasteries and temples we have been to were pilgrimage sites, while this place was definitely just a temple for locals. It was simple, with only one room, but still retained the traditional Chinese architecture. It was so odd going from somewhere like the Venetian to this small place. Then we went to a fort, the Fortaleza de Monte. From the top (there was a bit of a climb), you could see a lot of the city. It was very relaxing to just sit and listen to the people who were having an impromptu concert.

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Our view from the bottom of the tower

After walking around the fort, we visited the viewing tower. We never actually went to the top since that cost more money than we were willing to spend, but we did get to watch someone bungee jump off it! The Macau Tower had the highest bungee jump in the world! My friend was seriously tempted to sign up, but was stopped when she was reminded that she was a student and needed to think about her tuition expenses. At the end of the day, we went back to the city center to look at all the lights from the casinos. It was fun to walk through and see the streaming color wherever you turned.

As we took the ferry back, we all fell asleep after the exhausting day.

Lantau Island

On my first official day in Hong Kong (and probably my favorite) I went to Lantau Island. This took a fairly long subway ride, in which we passed Disneyland and did not go. I was pretty sad that I missed my chance to go to Chinese Disney, but I only live three hours away from Disney World in Florida so I guess I can survive. The first thing we saw was the Tian Tan Buddha. This Buddha sits on top of a hill and is 32 meters, so you can see it from far distances. It was amazing to walk up the steps and enter into the temple that was underneath the Buddha, which was beautiful. Standing outside, you could look out into the mountains and the fog rolling in. Walking around, you could look at the Buddha from all angles. There were also statues surrounding this large Buddha, presenting offerings. Even with all the people there (this is definitely a tourist destination), I still felt at peace.

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After walking back down all the steps, we entered the most beautiful monastery I have ever seen. I consider myself a Buddhist monastery connoisseur, and this was by far the most amazing place I have ever seen. There were five gold plated Buddhas sitting center stage in the room. The whole space was covered in gold: the walls, the ceiling. There were millions of little gold tiles serving as the wallpaper. It was intricate and unbelievable. You are generally not allowed to take pictures inside Buddhist temples, but this time I had to step outside and take a picture. The entire time I was in there, I could not help but feeling awe-inspired. I honestly think people should come to Hong Kong just to view this place.

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After this, we went on the “Path of Wisdom”, where we did not become much wiser, but we did walk beside a bull for a few minutes. Then when we went to a beach on the island, we saw even more cows just wandering. It was such a strange (and cool) experience. I learned there are many cows in Hong Kong, so the people there are able to eat a lot of cheese. This was very different than what I am used to, since in Chengdu you can never find cheese. We enjoyed seeing the cows and even took a few pictures with them (of course).IMG_4595

Lastly, we tried to find pink dolphins. On the island, there is a certain area where wild pink dolphins live, and sometimes you can see them. Sadly, we did not get to see any, but we did have amazing seafood. Hong Kong cuisine is Guangdong cai, which is known for milder flavors and seafood, so of course we had to try it! We had squid and clams, but the best thing we ate was definitely the prawns. The cook grills the prawns with cheese, garlic, and onion on a grill outside. They were unlike anything I have ever eaten. My friends even tried the eye of the prawn. There was a major price difference between Hong Kong food and Chengdu food, though. It was much more expensive. It is cheap for the United States, about 13 USD, but I am so used to Chengdu prices where I can pay 2 USD for a filling meal.

Lantau Island was beautiful and interesting and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to go.

Cooking Class and Travel

I learned how to make Sichuan food last monday! For our culture class, someone came in and taught us four different Sichuan food dishes. We learned how to make fried green beans, gongpao chicken, fish flavor eggplant, and sweet pork. All of these dishes use the major ingredients of Sichuan cooking, which are numbing pepper, hot Sichuan pepper, garlic, and salt. Best of all, we got to taste everything that was made. I am super excited to go home and recreate the foods that I have grown to love and I do not think I can live without when I get back home in less than a week (!!!!)

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My favorite dish of the day

Tuesday my friend, Therese, and I booked our flights to Beijing! We are going to have the quickest trip ever and visit the Great Wall on Saturday!

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The beautiful view of mountains and water as we arrived

Wednesday my first trip began. My flight for Hong Kong left at 3 in the afternoon, so I left class a little early so I could get all my things ready and take a taxi with the two classmates I was traveling with. I only brought one backpack and one purse for our almost five day trip (Wednesday-Monday). The flight went smoothly and we took the bus to our hostel. This is my first experience with hostels, and I was a little nervous, but it ended up being very safe. Our hostel had a key pad lock just to get in and then key locks to get into our room, so I felt very secure. I still did not bring my laptop…which is why I have so much to catch up on. Our room was right outside a sort of landmark of Hong Kong, the Chungking Mansions. It is a place where you can find fake watches and electronics. It was a little offputting to be offered things every time I walked in, but it kind of reminded me of walking through campus when students are campaining for student government. I adapted really quickly.

That night ended with a walk at the pavilion, looking at the skyline of Hong Kong Island.

Chinese Games and Host Family Activities

I learned a new game during class on Friday. We had extra time at the end of class, so my teacher thought it would be fun to play a spy game. On her phone, every person would choose a card, and that card would give them an object. Everyone would get the same object except for the spy. But even the spy would not know that they were the spy. During one of the games everyone else had “eyes” and the spy had “eye glasses”. We had to go around the circle and say something about our object..but in Chinese. It was a really fun game, except I ended up being the spy twice(!) It was a really good way to practice speaking and listening to Chinese.

Other side note about Friday*** I tried corn ice cream and it was not too terrible, although my classmates may disagree since they almost gagged.

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Passage in Jinli Street where people can write their wishes on red tassles

I spent all day Sunday with my host mom and her friend Angela who acted as my translator. We started the day off with a fancy breakfast at a traditional Guandong restaurant. It was pretty cool to try food from the Guandong region since you can only get Sichuan food in Chengdu. The food was really good: I had shrimp dumplings, baozi with extremely sweet yellow filling, and steak with pepper that honestly tasted like something I would eat in the United States. On our way out of the parking garage our car had to actually go in an elevator which was an interesting experience. Then we went to Jinli street which was really cool. All along the road there are stores with little crafts, tea houses and traditional Sichuan snacks. It was really cool to look around at everything, and I even found some souvenirs for people. Sadly it was EXTREMELY hot so we needed to take a rest in air conditioning for a while. This is where I tried Chinese Starbucks for the first time. They had some different flavors, but it was pretty similar to the Starbucks in the United States. I think there were definitely more Chinese characteristics in the building though, whereas every Starbucks in the U.S. look very similar.IMG_4504

After Jinli, we went to a gigantic flower center. My host mom told me that this is where all the flowers in Chengdu go to be sold. It was incredible. I bought my host mom an orchid as a present for all she had done for me while here. In turn, she ended up buying me three bouquets of flowers. My dorm has an overwhelming smell of flowers every time I walk in now. Next we went to her house and her husband served us tea. I was thankful to be finally out of the heat which rivals a Florida summer. The tea was very interesting because her husband served us in the traditional manner. My tiny cup was constantly being refilled. The last event of the day was a family style Sichuan meal which was delicious as usual.

The day was long, fun, and full of activities and I was ready to go to sleep.