Can Do! Chengdu! – First Impressions and The Quest of Mount Emei
“HALF OF THE FORTUNE GLOBAL 500 ARE IN MY HOMETOWN. CAN DO! CHENGDU!”
By Brigitte Janssen, University of London Graduate
If you have been travelling from airport to airport much lately you may have noticed this eye-catching advertisement, depicting the cuddly panda bear wearing what seems like an astronaut suit. Having had no prior knowledge of this city in the Southwest of China, these billboards (which I have spotted in Hong Kong and Frankfurt so far) were my first insight to Chengdu’s almost frightening economic and industrial rise. The countless building sites and the surprisingly modern subway trains and stations were my second. I was thoroughly impressed.
It was not my first time in China. I grew up mainly in Europe but I have always had an insatiable curiosity for all things Chinese. When I finished my A-Levels, I took up Chinese as my major at university, which allowed me to spend a year in Beijing. After a few months of getting used to the fast-paced Chinese lifestyle, I managed to cope fairly well. So, when I arrived in Chengdu, it was not as big a culture shock as I had experienced before, although this time, I was taking part in an internship.
I had found InternChina through my University Job-board. I was looking to gather experience and brush up on my Chinese, so the location, the six-month timeframe, and the job description were exactly what I was looking for to bulk up my CV a little and get a taste of ‘the real world’. What do I do here? In a nutshell, I’m an intern that takes care of interns. InternChina opens the doors to foreign students who want to take up an internship in China. We make sure students are selected, placed in Chinese or Western companies, and even accommodated in order to make their placement experience as carefree as possible. After all, when you’re in China for the first time, dealing with endless legal paperwork is not top of the list. Learning Chinese might be, but we offer language courses too, so you’d be fully equipped for your new start here.
When I arrived in Chengdu, I was picked up, settled in, showed my workplace and my tasks, and introduced to my lovely colleagues. All was well. Until lunchtime. Sichuan is notoriously famous for spicy food and unfortunately I’m a wimp when it comes to hot flavours. If you’re a fan of dishes drowned in vibrant hues of red, sprinkled with a generous amount of chillies and Sichuan peppers, then the food here will fulfil all your culinary desires. As for myself, with my still-limited knowledge of Chinese food names, the choices on the menu are considerably narrower. Thus, on my first day, as I half-sat-half-crouched on the low, wobbly stools, around an even less steady table, I contented myself with a serving of non-spicy egg and tomato – something the locals would probably call child-friendly.
Now, after three weeks of trial and error, I have found plenty of dishes that I am able to eat without setting off a fire alarm in my mouth. I have been told that one can train your taste buds to endure the zing, though I have yet to see the fruit of such training. If you accidently bite down on one of the hidden Sichuan peppers, don’t fret – you haven’t been poisoned. The slow deadening of senses in your mouth is just a temporary effect of the spice…
While you’re in China, assuming you get weekends off and an occasional holiday, of course you’re going to want to travel and explore. I was fortunate enough to arrive just before the Golden Week – China’s semi-annual seven-day national holiday. Plan a trip during this time of the year, and you’re in for a whole new travelling experience. My InternChina buddies were all fired up to get out of the city, so for my first holidays, being couch potato was out of the question.
We came up with the idea of a two-day hiking trip to Mount Emei. Unbeknownst to us, thousands of other Chinese people had the same idea. The crowds started at the bus station. Going through security does make you wonder what the point of metal detectors is, if people walk through it shoulder to shoulder, mobile phones and cameras in hand. The constant disapproving wail of the machine didn’t seem to bother the officers though.
Once we survived the 3 hour bus journey, we began our ascent. The slope was gentle at first, but moving was fairly slow as we matched our pace to the river of people. Narrow paths were especially tricky. The rest of the day consisted of walking, resting, walking, walking, walking. Rinse and repeat. The stairs were never-ending, and soon even the beautiful scenery lost its shine as one focuses all efforts on not missing the next step. By afternoon, only the occasional wild monkeys were a perk. Twenty-five kilometres later, when we finally arrived at a temple that offered accommodation, it was already dark, and I passed out in bed before 8pm.
We set out for the last fifteen kilometres early the next morning. I would have protested more, were it not for the breathtaking landscape. We were surrounded by mountains shrouded in light fog, accompanied by a soothing chorus of waking birds. There was also far less human activity on this route, which made the hiking actually enjoyable. When we reached the last stretch of the mountain at last, the crowds came flooding in again. Turns out you can take a bus to the top…
Despite the rather arduous trek (granted, I do not count myself amongst the fittest) the trip was an incredible experience. If you challenge yourself to conquer Mount Emei on foot, you will feel on top of the world on its summit.
Now back at the office, life has resumed a normal (and less strenuous) pace. However, it’s a fun kind of normal, with many perks along the way. The decision to take an internship here has proven to be the perfect mix of work experience, culture training and fun, and I am eager to see what the coming six months have in store for me. And as the saying goes: Can do! Chengdu!