A Semester in China

Posted on April 25, 2012

The Leshan BuddhaThe Leshan BuddhaIn the summer 2012 semester of my college calendar, I will be taking a study abroad trip to Chengdu, China. I will be going from June 10 to July 9. On my trip, I will earn 15 credits towards my college degree; it will be funded through both financial aid and a Fountain House scholarship. Chengdu is located in the southwestern region of China, in Sichuan province. It is considered one of the less culturally sophisticated regions of China. I read an article about a man who studied at Sichuan University and then visited Beijing and ate in a chic restaurant. When he placed his order with the waitress, the waitress looked shrewdly at him and asked him where he learned to speak Mandarin. When he told her, “Chengdu,” she nodded knowingly and walked away. “I didn’t realize until later,” he said, “that it had been as if I had spoken to a New Yorker in Appalachian English.”

However, I am eager to visit Chengdu. Despite its provinciality, Chengdu was named the second biggest culinary capital of the world by the Institute of Culinary Education. Sichuanese cuisine uses 20 different cooking techniques and is replete with flavor combinations that challenge the tastebuds. There are many different types of street food, such as “tea eggs” - hard-boiled eggs soaked in black tea - that are alien to Western palates. Chengdu has a much-revered teahouse culture that encourages leisurely repose for hours over a cup of tea in a relaxed and open environment, not unlike the coffeehouses of yore in Paris and London. And, of course, the culture itself will undoubtedly manifest differences in a way that creates intellectual and psychological interest.

My trip will be jam-packed with exciting events. I will spend three weeks in Chengdu and one week in Beijing. In Chengdu, I will visit a panda reserve to see the endangered animals, see the Dujiangyen irrigation works, visit the Leshan Buddha (the largest carved stone Buddha in the world), and visit a real functional Buddhist temple. However, my most anticipated event in Chengdu is a visit to Mount Emei, one of the most sacred Chinese sites in Buddhism. The lore is that an emperor sent an emissary to India to retrieve ancient Buddhist texts. When he returned, he was requested to set up a temple on Mount Emei, and the temple became one of the most sacred in the country. Our group will spend the night on Mount Emei to watch the sun come up. As a woman who was born into the Buddhist religion and whose father was a Buddhist religious leader, this is a sacred experience for me.

In Beijing, I will have a traditional Peking duck dinner, see a traditional Chinese opera, visit the Great Wall, and see the Temple of Heaven. I am so looking forward to my trip. It will be the experience of a lifetime, and I cannot wait to go.
Helen O'Neill
Education Unit, Fountain House

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