Written by Belle Edeoga, (Sarah Lawrence University) Student Correspondent CET Shanghai, Fall 2018
“Berlin isn’t all of Germany, and so Shanghai isn’t all of China. You haven’t seen China if you just stay in Shanghai.” The film professor in the program told us this during a lecture once, and as fall break came closer, his words stuck with me. I didn’t want my entire study abroad experience to be limited just to Shanghai and its surrounding cities. I wanted to see more aspects of China that couldn’t be found in an international city like Shanghai. I also wanted to try speaking Chinese without the safety net that the school, my roommate, and the city provided for foreigners.
I decided to go to Beijing with my roommate and then to Chengdu on my own. I used slow trains for both cities, so I could see the countryside as we passed. Both cities are famous for completely different reasons: Beijing as the political center of China, and Chengdu as the gastronomy city of China. I was interested in seeing how the local atmosphere differed from Shanghai. I spent three days in each city and given the chance I would have spent much longer.
When I arrived in Beijing, I experienced one of the difficulties foreigners face in China. Since my roommate booked the hotel, we both assumed that the hotel would take foreigners. Upon arriving at the hotel however, the staff told us that they (like many hotels in China), couldn’t serve foreigners. Thankfully, there was a hotel nearby that could serve foreigners and we booked a room there. In the three days I was in Beijing, I visited a lot of the tourist hot spots like The Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. I also tried various local dishes, including Beijing hotpot which was very different from the Sichuan hotpot in Shanghai and Chengdu.
I visited Chengdu for the same reason millions of tourists come to the city every year: to see the pandas. Beyond visiting the Giant Pandas Research Base, I also learned so much about Chengdu and Sichuan Province that has me itching to go back for more. My favorite day in Chengdu was spent at the Chuan Cuisine Museum which I discovered by accident. About an hour bus ride away from the city center, the museum has a tour package that includes cooking three authentic Sichuan dishes with a professional chef. Not only was I able to cook, I also learned about the evolution of Sichuan cuisine since the Shu Kingdom.
Traveling in China was a new and exciting experience; I realized visiting other cities sparked my interest in truly exploring Shanghai. Previously I felt that because I am currently living in the city, I had all the time I needed to discover new things. Yet the little time I spent in Beijing and Chengdu and my reluctance to leave the cities behind showed me that I must take advantage of the time I have remaining to really get to know the city I have lived in for the past three months. I am looking forward to my last six weeks in Shanghai, and I am so excited for what it may behold.