After the food edition in part 1, here is the more comprehensive Chengdu entry. Be warned of the photo spam, but more could be found on Facebook, for the photo addict 😉
China, though my home for the first 8 years of my life, is a mystery to be unravelled. The last time I visited China was during the summer in 2010. Every time I go back to China, a mix of joy, excitement, and nervousness brews inside of me. There is something that always connects you with the place where you were born, no matter how long ago you’ve left and how far away you’ve gone. It’s like tracing your steps back to your roots. You find your way through the most unfamiliar territories, but end up right back at where you started, in the very beginning. Do you still call it home? CAN you still call it home?
9 hours from Amsterdam to Chengdu. With every second, the little airplane icon on the screen moved closer to the destination, and the heart anticipated a little bit more. I dared not imagine what awaited me in the motherland. This would be an adventure, just like any other, except nothing like any other.
The 9th WBC
The 9th World Biomaterials Congress was the reason why I had the opportunity to go to Chengdu in the first place. The 5-day event, held every 4 years, is the biggest and most important conference in my field of work, and this year it happened to be in China. (A side note: the next one, to be held in 2016, will be in Montreal, Canada!) I went with my entire lab in France, a group of 6. In the name of academia, we were off!
From Bordeaux to Chengdu, we’d only have to make a transfer in Amsterdam with KLM – I was so glad we didn’t have to go through Paris! Upon landing in China, the group promptly took a taxi to the hotel in downtown Chengdu. I was surprised to see banners on the side of the highway advertising the congress (or conference, I’ll use these terms interchangeably)…I didn’t know it was such a big deal!
And indeed, it was a big deal. When we arrived in Tianfu Square, near our hotel, I was again amazed to see a big welcome banner under the giant statue of Chairman Mao Zedong in front of the Sichuan Science and Technology Museum. Written in white on a red background, it reads, “Warm congratulations to the grand opening of the 9th World Biomaterials Congress”. Eh, serious stuff we’re getting ourselves into here, huh.
Chengdu welcomed approximately 3000 guests for this conference from all over the world, ranging from renowned scientists in the field to researchers to students to industrial partners. Here we were at the opening ceremony. Over the next 5 days we would be expected to attend plenary lectures, keynote lectures, and a variety of oral and poster presentations. from 8am to 5pm, our days were nothing short of being jam packed!
The grand opening ceremony made me feel like I was attending some important official meeting in China, the ones I’ve only ever seen on TV. Lots of big shots were invited to the ceremony, apparently, but 2 hours of repetitive speeches (in Chinese, which surprised and disappointed me at an INTERNATIONAL conference) were quite an overkill…
From left to right, top to bottom: (1) Annie giving a 5-minute “rapid fire” poster presentation, (2) Omar’s presentation, (3) Loic’s presentation, (4) Hugo’s presentation (he is from another lab), (5) Julie’s presentation, (6) Engler’s keynote lecture – this guy is prominent in my area of research, (7) Yifeng’s presentation, and (8) Marie’s presentation – this would be my supervisor in France.
Of course, the people from our group all had presentations to give. Everyone had an oral presentation, except for me, who only had a chance to present a poster… 😦 It was still an excellent opportunity though, being able to speak in a big conference like this!
The rest of the conference was pretty much the same, so I won’t bore you with all the details. Let’s go on to something more interesting.
Home of the giant pandas
Seeing pandas is almost equivalent to earning the “I’ve been to Chengdu” badge. What place in the world is most well-known for the giant pandas? Sichuan province in China, of course! Knowing this, the conference committee organized a one-day tour of Chengdu where we visited the panda base in the morning and explored old Chengdu in the afternoon. Ready to see the national treasures?
Sometimes I feel like pandas are treated better than humans in China. Perhaps there is some truth to this, but I’m not gonna go any further into this issue…just a feeling.
Panda spotted! Someone asked, “What sound does the panda make?” My supervisor Marie humourously remarked that all we heard were the “CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH” sounds of the pandas eating the bamboo shoots. Oh dear, it would seem like they just eat all day…
…or sleep. I gotta say though, as cliché as this might sound, the pandas are rather cute ^_^ If reincarnation were true, then I’d like to be a panda living in Chengdu in my next life (which is a Sichuanese’s dream, as quoted by our tour guide), where I could just eat and sleep and do nothing all day and still be the national treasure. Ha!
How many pandas do you see here? I think in this part, I counted at least 8, though they might not all have been captured on this photo.
BOO! Not a panda! There were peahens roaming around the base as we went from area to area, like this one. “Give me some attention!” it seemed to protest. Not so happy that the pandas got all the spotlight, indeed 😦
Finally, we come to the little red pandas. In Chinese they’re called “little pandas”. They look like foxes more than pandas, but wow, they were pretty! I gotta say, these red pandas look so much more elegant and graceful than the giant pandas. Trop mignon et beau!
There we go, “I’ve been to Chengdu” badge earned. Now let’s go and explore the rest of the city!
I’ve always had the feeling that big cities in China are all the same, lacking in unique features and authenticity. High-rise buildings, non-existent rules of traffic, people-packed intersections – these are all marks of the major urban centres of this developing giant. That’s why I prefer to visit smaller, hidden rural towns and villages that have not been contaminated by either urbanization or tourism.
Still, when you’re in a city like Chengdu, amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life, there is a sense of relaxation and leisure. The people of Chengdu are known to be much more slow-paced than the other parts of the country, contributing to the relaxing atmosphere all around. Moreover, there are areas in the city where history dwells. Though they might have already become designated tourist spots, that doesn’t make them any less worthy of a visit.
Amongst these is Jin Li, where the street food in part 1 was found. Jin Li is a street that has preserved the historic architecture and characteristics of old Chengdu. During our free time after the official conference time, the labmates and Annie explored some of these districts and had ourselves a good ol’ time 😉
This is a side entrance to Jin Li, lined with lanterns on both sides. It had been raining intermittently in Chengdu while we were there, and aside from the first night when we were all soaked from head to toe, our umbrellas did the trick. Wet and cloudy, typical Chengdu weather for you.
Another district we visited was the Wide and Narrow Alley, part of our one-day city tour organized by the conference committee. Literally, there were two alleys, one called the Wide Alley and the other one called the Narrow Alley. Here is a view of the rooftops of the alleys from the second floor of a shop that I went into. It is slightly reminiscent of the view of the Forbidden City in Beijing, though at a much, much smaller scale.
And finally, we end with the night scene in Chengdu, taken at Tianfu Square in the downtown area. Our hotel was right by the square, giving me the advantage of enjoying the night view of the city without having to go too far.
Chengdu had indeed been a lovely visit, but a trip to China wouldn’t be complete without visiting one more place. Have you already guessed what this place is? If not, come back for the next post, where the highlight of MY trip to China is still to come!