This was my first time going to Chengdu. I was born in Guangzhou, grew up in Shanghai and spent the last forty plus years in Sydney. And so, having spent more of my life in Australia than China, the chance to go back to China to study Traditional Chinese Medicine was a dream come true for me. Visiting Chengdu and getting to know the locals & members of the university there a humbling and inspiring experience. We were fortunate enough to be able to learn from world-class professors in their specialised fields. We found the locals there friendly, welcoming, honest and kind.
In addition to having the opportunity to hone our acupuncture, Tui Na (pressure point massage) and herbal medicine skills for six weeks, we also managed to enjoy the unusual local delicacies and visit, among many other places, the Panda Sanctuary that saved the Pandas from extinction.
Now, for the local delicacies: the Sichuan region, in which Chengdu sits, is (in)famous for their spicy “ma-la” food (literally numb-spicy in Chinese). Ma-la food almost always contains two ingredients: fiery dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns which have a numbing effect on the tongue (but not for long). For a person who is unable to eat even the slightest hint of spice, I imagined that this would prove rather difficult in terms of finding restaurants that did not lace almost everything with chilli.
Much to my surprise and relief, there was a small restaurant not far from the university that served a large variety of traditional dishes that were not spicy.
During the final week of our program we also found an incredible Buddhist vegetarian restaurant that does two different kinds of buffets (one vegetarian dishes and the other was a vegetarian hotpot) on the ground floor and a la carte on the top floor. This restaurant is situated right next to the Wenshu Monastery which worth visiting even if you don’t eat there.
Apart from gorging ourselves on the local delicacies, I also gained a deeper understanding about the importance of food as a medicine. As the climate in Chengdu is rather wet and overcast, the consumption of large amounts of chillies helps to offset the effects of living in high humidity. All in all, words are insufficient to express how much I would recommend anyone thinking of undertaking an exchange program to do so. As Nike so succinctly puts it: “Just Do It”.