Hello ! Welcome !
When I first sign up for this trip, I did not know what to expect, yes, I’ve done my fair share of research and reading up and even went to consult past year participants. What drove me to actually signing up for this was the incredibly positive response that my senior had to say about this trip. And I hope reading my two cents about this trip will also drive you to do the same.
China, was a place that always held a mystery in my mind, I’ve heard lots about it, watched it in the news, learnt about it in history lessons, but mostly from my interactions with my friends from china did I really get a feeling of what living there is like. That was until I decided to go for this trip. Man! Was it an eye opener, having my previous pre-conceived notions blown out of the water and all expectations exceeded. From the people, the food and the environment, it was amazing. I found myself mesmerised by the culture, the history and the charm of the country every single day. From the early mornings waking up to the sound of the hustling and bustling of the city to the gorgeous night light cityscape that we get to see every night out of our hotel windows. Here are some of the highlights that our friends over in Chengdu kept us busy with, each more interesting than the last.
We spent first of the two weeks in Chengdu, being the capital of Sichuan province, the city is huge, far bigger than Singapore, split into 19 areas with a population of approx.. 8 million people. It was definitely made apparent to us when we reached our first stop, Si Chuan University, 四川大学. Although we reached in the late evening, the sun was down, but the school did not lose its charm. The moment we got out of the bus; we were greeted by the cool night time breeze along with the warm smiles of the Chinese Delegates. We got checked into our rooms quickly which is in the campus and are accommodations specially for overseas students/ guests. Although it was in the school campus, the building facade looked like it has seen better days and the air in the lobby and along the corridor just reeks of cigarette smell, well, that will have to be something you have to get use to. But once in the room, it exceeded my expectations. Albeit, it wasn’t very high to begin with, hostel rooms, those alike the ones in SUTD was what I had in mind. The room looked welcoming with neatly folded sheets, room service and television (which we never got it to work, but the other rooms had no problem) a nice toilet with bathe tub and toiletries. It did look like a proper hotel room, not of the luxury kind, but much better than a hostel, that’s for sure.
The next morning, we got up bright and early, 8-ish, had our breakfast which was conveniently in a dining hall just across the building we were staying in. The spread was simple but refreshing, it was catering style and had traditional Chinese breakfast, with more of a Si Chuan flare to it. We had plain congee with several plates of vegetables and meats that are both sour and spicy along with some pastries and soya bean drink. After breakfast, we donned on our formal wear and proceeded to greet our hosts proper. We spent our morning attending the official welcoming ceremony from our host school followed by a few lectures held by some of the professors in the school.
The lectures were very thorough and informative, a feeling of pride was palpable as the professor taught us the history of China from the rise and fall of the various dynasties, the impact that each of those time periods had in affecting modern China, the ideologies that people practiced, the modern government and livelihood of the people at this day and age. The lecture took quite some time considering the vast amount of content that had to be covered, although he tried to keep it brief but still retaining the essence of ancient China, it was delightfully done in English with hints of Chinese for us when explaining certain terminologies and phrases. The rest of the day was spent attending the in-campus museum, which was surprisingly well equipped with artefacts that dates to prehistoric times of China, showing clothing, ancient carvings and historical documents belonging to several dynasties in ancient China. The tour of the museum finished at around 5pm, after which we took a stroll back to our accommodations for a break before ending the days’ activities with dinner. Dinners typically starts around 5 – 6 pm everyday and lasted for about 2 – 3 hrs. After that it was free and easy time to discover whatever you want. The massive campus took us at least 10min to walk to the main road, depending on which part of the school you want to get out from. But once outside the campus, you get to see the beautiful city of Cheng du at night.
Day 2 started out early with the same breakfast spread which we made sure to have some to store up on energy for what is ahead of us. Day 2 was mountain climbing day J . Our bus took us to the foot of the mountain where we face the mountain we were about to climb, weather was amazing at a cool 16 Degrees Celsius, felt like natural air-condition all around. We then took a small bus to a cable car that brought us to the starting point of our hike. Before commencing the hike, our tour guide took the time to explain to us the significance of the mountain we were about to climb, letting us know th
e history of the mountain and why it is such a spiritually rich and sacred place to be in. So apparently, the mountain we were about hike was called: Mount Qingcheng, 青城山. It is known to many as one of the four most famous Taoist peaks in the world, as this is the mountain where Taoism began. As we hiked the path, we were greeted by the breath-taking scenery Mount Qingcheng has to offer, the tranquillity of the forest and nature around us, and the beautiful temples and historic halls. At the very top, we were greeted by the Taoist Temple. The temple had huge halls and artefacts for people to pray to their gods.
Afterwards we went for lunch followed by a trip to another World Famous Heritage Site that Chengdu has to offer, we went to Du Jiang Yan irrigation System, 都江堰. It was a beautiful place away from the bustling city area of Chengdu, the irrigation system was significant in Chengdu as a massive flood control project that directed the flow of water that prevented major flooding incidents all year round with little impact to the marine life and also perk up agricultural growth in that area. It was indeed a sight to behold the scale of it and an engineering marvel to witness how they altered the terrain to let the water flow naturally and control the levels come ‘flood season’.
Before the day came to an end, their last ‘activity’ planned for us was one of the most memorable meals I had for the whole trip. They brought to a cozy steamboat buffet restaurant. They brought out Si Chuan’s specialty mala hot pot, (we had the mildly spicy, 微辣), the food was an all-you-could-eat, they were serving some local alcohol, the weather was set at a cool 18 degrees with a slight drizzle, there was a live band singing jazz throughout the evening and we had the company of all the other Universities, it was a great time.
Day 3 was the last day we spent at Si Chuan University, we spent the morning taking a walk around the school followed by some performance they had prepared for us, and us to them as well. They had their foreign students performed for us, showcasing some of the talents in their school. We got to meet up with the students that will be coming over to Singapore during the Singapore leg and we all played some fun games and a couple of singing session
The day ended pretty early, giving us an early start to the free and easy time to discover the area of Cheng Du around the school. We went to one of their more famous streets, comically, but rightfully, named: Wide and Narrow Alley, 宽窄巷子, for the two main spine of the alleyways are indeed wide and the other narrow. The alleys were bustling with people, tourists and locals alike, there were shops that sold local cuisines, from barbecued meat sticks, soft-shell crab, fried beancurd, potatoes, all sorts of good stuff and, of course, some stinky toufu.
We started the day by bidding goodbye to our Si Chuan University friends and made our way to our next university: University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, 电子科技大学. This university is pretty similar to SUTD in the sense that it is quite technology and engineering centric. When we first reach the school, the campus was very beautiful with the bustling liveliness of their students out and about, most of them were on some sort of bicycle or e-scooters, probably because the campus was so huge. We met up with our Chinese delegates and had an official welcoming ceremony and gift-exchange session. The afternoon was spent touring the school campus and the museums that were in their school, which talked about the engineering contribution and inventions from China and the contributions of the school in helping that. One that caught my attention was about an earthquake that happened in 2000 which caused a part of China to not be accessible due to the rubble and debris, but suspected to have survivors in that area. As time was ticking by, the government assigned a couple of professors to design and come up with an unmanned aero-vehicle with image-capturing abilities to inspect that area. Within a week, they came up with one and was able to execute the mission with success. That, I feel, is the epitome of great engineering.
The breakfast at our new place was in the restaurant of the hotel we lived in, ibis hotel, the spread was pretty good, with your typical Si Chuan cuisine which meant a bit of mala spices and sour dishes and some international cereal and pastries on the side. After that, we went back to the university and to their ‘Innovation centre’, 创新中心. They showcased the engineering projects that some of their students were doing, which are very impressive, they had shown us a facial recognition system that they had partnered up with the government security sector. The facial tracking cameras were able track up to 80% likeliness to their database (which they were able to get all 50 or us before we sat down) and able to follow a specific individual around a crowded room. Another tracking tool they had develop was a proximity sensor that has sub-millimetre accuracy, enabling it to sense even the slightest movement of someone or something that it is attached to. They also showed us a project in partnership with the Chinese government security sector for a smart police car they had patrolling the school campus where they are able to pick up wanted criminals or personnel with camera sensors in a relatively large radius of coverage. They then brought us to another lab where it was more hardware intensive. They showed us their project on an exoskeleton paired with multiple motors and sensors that aims to help people that have difficulty in walking on their own or paralysis patients to help them up on their feet again. Their project caught the eye of the public and was even televised on national television where they brought in a paralysed (waist-down) policemen that was injured in the line of duty and got him to walk on his two feet again. It was definitely mind-blowing to me as I see him got out of his seat and walked up a couple of stairs to some of the judges on the show and shook their hands. Just when I thought that was already a pretty remarkable feat, they decided to up the ante and try to help someone who is paralysed neck down with little control of her fingers. She wore a showering cap like thing on her head that had wires and sensors attached to it that was able to pick up her neuro-signals which was what she use to command the exoskeleton to do. She was also handed walking stick with buttons to help with her support and motions. I highly recommend you watch it, I’m sure it is out there someone where online. It was such an interesting and eye-opening experience for me to see what our Chinese counterparts are doing, and that university is really a place for someone to discover what there is in the world and start enabling oneself to change the world we live in.
We then went on to other parts of the school to see other projects, they showed us some plane models that their aeronautical and mechanical engineering students were working on and some of their older pieces that they had sent to competitions. We also had a chance to see their sports centre where they showcased some of their works in the realm of sports and health sciences. That is where we were able to play with their badminton robot. Which they explained to us that it is able to calibrate itself and take several pictures of a return shot by the opponent and map out a trajectory, with which the robot repositions itself, and with an articulating arm, return the shot. We then went off to lunch, which until this point we were loving the spread and food they offered, it felt like we were dined like royalty there, the number of dishes each meal was always more than the number of people seated on the table. The rest of the afternoon we sat in different talks where their post-graduate students talked about their thesis statements, which are really interesting but may have gotten too technical at times. All of the papers were extremely relatable to SUTD’s 4 pillars. There was one on EMI and EMC, electromagnetic inductors and conductors, another one on the study and proposition of a more effective design to an unsteady aerodynamic analysis of flapping-wing micro air vehicles. Those seems so EPD to me. Shortly after, we were taught a little background of the significance of bamboo in China history, not only is it the favourite food of their national animal but it is also a form of craftmanship and skill that was pass down from a generation to the next. We then got down to make some arts and craft with the bamboo stripes they provided.
That night we had one of the best dinners with this university which was definitely one to remember. We had a classic Si Chuan Mala hotpot that was mildly spicy too, this one felt more suited for the locals. We took out the whole of the second floor and had to go down to get the meat that were all skewered, even the mushrooms and vegetables, which we put in a large bamboo bamboo plate. The student that came with us taught us how he would normally eat it with his friends, and that they normally eat up to 50 sticks or more per person. We were all given a round of yoghurt which is suppose to be eaten with the mala to help with digestion and not have the spiciness burning in your stomach afterwards. The hotpot was boiling when we put our sticks in and after taking it out, we dipped it into plates of oil with our sauces before eating it. They had a huge spread of meats and vegetables with a bunch of different sauces, the touch of oil in the end was something to get use to as it is supposed to help on the mala. The company and atmosphere were amazing which brought over the rest of the night as we went to a nearby karaoke place and partied the night away. We only got back to our rooms well past midnight.
Day 6 :
We started the day of with something that was familiar to SUTD-ents, 3D printing workshop. They taught us some of the basics for Solidworks and had us split into groups and CAD something for the group, but we ended up just CAD-ing whatever we want. They then brought us to the room where they kept the 3d printers which appears to be a local brand from China, and the teacher taught us how to prepare the machine for printing and how to use the slicing software. After lunch, we had a short break before having a ‘sports day’ kind of thing held in their indoor sports complex. Their sports complex was basically converted from an airplane hangar, the place was huge. There were 3 sports in that complex, table-tennis, basketball and badminton. After that we went for dinner, banquet-style, of course.
The events they had planned for us that day ended quite early and we decided to head off to a famous shopping mall in our area. The shops in China close pretty early, about 945pm they would have started to chase you out and clearing things up and by 10pm the shutters will be downs. But the mall we went was huge, we split to 2 cabs to get to the mall and where dropped off at 2 different gates of the mall (they had 10 gates in total) it took us a good 5min walk, maybe a 60om distance to get to the middle of the mall as our meeting point. The stores closed not long after we reach, which was kind of disappointing but then again it would’ve taken us a couple of hours just to walk the entire mall.
Day 7: Pandamoniummm
It was the last day in Chengdu, but they did save the best for last. In chengdu, there is the only Giant Panda Research Base in the world. Being such a treasured animal in China and endangered in the whole world, I was definitely excited to go see some for myself. Furthermore, this is the place where they also breed Giant Pandas, so what else could be cuter than Giant Pandas? BABY GIANT PANDAS ! Enough talk from me, I’ll let the photos do the talking ! Enjoy ! 🙂
Goodbye Chengdu !