As I boarded the narrow puddle-jumper that would take me to my final destination of Chengdu, China, I couldn’t help but feel a bit queasy. Now this kind of queasiness wasn’t from the fact that my breakfast consisted of Chinese-modified KFC, or that I despise the smell of recirculated airplane air (crossing my fingers that the teleporter will be invented soon). While I located my seat and attempted to shove my overstuffed tote under the faded blue chair in front of me, my nervousness rooted from a new source: being completely alone. Just klutzy me, my seventeen year old self, and I, heading off to uncharted lands for an experience of a lifetime. Solo. This was not the family reunion in the Caribbean, not the road trip to Michigan with my best friends, and certainly not the high school band tour of Australia. This was the adventure of the one and only me to volunteer at the Chengdu English First School. But as the plane began its descent into the hazy city, my apprehension quickly faded into pure exhilaration. I had a host family to stay with, multiple bottles of portable hand sanitizer, and a new pair of white sneakers waiting to be dirtied. China, come at me.
â–º Finalist 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
And the city of Chengdu welcomed me warmly, literally. Even with absolutely no sunshine, I managed to sweat like crazy. Besides the high Celsius temperatures, the daily humidity of over ninety-five percent and lack of central air conditioning did not help my case. Nor did the tongue-numbing cuisine of mala, the special spicy blend of chili and oil that the Sichuan region of China is famous for. As I explored the bustling city of Chengdu, the same phrase kept popping into my mind: hot, hot, hot. The water always had to be boiled, the vegetables always served steaming, and the custom of conservative dress in public made my trip a melting journey. Sprinting after the public bus number 59 only to end up confusedly wandering around a tiny village south of Chengdu? Hot. Eating the fiery mala hotpot on Chunxin Road while watching the flurry of shoppers and tourists go by? Hotter. Watching the cute balls of fluff loll around under bamboo trees in the sweltering weather at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding? So hot I was tempted to jump into the enclosure and snuggle in the shade with them. And yet through all that sweat, I didn’t want to leave when it was time to go home. The people, the food, the way of life was such a contrast to what I was used to. My journey of 7,416.4 miles (11935.5 kilometers as the Chinese would say) had turned into an exploration of exotic heat. This sizzling city had left me thirsty for more.
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