I mean, it really did. And I’ve been back for over a month (or 2) now and have spent most of that time trying to figure out how to put a life-changing experience into words. Starting from the beginning is always good, which at the beginning of this journey I almost didn’t apply. One of my professors passed along a message to my classmate saying he thought we would both be awesome candidates for this opportunity. I was flattered. Ok, I was anxious first, then nervous, then flattered. I’m a mature student with 2 little ones and I’d never spent 2 weeks (the duration of the FLIP) away from them. It wasn’t an exciting thought. Then the typical anxieties came flooding in like what if I don’t like it? The flight is so long!! What am I going to eat there?? It went on like this for some time, until on the deadline day for the application I decided to go for it with hours to spare. We can fast forward all the red tape up to the fact that I went and it was amazing!
As a hospitality student and lover, I was so impressed and pleased with how we were treated. From the moment we landed and were introduced to our student friends and professors, they were the definition of hospitable. They wouldn’t even let us carry our own luggage! The very first night there we were taken out to the most amazing dinner. This was probably first “I’m not in Toronto anymore” moment because they only had chopsticks to eat with and I was so hungry, I had no choice but to learn. And the food was amazing! Only one of many amazing meals I would experience.
Suzhou is a beautiful place, both during the day and at night. A modern city that’s always busy. That made me feel more at home. Where we stayed was a place called the education town which is basically an area filled with colleges and universities from around the world, apartments and little plazas and grocery stores. There were always students buzzing around buying coffee and breakfast to get to class or buying dinner to go home and study with. I instantly felt at ease being here, any anxieties I felt before the trip was gone. Of course, there were cultural differences, we had to squat to use most public toilets (a lot easier than I thought it would be!), and there was an obvious language barrier. But none of these things made our trip difficult, in fact, I enjoyed all the new experiences and being outside of my comfort zone.
Did I mention this was a culinary FLIP? I like to cook as much as I like to write an essay (not very much) but Chef Feng made it easy, enjoyable and loveable. They only use one knife in Chinese cooking, a cleaver, and while it takes some getting used to, it is much easier than switching out knives all the time. They also only use a wok to cook every part of the meal. The meat/fish, the rice, the veggies everything! After each part is done the wok gets a quick rinse and it’s on to the next. My fondest memory would have to be that by the end of the trip we had memorized Chef’s go-to seasoning for every dish we made: Salt, pepper, little sugar, little MSG (still a huge part of Chinese cuisine), little Chinese cooking wine/vinegar. Like clockwork, we would add this combination to every meal. Some of my most memorable moments were spent in the kitchen learning new things and jumping out of my comfort zone.
Other memorable times were the time spent in the classroom with our amazing teacher Lissy learning about Chinese culture. Everything about their history and way of life is based on their rich history. Every holiday has a deeply touching story, stories about love, respect and happiness. We created a presentation all about Canada, lead by myself, some other students and our teacher Wenli. We taught everyone about our own culture, history, we even passed around some of our coloured money (their money is still paper and all one colour there) It ended with a game to test their listening skills which everyone loved! On our day off, we took a trip to the beautiful Shanghai by local subway and speed train. Shanghai is one of the most stunning places I’ve seen, reminding me of Toronto or New York City. And finally, at the end of my trip, it was my birthday and to get to celebrate it with new friends both from home and abroad, made it one of my most unforgettable yet.
The last night in Suzhou was the best by far. We had the chance to talk about our experiences on this trip, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. We cried and cried, so we moved and forever changed by these short two weeks. I cannot thank Chef Sam, Wenli, and the SAGE team for allowing me to take this trip. Enjoy a small fraction of some of the pictures we took on this trip. It truly changed me and I will forever be grateful. If you ever have a chance to visit China, do it! Your heart and your stomach will be better from it.
All photo creds go to my picture goddess Julie Miguel http://www.juliemiguel.com. She also made a blog post about China, so head on over to check it out!
Thanks for reading 🙂