Written by Barb in BC on 08 Apr, 2005
IN A FOG
We left the colour and vibrancy and prosperity of Xi’an for a one-hour flight to Chongqing. There we were assailed with contrasts as we threaded our way through the tiny, dirty airport to exit into the sticky, stinky, sickly-yellow soup that citizens…Read More
IN A FOG
We left the colour and vibrancy and prosperity of Xi’an for a one-hour flight to Chongqing. There we were assailed with contrasts as we threaded our way through the tiny, dirty airport to exit into the sticky, stinky, sickly-yellow soup that citizens of Chongqing must breathe. The climate is tropical with palm trees but it is not a sunny, inviting place. It is, rather, a damp and moldy place where the sun cannot penetrate the smog to burn off either the chill or the gloom. Chongqing is an industrial city, a centre for steel mills—the Pittsburgh of China. Coal-burning in the many factories creates the gagging smog. The city has plans to build a 104-story trade centre—perhaps the viewing deck will extend above this suffocating blanket.
Down below, the city crowds the hills at the convergence of two tributaries of the Yangtze River. The city centre is on a peninsula between the two. There are no bicycles in Chongqing because it is too hilly. The streets are also narrow, winding, and pinched between apartment walls. Coal dust has collected in every cranny, adding to the blackness and bleakness of this place. Such wretched pollution surely takes a toll on the bodies of residents. The effect on their spirits must be even more devastating.
Even David, our young tour guide, had nothing good to say about his city. He told us that Chongqing covers an area larger than the country of Belgium and it is "humid, hot, hazy, and huge." Prodded for positives, he came up with, "It is famous for hot, spicy food and hot, spicy women." But that started him grumbling loud and long about the trials and tribulations of his relationship with his lazy, demanding girlfriend. According to him, however, she was no different than all the other modern, liberated women of China.
He warned us about the 200,000 "stick soldiers" of Chongqing, former farmers who have descended upon the city in search of work. Somewhat like the squeegee kids of our cities, these fellows pester for the opportunity to carry loads for a fee and are identified by the bamboo poles with which they support their burdens.
The Peoples’ Great Hall of Chongqing above was built through the persistence of Deng Xiaoping. But these efforts to improve his hometown got him into trouble with Mao who suspected that Deng wished to establish a personal power base in the heavily populated region. Deng Xiaoping was therefore recalled to Beijing and forbidden to return to see the completed building. But that was better than the fate of the Peoples’ Great Hall architect; he was executed for graft by Mao’s regime because of a cost over-run. The spacious circular concert area was dank and the reek of mold gave me a headache. Gift shops there specialized in rice-paper calligraphy, personally signed by the artist—who just happened to be on site that day.
David insisted that we visit a city viewpoint. I thought that would be rather pointless, given the atmospheric inversion that day. However, I made the steep trudge because of the additional must-see Yangtze River museum at the same summit. My ascent began through drooping floral displays which had been assembled for some recent summit conference. The colours were candy to my eyes.
At the summit, finally, and breathless from the exertion, I peered into the pea-soup and almost made out the outlines of the reported river convergence far below. We were next directed to a long tunnel featuring a linear wall mural/map of the entire length of the Yangtze River. The mural made a good visual for a lesson about the longest river in China, the one we were soon to be travelling. The Chinese know it as the "Jialing" River. A gift shop at the end of the map-way sold fold-up miniatures of that Yangtze/Jialing mural and guess who was hawking them? And this artist too would be pleased to autograph all purchases!
Written by ToddieD on 08 Feb, 2006
Since we stayed at the JW Marriott, we were within walking distance of the Liberation Monument area, a prosperous commercial district. Our favorite stores were a bookstore that covered five floors and had a large children's section as well as bestsellers such as Harry Potter…Read More
Since we stayed at the JW Marriott, we were within walking distance of the Liberation Monument area, a prosperous commercial district. Our favorite stores were a bookstore that covered five floors and had a large children's section as well as bestsellers such as Harry Potter in Chinese. It also had an electronics section with every form of digital camera and MP3 player you could imagine. We ended up buying maps of the area, scads of children's picture books, and a Chinese-English dictionary for about $8. Directly across the street from the bookstore was a department store with everything you'd expect to find at a Macy's or Nordstrom. It even had a roomful of massage chairs, a welcome respite for my tired calves.
Shopping in China is interesting, though. Say you find a shirt that you like. You must find a salesperson who will write up a ticket for that item. Then you head to a cashier to pay for said item and they stamp the ticket. Then you take the ticket back to the salesperson and collect your goods. Woe be the unwary consumer who tries to gather up goods from different departments and pay for them all at once at the cashiers.
At the basement of the department store was a Chinese grocery store. This is a must-do for anyone in China. You can find Western-style snack foods, like Oreos and Ritz crackers; oddly enough, we saw flavors of Western crackers that have never shown up in the States. But there are also meat and produce sections offering dim sum, cooked duck, octopus, and durian. We found ourselves doing double-takes several times during our shopping foray. One of our favorite finds was a pineapple beer for the equivalent of $0.25. It was light and refreshing but undeniably beer. Since we were toting along our new daughter in her Baby Bjorn, we had probably more interaction with locals than if we had been alone. People were very open and kind, even the older Chinese women who checked her clothing to make certain our daughter was neither too hot nor too cold. They do love their babies. Altogether, shopping in China immediately immerses you in local culture and makes you feel like you've gone beyond tourism and really checked out the soul of the place.
Written by Barb in BC on 09 Apr, 2005
WORK YOUR FINGERS TO THE BONE—WHAD’YA GIT?
In contrast to all of those other negative reports about Chongqing (that’s Chungking for those of us who grew up before Mao’s time), this was where we sampled a delight that became a regular must for many in…Read More
WORK YOUR FINGERS TO THE BONE—WHAD’YA GIT?
In contrast to all of those other negative reports about Chongqing (that’s Chungking for those of us who grew up before Mao’s time), this was where we sampled a delight that became a regular must for many in our group—a foot massage. For those of us who wished, after dinner our guide delivered us into the tiny, agile hands of a team of reflexologists. The Chinese have been practicing this holistic treatment for 5000 years.
I cannot provide a complete review of the procedure, because I was dozy during much of it. While the focus was on our feet, this was a full-body thing. For considerable time we first reclined and relaxed on lounges. Then cauldrons at our feet were filled with steaming water in which we soaked our tootsies and legs. During this soaking, they used some kind of cup to pound our backs with rhythmic precision of varying intensity. I could not see what was happening and could only communicate via universal signs—like when I flinched or winced, my therapist giggled.
After the soak, they carved and scraped away the calloused and dead skin from our feet. The shovelings from mine were a revolting thing to behold. Then came the lotions, the potions and the foot massage itself. Now this is supposed to be very scientific, with different points on the foot directly linked to organs of the body.
It is believed that the reflex points act as channels for body fluids, blood circulation and energy. To stimulate these points, my therapist used not only her strong little hands but also assorted tools. Stimulation through massage and manipulation of these points is supposed to do all kinds of wondrous things:
• Improved circulation and toxin removal.
• Stimulated lymphatic drainage and immune system boost.
• Reduced stiffness and improved flexibility.
• Accelerated physical healing
• Stress relief
• Improved sleep
• Clarity of mind
They say that reflexology is especially effective for headaches, sinus congestion, and digestive problems. Unquestionably it is a relaxing procedure, which could explain its effectiveness for headaches and digestive disturbances. Foot massage heals souls while attending to soles and heels—sorry, I cannot resist this play on words.
Massage is an integral part of many other procedures in China. We lined up for shampoos whenever we had a chance. Before and during, for nearly an hour, amazing Chinese fingers wend across temples and scalp and neck and shoulders and down to mid back. These people understand basic creature comforts better than we who rely upon things.
Our one and one-half hour reflexology session ended with a light massage of our arms and shoulders and a 120 Yuan tab ($20 Canadian). Then we dragged wobbly bodies from this pleasure of the flesh into the cold darkness.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET TO BUY A FINE PIG
We had all been itching to see China through Chinese eyes. We got our chance late in our Chongqing day when we were led to a market in the heart of this city where our guide…Read More
TO MARKET, TO MARKET TO BUY A FINE PIG
We had all been itching to see China through Chinese eyes. We got our chance late in our Chongqing day when we were led to a market in the heart of this city where our guide bought his favourite foods—organ meats and tripe. I doubt that any of us shall ever forget the sights and the sounds and the smells of that market.
As we approached, we could hear a rythmic thunking, like the sound made by a pile-driver. Entering through a cargo entrance, it took a minute for our eyes to adjust to the darkness on this lower level. When we could see, we discovered the source of the noise—a team was breaking up the main cement staircase with a sledgehammer. Only rebar remained to support the remnant of that staircase and it swayed like a rope bridge. The workers clambered over the treacherous broken surface and took turns with the sledge. Their fearsome blows shook the entire building. Cement dust filled the air and settled upon the foods which were presented here.
Those foods on display in this dust and debris-filled level were live snakes and eels and other slimy things, buckets of fresh blood and other grisly things. Some products were identifiable; some were not. The peddlars squatted in the dirt beside their offerings. I believe the fish products were in this place as well because of the strong smells there, but I recall mostly the horrors. The sledge blows and the clinging smells of fish and decay, combined with the faint light filtering through the cement dust, created a hellishly surreal setting. I shuddered in spite of myself and carefully avoided touching anything.
By comparison, the upper level was clean, spacious and bright. Produce was artfully displayed as at the Vancouver’s Granville Island market. This was a farmer’s market on a huge scale.
There was much more than produce, however. If it was edible, it was there and ranged from dumplings to dog meat. Yes, I saw dog carcasses suspended from hooks, just like the poultry and the organ meats. None of it was refrigerated. Surprisingly there were few flies.
Shortly thereafter we went out for some of that famous hot and spicy fare for which Chongqing restaurants are famous. It was here, among the many other courses, that we were first served "Italian" spaghetti. For some reason, nobody was particularly hungry that night.