Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Misty Chongqing Magic

I wasn’t expecting much from my day in Chongqing. Even though it had a population of 32 million people I had never heard of the city and as far as I knew we were just heading there to get on a boat that would take us down the Yangtze River. It proved to be one of the most vibrant places I ever been and a real hot spot to sample Chinese culture up close.

I only stayed in Chongqing for one night and stayed at the Holiday Inn Yangtze. It’s not the most interesting of places to stay but the room was comfortable and spacious and the place was efficient and clean with friendly staff who were happy to help. In the morning my girlfriend and I visited the Yangtze museum situated in Eling Park. Here we were told about the Yangtze project and shown how the flooding of the river had changed areas along its bank for both better and worse. It was genuinely illuminating and it hides a rather beautiful art gallery as well.

Walking back down the incredibly steep park we came across a couple of incredible ponds. The pools have vegetation planted around them that when it drops its seeds change the colour of the water. This created incredibly vibrant and natural colours. Ornate bridges across the pools of water created a subtle beauty which showed real invention.

Colourful ambience appreciated we were heading for the city Monorail to sample the real side of the city. It proved to be fun being packed in tightly with the local population. Many said hello and it proved to be a good experience. Destination reached, we departed the train and descended down the steep steps into backstreets of the Chongqing old town district. It was fascinating to see how some of the poorer people went about their lives. The back streets had an amazing atmosphere about them with various kinds of Chinese dumplings, ducks, eels, clothes and produce from the various fruit and vegetable stalls all on display.

There is no denying that the backstreets did look poor but this was far from some kind of slum. People didn’t seem to have much but they were incredibly warm, friendly and interested in interacting with us. Our adventure into the backstreets complete we headed back to the hotel. However, the day was not over as a chance to see the city a night seemed to good to resist. With the sun set we headed into the midst of the neon lit city.

Chongqing was proving to be a surprisingly vibrant and interesting place and I couldn’t wait to see what was next. We made our way to the People’s Square. Here thousands of locals gather every night to practice Tai Chi and ballroom dancing. People went for as far as the eye could see in the relatively low lit square. Another difference between Chinese and Western culture struck me as I walked around. In the gloom I noticed numerous bags put to one side with no one watching them and no one even remotely concerned that anything would be stolen. I walked all the way to back of the giant square and stood at the bottom of the steps of the convention centre. It was almost pitch black at this end and I soon hurried back when I noticed a woman entranced in sword Tai-Chi, twirling blades around her, clearly hadn’t noticed me and seemed to be heading a little too close for comfort.

Captivated by such a large public display of rhythm I stood and watched the thousands of people all having a good time together. It was amazing to think that in a city containing 32 million people there seemed to be such a sense of community. After the Peoples Square came another type of square. We went to the main shopping district which is influenced heavily by Times Square. This was the only place in China that I came across the mass of neon that many people associate with Eastern cities such as Tokyo. It was filled with fashion shops and Western junk food places. My girlfriend gave in to the lure of pretty clothes but I was more interested in just walking around taking in the lights. As the night grew later it was time to transfer to our boat for the trip down the Yangtze in the morning with Zing Travel.

On board we sat on the top deck and looked at the giant neon buildings stretching along the waterfront. At 10pm all the lights in Chongqing are turned off to save electricity. As we watched each tower fall into darkness it seemed a fitting way to say goodnight to a remarkable city that shouldn’t be ignored.

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