China - Chingqing and Dazu
Last Updated: 13-May-03
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14 Oct. Chongqing
The boat had been moving most of the night, but was anchored in the river when we awoke. Breakfast was served as usual, with many of us slipping tips to the wait staff and cabin attendants, since we were uncertain whether they would actually see anything if we put money into the box. We were scheduled to dock at 9:30 AM, but the boat did not start moving until then. We finally arrived at Chongqing at 11:30, to the sound of much shouting at the first (crew) deck when some people either tried to disembark, or were not allowed to - we got no explanation. There were many police around, but they seemed relaxed, and we walked to the funicular tram with no further events. The touts at the station were extremely aggressive, trying to sell maps, and it was hard to escape them to hike up to the bus.
We drove to the People's Hall, a huge round-domed building above People's Park. We were led on a quick side trip to a local produce market, where the group marveled over the live fish, chickens, and raw animal parts like pig trotters and chicken feet. I bought a large handful of chiles, much to the amusement of the sellers. The troop then…er…trooped back to the People's Hall and the adjacent Renmin Hotel, where we had our typical lunch. I was hoping for Sichuan dishes (in other words, spicy) - walking in, I saw Ma Po Tofu on other tables (even those of other Western tourist groups), and hopes that we'd get it as well. Unfortunately, we received no culinary challenges, although there was the usual tableside discussion of "what is this?" I expressed my desire for MP Tofu while we were in the province, and our local guide, surprised, said that she might arrange it for lunch the next day.
Technically, Chongqing (previously known as Chung King), is no longer a part of Sichuan; it has been named a Special Municipality. The city holds around 13 million people, but with its municipal district, it is over 30 million people, making it the biggest city on Earth. On the average, each person has 10 square meters (100 square feet) of living space. It is a heavy manufacturing city, producing motorcycles for domestic use and international export through (primarily Japanese) joint ventures. In many ways, it is reminiscent of San Francisco - it is hilly, and there is a constant fog due to the two rivers which flow together. The fog has given rise to jokes, like this one:
It was so foggy that a car closely followed the one in front, guided by its taillights. Although going slowly, the two cars stuck together for a long time. Then, without warning, the first car suddenly stopped, and the second was unable to avoid a collision. The driver of the second car jumped out and yelled at the first, "Why didn't you signal before stopping?"
Unlike SF, it is also very hot, and is called one of the three furnaces of China. Like most of China, power and heating come primarily from coal, so the air is toxic when cooked into a fine smog. The city itself is beautiful, rising out of the two rivers which divide it into 3 main parts. Its eight bridges are works of art, and they plan eight more, since these are choke points. Because of the verticality, bicycles are impractical and rare. People drive (cars and the locally-built motorcycles) and walk. This tendency towards fitness, along with the constant moist air, contributes to Chongqing's famed beautiful women, according to our guide. But, being Sichuanese, they also have a reputation for being spicy, sharp, and aggressive.
Said the first driver, "I don't signal before stopping in my garage."
Chongqing's zoo houses a wide range of animals, including Giant Pandas, Lesser Pandas, and Tigers. We stopped in to see these, and then quickly moved on to our hotel.
The arduous walking has also evolved a skilled foot massage industry, and much of the group chose to go for a group experience. 90 minutes for 100 Yuan (about $12) - not bad!
15 Oct. Dazu Buddhist Carvings
We drove through the countryside to the small town of Dazu, famous for its old cave of carved buddhas. The roads are quite poor out to this countryside town, but our brave bus driver was not daunted and sped along, resulting in many huge bounces and bumps. The back-of-the-bus gang, in particular, were slammed around - our own version of the Chongqing acrobatic circus, complete with bumps on the head.
Dazu is a small village, and efforts are being made to minimize the impact of the flow of tourists, and to widen the economic benefit (and suck yet more from the tourist prey). Electric buses are being used to ferry the masses and reduce the emissions near the exposed carvings. To some degree, it is ridculous, given the amount of pervasive coal pollution, but it is still a good effort. We did ride past many locals on foot.
The relics at Dazu are various Buddhist scenes carved directly into the exposed cliff faces starting in 1174, plus rooms with ancient Buddhas, and an amazing 1007-armed Shiva-like figure (which we were not allowed to photograph). One huge panel depicts the various Buddhist Hells, and, as Lois pointed out, it looks like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but with more sex. The carvings seem to be more of a tourist site with little current religious significance, but we did pass a huge active Buddhist temple on the walk to the entrance. We did not have time to go in, but there was some major event happening, so it was crowded with people and billowing incense.
I was buying a jade Buddha, and once again misunderstood the instructions for meeting at the bus. As I got on, five minutes late, everyone was chanting "Ice Cream! Ice Cream!" as we drove off to a local hotel for the standard lunch. On the way, our guide described the four regional cuisines, known (in English) as the 4 Ss:
I think that she forgot to mention the fifth S, specifically for waiguoren, safe. However, they did come through with my requested Ma Po Tofu, which was exceedingly disappointing; it had no sizzle (from the special hickory flowers), little heat, and the tofu tasted burned.
- Shanghai - sweet
- Sichuan - spicy
- Cantonese - strange - they say that the Cantonese eat everything with wings except for airplanes, and everything with legs except for tables
- Beijing - salty
Back in Chingqing, we had time to stop in at an "art gallery" (read: factory tour), where we got a demo of Chinese painting by a professor from the art university. In 5 minutes, he whipped out a classic bamboo on rice paper, for which they then requested something like $200. We were then free to browse the place, which had paintings, silks, stone and wood carvings, teas, jade, silver, tiger's eye spheres, Chinese medicines, and Hello Kitty sweaters. Most of the group got bored (except possibly Silvia and Henry), so we went back up to the street to look and be looked at. Someone found a shop where I could pay off my ice cream debt. It was quite a process as we stormed the surprised shop and devastated their frozen inventory. They quickly figured out a process to keep track of the looting by collecting the wrappers, for which I paid about $25 (after a 10% volume discount).
We drove to the airport, got issued our bits of paper, and flew to Xi'an, home of the terracotta army. Although we were tired, and most people wanted to go to the hotel rather than eat (the group had a cold circulating, and a few had developed Confucius's revenge), Lucy said that if even one person wanted to eat, we all had to. Three did, so we ate a quick dinner at the hot airport restaurant, which was surprisingly tasty. Most people in fact felt better.
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