As I mentioned in one of my blog posts from last year (A Summer in China), traveling with Jim is always an adventure. He quickly made friends with a family of a boy he was giving skating lessons to and they then invited us to spend the weekend with the boy’s grandparents in a village about an hour outside of Hangzhou. He was quick to accept despite their warnings about the absence of air conditioning. He did call me quickly after he accepted to make sure it was ok :-). I was a bit hesitant not knowing what the accommodations would be like but am learning to take things as they come. While the adventures we (read: he) has accepted for us have often come with various challenges, they have also taken us on amazing adventures…
One year later we are back in China and I am again going to attempt to post about our experiences. It became difficult last year due to spotty internet connections so hopefully I will have more luck this year.
This time I have taken a year’s leave of absence from my job and we are staying in China for a full year. I flew into Shanghai one week ago – Jim has been in China for the past couple of months – and then we took a high-speed train to the beautiful Hangzhou.
I have been writing about our experiences but not posting so much as the internet connections in the last couple of places we have stayed in Beijing have not been stable and putting pictures up has been impossible most of the time. I still plan to update this once I return home (this Saturday already!) so that we can remember what we saw.
While Jim works I wander the streets of China. In general I am just walking with no clear destination to see what I can see. I use offline maps and often look for green spaces in the city and head towards them. I also like to walk through areas with little shops – mostly just to see what it looks like as I am not much of a shopper. Currently my average daily walking distance is about 10k.
So far my favourite walking around memory is still from last year in Nara, Japan. Japan is the first place I had encountered cicadas and it took me most of my first day there to figure out what the sound was. I’d thought it was something electronic. One day I headed towards a stream I saw on my map and found a beautiful pathway. Of course I learned quickly that the pathway was also for cars. Somewhere along the pathway I met two gentlemen one of who had been a professor and spoke English well. I found out that the men were catching cicadas. I didn’t get a clear idea of what they were catching them for but I got the idea that one of them let them fly around his house. After our conversation I received a gift of two cicadas in a bag. I thanked them and wondered out loud if my hotel would be ok with my new pets. I thought it best to walk further down the path and then set them free.
Chongqing was challenging at times due to the construction work and because areas identified on the maps to be green spaces often turned out just to be buildings. Perhaps the maps are not updating fast enough to keep up with the construction in the area. For the first couple of days I wandered – mostly in search of a small lake that was on my map but could not seem to find a way to access it. The map identified roads by the lake but those roads were blocked by gates and security guards in what look to be gated communities. It just seemed like all I could find were lonely streets or busy highways.
On one of the evenings in Chongqing Jim and I went looking for dinner along the same route I had been exploring. I quickly realized that the same roads that had appeared lonely in the morning were full of people and energy in the evening. We also found a small mall I had missed with shops and a grocery store, and Jim even found a way to get down to the lake…
And a lovely restaurant to eat in with a young waitress who spoke some English and is planning to go to medical school:
I decided my walks would have to wait until after noon at the earliest: 🙂
Some of my favorite pictures from my walks in Chongqing:
It is amazing what they will carry on a scooter or one of their 3 wheeled vehicles…
Despite the construction work the sidewalks are always open – I wish I’d taken a picture of the spot where we walked by a deep hole we had to walk around – we could just make out workers deep within the tunnel working on the subway…
Parks often had beautiful rock-work and tiling:
Another lake I found…
And a cicada…
In the distance I could see a pagoda atop a mountain. One of my goals was to find the park it was in but I never quite got there. I walked towards it on many roads but kept running into impassible dead ends. I took this photo at the point were I was closest. I intended to try another route on another day but ran out of time…
When we arrived in Chongqing we were told that they wanted to take us into the mountains. I had assumed that the ‘Brilliant Resort and Spa’ excursion had been that trip. Wrong again. On Friday we packed everything up and once again headed for the mountains.
When I imagine China I think of crowds and cities. The green spaces are beautifully lush and the forests are dense with such a variety of vegetation. Alongside the heavily populated cities are vast green spaces. Nestled within the forests you can see the terraced farm gardens growing corn, rice and other crops. At some points during the drive it felt like we were deep into the wilderness of China, then suddenly we come upon another set of massive skyscrapers and big city lights.
At one point in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, we pulled into a rest stop. Inside the rest stop was a collection of restaurants similar to what we would see as a food fair in a local mall. Dinner was a very spicy, delicious noodle bowl along with equally spicy squid on a stick :-).
After driving for five hours we arrived at Gongtan Ancient Town. Once parked we climbed down a very long set of stairs into a rustic hotel perched on the steep sloped valley of the Wujiang River. During the a long (albeit fascinating) drive I was beginning to think – this had better be a pretty amazing place to justify this trek. Sitting on the deck of our suite enjoying a pijiu that evening = worth it :-):
We made some new friends over breakfast:
It seems that Jim and I are a bit surprising for the locals in Chongqing and especially in some of the more remote areas. We got a bit of a taste of celebrity as we were stopped many times by strangers wanting to have their picture taken with us. The kids in Gongtan were so sweet 🙂
The next morning we got onto a pagoda boat for a trip down the Wujiang and Apeng rivers.
There were many old structures that looked abandoned but sometimes there were signs of habitation.
This is a photo of an entry to a tunnel – as I said before- a mountain is not an obstacle!
After that we packed up again and were back on the road – once again not sure where exactly we were going… We drove for a couple of hours through a number of small towns and saw so many interesting things as people were going through their daily lives. Here is a picture of a couple preparing noodles:
Then the five hour drive back to our hotel! Crazy trip but worth it 🙂
Joining Jim on a working trip is an interesting way to experience a bit of a country. I have the day to explore the area we have landed in while he works, and in the evenings sometimes we do our own thing, other times people have plans for us. I tend to like being prepared for things and knowing what to expect … I am learning to let that go. Frequently we don’t know what the plan is because we don’t speak the language. One day I wandered to the rink where Jim was working. The rinks he work in are often in a mall and this one was an hour and a bit away on foot from our hotel. When he finished his sessions we thought we were heading back to our hotel and then perhaps to dinner after. We became a bit curious when we were driven right by the hotel and up into the mountains. After an hour drive we arrived at Chonqing’s Brilliant Resort and Spa.
Traveling like this is a bit like dreaming – the way things just seem to happen… The hot springs were absolutely beautiful. We spent time in about 5 different spring pools – there were many more – and then we spent some time laying on a heated stone floor. The sound of cicadas, the gentle music, and the warm pools leave you feeling beyond relaxed.
One tank was filled with fish that eat dead skin. It is a very strange sensation which neither of us could tolerate for long…
Next we headed back to the city and stopped to eat at a night market area with tables on the street for a hot pot dinner. Along with the hot pot our host bought some ‘mini-lobsters’ (what we would call crayfish) and snails in a bag – both laced with the sichuan peppercorns (the ones that make your mouth tingle and go numb) from another food stand and added them to our feist. We received a lesson in how to eat the snails – pick them out with a toothpick, then pull off the dangly bit on the end and discard (not sure i want to know why…) then enjoy 🙂
The waitress even stopped by to share a pijiu!
Chongqing is famous for it’s hot pot. Jim calls it “hot-hot-hot pot”. They place a big pot on a burner in front of you and it has two bowls. The inner bowl is the place to cook the mild food. The outer bowl is filled with a wide variety of hot peppers. There were fridge cases with dishes of food to put into the hot pot including some type of brain (wish I knew whose brain it was :-/) along with other miscellaneous organs, chicken feet, many other foods I recognize and others that I could not…
I love spicy food, but what I experienced during my first meal in Chenging was new. After eating the first few things I noticed that my tongue was tingling in a way that I found concerning – it felt like what I imagine an anaphylactic reaction would – the food was delicious, however, and my tongue wasn’t swelling so I kept on eating.
There was also entertainment – a beautiful girl playing a guzheng (Chinese: 古箏), also known as Chinese zither (a traditional pentatonic stringed instrument).
Jim’s personal goal was to get a smile from her … he failed.
Next a Bian Lian (meaning mask changing) dancer performed. It was fascinating at the time, but I had no idea of the significance of this dance form in the Sichuan province. The Chinese government considers the secrets of this dance to be a national secret and only a few have mastered the skill to perform it. (Mask Changing – The Most Guarded Art)
After this we took a stroll down along the Yangsee River. The lighting along the river was quite beautiful. Along the river were fishermen with multiple lines in and there were a few brave soles floating down the river.
On one of my walks around Chongqing I passed by a man standing in the middle of the road holding one of the bang bang jun bamboo poles. At first glance I thought he was directing traffic but dangling on a rope from the end of his pole was a turtle…
When I got back to the room I looked up “turtle on a stick” and it turns out it is a thing! The construction work will disturb turtle’s nest and people catch and sell them.
One day I asked the fisherman whether the turtle was to be someone’s pet or someone’s dinner and was told both would be an option.
Thanks to PEANUTFINDS’ blog post for explaining this one to me: Hard Hats
Photo credit: worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/chongqing-population/
Picture credit: http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/chongqing-population/
Chongqing is growing rapidly. Currently Chongqing ‘proper’ has a a population of 9 million and it is expected to grow to 10 million by 2025 (http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/chongqing-population/). This rapid growth means construction zones are everywhere. There was a subway construction operation going on outside our hotel. I wish I had taken a photo each day to document the progress, because the speed at which they are getting it done largely with manual labour was impressive. One of the most fascinating things to watch is the men who carry construction materials – even massive street lampposts using bamboo poles.
When I looked it up I found out that this is common practice in Chongqing and they are called “bang-bang Jun” (pronounced bung-bung). They work at construction sites and they do deliveries throughout the city and can be seen carrying massive loads.
Explore AnitaStrang’s photos on Flickr. AnitaStrang has uploaded 15 photos to Flickr.
A great article and picture set: Chongqing’s Bang Bang Men
We arrived in Chongqing expecting it to be a smallish city as it was not a place we had heard of. We felt a bit foolish when we realized it is in fact a massive and rapidly growing city. Different sites give different numbers but it seems that over 30 million people live here. People in Chongqing tell us that it is the largest city in China – other sources say that it depends on how you define a city and that Chongqing with 30 million is actually more comparable to a province. Regardless it is massive – as we were driving through the city we were memorized by the endless skyscrapers for miles and miles in all directions.
Still, we were surprised to be in such a massive city we hadn’t heard of so I looked up “why haven’t we heard of Chongqing?” and some of the results were:
~The Megalopolis you’ve never heard of: “Chongqing is the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet.”
~-The biggest city you’ve never heard of: “First designated as a “municipality” in 1997 after a period of unbelievably rapid growth, the southern Chinese metropolis of Chongqing has largely escaped the world’s notice despite a massive population.”
~-Inside China’s mega-city you’ve never heard of
and many other similar posts…
Our hotel overlooks two massive freeways which made for great traffic watching and they were frequently in gridlock. The horn-honking is continuous which makes us think that drivers here are very impatient but also makes you wonder if there is a deeper meaning to the honking: Horn Honking in China: http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/chinesestudies/2014/08/13/horn-honking-in-china/. From a Canadian perspective, the movement of traffic is amusing to watch. The rules (or habits?) here are quite different – Jim says the lanes on the road are merely suggestions as drivers seem to use them only if they are convenient. Drivers need to be assertive to get anywhere here – when you want to merge or change lanes just wait for the hint of a gap and move quickly!
One night we watched a massive electrical storm from our windows on the 14th floor. We were just returning from a lovely warm evening walk and dinner at a quaint little restaurant at about 8:00 when the rain began. It became very heavy very quickly and one side of the freeway below us flooded. The cars all had their hazard lights on and were going through water up to their bumpers. Traffic was backed up for miles.