Oops – we got trapped on a boat on the Yangtze River with effectively no Internet access, so I couldn’t post what I had about Chongqing and Hong Kong, but better late than never.
We spent a couple of days in Chongqing essentially as a stopover before heading to Hong Kong for Mark’s arthroscopic knee surgery. Since I first saw the city on a map I’ve been intrigued with it. My mother, you see, worked in the cafeteria at the Chun King factory – the vile prepared Chinese food available in grocery stores in the 1960s and 1970s – in Duluth when I was a boy. Although the city is pronounced “chong-ching,” it looks as though Chun King would be a poor Americanization of the city. And while I unable to find anything online indicating where Jeno Paulucci (the company founder and noted Iron Ranger) got the name, we did find a Grand Chun King Hotel, which makes me even more suspicious.
At any rate, we wanted to see what is kind of a poster child for fast-growing Chinese cities. While technically Chongqing has a population of some 29 million people, that figure represents many millions of people who live outside what we would call the city; the urbanized part is “only” about seven million. Still, coming into the city on the bus from Langzhong, the construction underway or recently completed is just staggering. The number of 30-story buildings (or in that range) must be phenomenal; you just pass mile after mile of these new or new-ish buildings. So yes, Chongqing is a center of the growth of New China.Getting to Chongqing was something of an adventure. When I went to put my bag in the storage area of the bus I got a bit of a surprise to see two live geese in there; a woman was taking her geese from Langzhong to Chonqing and I suppose I should be grateful she didn’t just bring them on the bus as her seat mates.
From there it just stayed interesting. The roads in China are really wonderful, wide, new, in great shape, easy to make good time. And everywhere you see huge bridges, long tunnels, new construction – really just a lot of engineering marvels. And – and this is important – they’re always on time. Our experience so far is that buses often leave a few minutes before they’re scheduled to. Can make for easy travel.
But then there are the things that make travel in China – or just being in China – challenging. Like when I noticed the little five-year-old boy sitting behind me peeing into what I naively thought was an innocent waste basket on the bus. Given the lurching of the bus in traffic and his little boy-ness, it wasn’t clear his aim was so good. But the floor was messy enough that I’m not sure it would have mattered.
And the noise. God, the noise. Chinese just have no sense of an “inside voice,” for children or even adults. And the bus companies – and we’ve seen this in other Asian countries, too – love playing loud smash-em-up movies while you’re traveling. Just awful.As long as I’m on the subject of annoyances: cigarettes. Oh my. Apparently I’ve gotten pretty used to Western approaches to cigarette smoke, an attitude not shared by the Chinese. Everywhere you go – restaurants, bus stations, lines you have to wait in, you name it – there is smoke. Even nice hotels have smoking floors. Strange.
OK, enough complaining, and back to the things we like. As Chongquing is right next to Sìchuan Province, and in fact was a part of Sìchuan until it was split off administratively in 1997, food was again a highlight of our visit. Along with the visit to the über-crowded Ciqikou neighborhood, this was mostly a quick stop to sample some more great food. There is a cable car that crosses the Yangtze that would have been a good secondary tourist stop, but the weather was pretty crappy so we didn’t do even that.
After our quick two-day stop in Chongqing we were on a plane to Hong Kong for Mark’s surgery. The good news is that all went very well; the doctor cleaned up whatever it was that was torn and less than a week later Mark is recovering quickly.
Mostly we just laid low while Mark rested his knee, but I did spend one day taking a boat to Lamma Island, one of the outer islands that make up Hong Kong. Lonely Planet indicated there was a nice walk from the port to another little port and the authors were right. Just a nice little boat ride to what felt surprisingly Mediterranean, a few miles past a cute little beach, then up and over the island. Nothing too exotic but a great chance to sample rural Hong Kong.
And that was it. Four days after the surgery we checked out of the hotel, Mark left his crutches behind, and flew back to Chongqing to catch a boat down the Yangtze River. More on that soon.