Tuesday, October 8, 2013

China recap: Chongqing

Chongqing (pronounced Chong-ching (and spelled that way old school)) was not expected to be a notable stop for us.  We only had two reasons for going -- I wanted to go to the Stillwell Museum, and it was where we were going to get on a boat for a few days on the Yangtze River.

But I ended up loving it there.  For me, it was where it all started to come together.  Suddenly, I was more confident in my shoddy Chinese and I would work harder to make myself understood.  We were more confident in our food choices.  We walked into one restaurant and were handed sheets of paper with the menu in Chinese and pencils to mark our orders -- like we do here for sushi sometimes -- and we just gave up and walked out.  That was over our heads and was likely to result in a dining experience we wouldn't enjoy.  While we didn't need English menus, we needed the option of pointing at things other diners had.  We had lots of trouble finding a decent map of the city, but we made our way.  We ate some really great food, particularly hot pot.  We met some friendly people, including a boy who was about 8 who grabbed my hand as we walked in the street around some construction and we practiced our language skills on each other (I learned that he was on his way to school, that he always walked alone, that he doesn't have any siblings, and that his primary English phrases are mommy, daddy, FBI).  And we noticed many unique things about the city:  the intense smog and pollution, the abundance of hot pot restaurants, the city was massive with huge buildings everywhere but of course unheard of to most Americans, unique spices to the food, the "bag men" who carry huge loads of merchandise around the city for delivery either on bamboo poles over their shoulders, or on small wagons they pulled through the streets.  And I got tons of World War II history out of it! 

Chongqing was the wartime capital of China and the alliance with the US is highlighted in the Stillwell museum.  The war is alternatively called the Chinese People's Anti-Japanese War and the World War Against Fascism.  Stillwell came to China in 1942 and worked as the Chief of Staff to Chiang Kai-shek and Commander of the US Army in the China-Burma-India theater, where China fought the Japanese invasion.  In early 1942, the Japanese had cut off the route in northern Burma that was China's only land route connecting it to the rest of the world.  That left China without supplies, and forced two solutions:  the creation of a land route, and in the interim, the Hump Flight route that allies flew over the Himalayas.  The first part of that solution, the road, is one of the more famous bits of war history. 

The story may sound familiar as it was featured in The Bridge on the River Kwai, a great movie.  Stillwell prepared a counter-offensive into Burma, planning to build a road from Ledo (India) through Myitkyina and Bhamo to connect with the Burma-Yunnan road into Kunming, which would reopen the major supply road for China.  The road project design was completed in Nov. 1942, and construction began on Dec. 10.  Thousands and thousands of Chinese and US soldiers, as well as hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians worked on the road and it was tough to say the least.  If you're interested, Burma Road is one of my favorite books about the project.  The road was 1800 kilometers long and opened to traffic in Jan. 1945, known as Stillwell Road.  That road is considered the War's greatest miracle of engineering as it cuts over high mountains and through deep gorges with horrible terrain and climate.  And of course it was all made worse by the lack of machinery and man-power, and ongoing attacks by the Japanese.  They also completed the China-Bruma oil pipeline network, and that, along with the road, was enough to break the Japanese's land blockade of China, which was critical to success. 

There's your two minute history lesson for the day!  Sorry, I love that stuff!

Anyway, on to photos of Chongqing: 

Here's a picture on arrival -- dense smog.  At first we thought it was just a foggy day, but no, it was smog.

A temple among the buildings of the city center:

A Mini Cooper!  Right by the pedestrian center of town:

A smoggy view of the Yangtze river:

Temple in Chongqing:

Lots of high end shops in the pedestrian area, along with some familiar sights:

One of the city's primary delivery methods:

Another view of the temple surrounded by city:

Woo-hoo!  A highlight of the entire trip to China for me, and where we spent way longer than possibly any other tourists in the history of the museum!  If you can't read the sign, it says it is the Residence and Headquarters of General Joseph Stillwell, chief commander of the US forces in teh China-Burma-India theater, 1942-44. 

A picture of Stillwell's desk in his office:

One floor of the museum was filled with old photos, like this one welcoming the first convoy on Stillwell Road. 

Love this particularly as it shows the massive buildings on the other side of the river from downtown Chongqing, along with a bust of Stillwell:

A cable car ride across the Yangze River.  It's called the Changjiang River cableway, and is basically a bus in the air. 

Heading to the other side of the Yangtze River.  This ride cost 5 yuan and lasted about 5 minutes, going 1166 meters across.  You can see the Chaotianmen dock as you cross: 

Looking toward downtown Chongqing at a hazy sunset: 

Chongqing's bag men waiting for work, holding their bamboo poles:

Loved this shot of a man in a suit carrying his birdcage:

Bag man waiting for work:

One of the funniest pictures from the trip.  We noticed men with purses in Xi'an and at first thought they were holding them for wives or girlfriends.  By Chongqing, we noticed that was not the case, there were in fact men with purses.  And not some kind of man bag either, more like this bright yellow one someone's grandmother might enjoy: 

A bag man at work -- I cannot even imagine how hard this work must be:

More bag men, though carrying heavy buckets instead of bags: 

Bag man all balanced, walking in the street (along with everyone else, not many sidewalks there):

Outside a temple:

Temple in Chongqing:

Inside the temple, rows and rows and rows:

At the center of the temple:

Outside the temple: 

WWII monuments found throughout the city:

Crowds in the pedestrian area at lunch time:

Construction is a big theme in Chongqing, the city seems to be growing fast: 

Another bag man, not using his pole, again, making me thankful...

Looking out at a bridge along the Yangtze in the smog:

The Great Hall of the People in Chongqing:

The Three Gorges Museum:

Another view of the Great Hall of the People: 

Typical Chongqing streets -- some cars, some bikes, some pedestrians, and at least one person pulling a wagon full of goods: 

View from our hotel room, massive skyscrapers everywhere along the Yangtze: 

A view of the Yangze from the cable car:

Massive, massive apartment buildings: 

A slum under the cable car right along the river: 

Chongqing at night: 

Enjoyed at almost every crazy spicy meal we had in Chongqing, the product of the Chongqing Brewery Company: 

Another man carrying goods, and of course more construction: 

It was one of the more interesting places in China and I ended up loving it!  Chongqing is known as the mountain city for its beautiful landscape.  I wish there had been more time or less haze to have continued enjoying it. 

1 comment:

  1. those cable cars! oh my! i would do it, but i would be terrified the entire time...so afraid of heights!