We flew overnight from Dubai to Chongqing. Our trip to China was short, five cities in five days.
- Our first sight of China and Chongqing on waking up on the plane was lots of high-rise apartment blocks, stacked one after the other. I read somewhere if you need something, reach out to your neighbour in the next apartment block, they’re that close.
- The apartments are stacked close together because Chongqing being mountainous, flat land is in short supply. It was interesting to see so big a city so close to high mountains.
- There were no westerns to be seen. I have never visited anywhere before really with no tourists and no westerns. Being a city away from Eastern China, it’s not on the tourist path. Plus most of its manufacturing is for the Chinese market so western business people don’t visit.
- The only real evidence of poverty that we saw were some very run-down looking apartment blocks and people looking to carry cases for you with a stick and rope in the train station.
- People were generally well dressed. There was little evidence of obesity, though we later learned that obesity is becoming a problem in China.
- Chongqing is one of China’s four direct-controlled municipalities, (the other three are Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin). It is the only municipality away from the coast. Chongqing is the most populous, the largest and the poorest of the four. Its GDP per capita is 8,770 US$. A July 2012 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit described Chongqing as one of China’s “30 emerging megacities”.
- The population of the Chongqing municipality is 37 million, in an area of 32 thousand square miles – that’s the same size as Ireland. 18 million live in the urban area. 5 million live in Chongqing city itself – there now are other separate cities that make up the urban area.
There was lots of construction going on
Note the train
- There are three main rivers in China, all flowing west to east: 1) the Yellow River in the north 2) the Yangtze river in the centre and 3) the Xi River in the south. (The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile.) Chongqing is an important manufacturing centre and a transportation hub in the upstream Yangtze basin.
- Chongqing was created in 1997 to help with the Three Gorges Dam migration. The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze river and is the world’s largest power station. It was completed in 2012 and displaced 1.3 million people. The Three Gorges Dam has been very controversial – As well as displacing people, it has flooded archaeological and cultural sites and is causing significant ecological changes including a risk of landslides.
- Chongqing apparently had a reputation for corruption and organised crime and is still the most dangerous city in China. The corruption extended from business to law-enforcement and justice. In 2009 a major crackdown took place under Bo Xilai, the Communist Part Secretary of Chongqing. Later it was highlighted that confessions were extracted using torture. A lawyer and some policeman were later charged for this. I read that Bo Xilai was considered a likely candidate for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee. I was curious to see did he make it and checked – to find that he himself was later found guilty of corruption, stripped of all his assets and sentenced to life imprisonment. Gamekeeper turned poacher or something like that! The only evidence we saw of the city’s bad reputation is that Chongqing apparently has the highest number of security cameras in the world.
- Chongqing has a subtropical climate and for most of the year experiences very wet conditions. It rained heavily while we were there. Was I sorry I’d forgotten my umbrella!
- At breakfast in our hotel on Tuesday morning I have never seen such an array of lovely food and not many breakfast customers. Those that were there were mostly Chinese men dressed in very casual clothes, no suits. It was a buffet, I people watched. One man beside me had taken an amazing amount of food and I watched as he ate. If he didn’t like something he flicked it off his plate onto the table. He wolfed down the food with chop sticks. Later and with great elegance he delicately picked a hard-boiled egg with chop sticks. My chop stick skills have improved but don’t test me yet on hard-boiled eggs!
- Having gone around and looked at every dish (there were many more than shown above!), I ate what I normally eat – Bircher meusli (yes they had it), fresh fruit and coffee! I liked their sign
- We took a train on Tuesday morning from Chongqing to Chengdu. I’ve included the whole of China in the map below – the 300km trip between Chongqing and Chengdu looks very tiny in the scale of the country!
- Without a word of English (but with great help from Google translate), we were able to navigate to buy tickets and get to correct platform. The journey was 300 km and the ticket cost €19. The journey took 1.5 hrs. The highest train speed reached was 293km/hr. I noticed that train went through lots of long tunnels. It stopped in 2 or 3 stations en route. The train station and the train itself were very new and modern. The high rise development continued almost all way between Chongqing and Chengdu. Looking out train window lots of high rise building plus mountains were to be seen. Because it was a mountainous area, agriculture was on stepped ground. We saw a lot of fog. It was very green but that’s not surprising given all the rain. The cleanliness of the train was very noticeable, staff were very smartly dressed. Announcements on the train were in Chinese and English things like – no-smoking – maintain quietness, bring crying babies to intersections between carriages – the train would arrive in next station and would stop for 2 minutes.
Buying train tickets
Some views from the train
- Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province and has a population of 14 million. It is one of the three most populous cities of western China, (the other two are yesterday’s Chongqing and Xi’an).
- Chengdu is unique in that it has maintained its name largely unchanged. Its nickname is City of the Turtle. It served briefly as the capital of China.
- Chengdu’s international airport is one of the 30 busiest in the world. More than 260 Fortune 500 companies have established branches in Chengdu.
- 80% of the estimated 1,500 world’s Giant Pandas are in Sichuan Province. There is a breeding centre for them in Chengdu, which is a big tourist attraction for Chengdu. There were lots of Chinese tourists around while we were visiting.
- Chengdu was more obviously affluent than Chongqing. Its GDP per capita is US$12,019, (compared to US$ 8,770 for Chongqing.) The buildings reflected it being more affluent. Again there was a lot of construction going on.
- Our hotel was near the centre of Chengdu. It was in a new development beside Daci Monastery and Temple, which I went to see.
Wouldn’t I love to be able to sleep as easily as this lady!Nearby was full of traditional small Chinese shops side by side designer shops, I was only interested in the former.
The giant statue of Chairman Mao in Tianfu Square, the centre of Chengdu.
- We noticed lots of rented bicycles from the mobile app Mobikes and Ofo – bright orange and bright yellow. These bikes don’t have any docking stations just a lock/unlock within the App. I read a recent article, where bike renting is causing problems in China – cyclists going the wrong way and abandoning bikes anywhere and some fatal accidents. I smiled on reading: The city of Shanghai is considering a more drastic approach to limiting their [rented bikes] use: Barring people authorities consider either too tall, too short or too overweight to hop on a bike due to fears they may be too unstable on vehicles made for the average frame.
There were also lots of motorbikes.
- A magnitude 7 earthquake struck 300 km away in Guangyuan on the same day as we were in Chengdu with reports of sadly 13 people dead and over 100 injured. Fortunately it didn’t affect Chengdu.
- On Wednesday morning we flew from Chengdu to Beijing. Our flight was slightly delayed due to the earthquake. We crossed some uninhabited mountainous areas and areas with low-rise development, we’ve got so used to the high-rise that we’re now noticing low-rise.
Chinese Whispers to be continued