If someone asked you to name China’s big cities, you’d probably name the ones towards the coasts – Shanghai and Beijing in the east, Hong Kong and Guangzhou in the south. The west of the country is less densely populated but there are two giants that you won’t find anywhere near the sea – Chengdu and Chongqing. Chongqing will be the topic of today. It’s a city I had never heard of before arriving in China. If I remember rightly, Chongqing used to belong to Sichuan province until it became its own area, it’s now one of only four cities directly under the control of the national government. About 30 million people live in the Chongqing area.
One of the ‘things to see’ in Chongqing is the Liberation Monument, located in the middle of the city’s business and shopping district. The skyscrapers make it look tiny but apparently it was the city’s tallest building back in the day. The monument was originally built to commemorate the Second World War in 1945. This changed a few years later to commemorate another huge event in recent Chinese history – Mao’s revolution. As the photo might indicate, it’s not the most awe-inspiring thing in the world.
The next tourist attraction we visited was the ‘Ciqikou’ old town. The Chinese like to recreate aspects from their long past, we came across a few ancient towns during our time there and they’re pretty much the same thing. You’ll find the ‘typical Chinese’ architecture with market stalls. Chongqing is famous for its spicy hot pot so we bought something containing chili peppers, thinking it would be interesting to try and it looks appetising. We, stupid foreigners, didn’t realise it was meant to be used as a kind of giant stock cube… I started biting into it and a couple of women started laughing at me. It rained while we were walking the streets of the old town so we stopped for a well-presented and expensive tea.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Chongqing was to see the Yangtze river, it’s one of the longest and most famous rivers in the world and I was expecting to see something quite amazing. In hindsight, it’s just a lot of water so I don’t really know what I was hoping for. The water was brown and the sky was dark (with pollution probably), it wasn’t the image I had in mind. We crossed it on a cable car which showed off the skyline well.
The highlight of the trip happened by pure coincidence. In China we were on a teaching programme and there were about 80 teachers, the majority of us were based in Chengdu but some were sent to Chongqing. While we were walking around on the first night we bumped into some of the others who lived there – remember the size of this city – they invited us to watch a football match. Chengdu doesn’t have a team at the moment so Chongqing were our ‘local’ team – of course I was up for going! I even bought myself a counterfeit replica shirt. Who said it was Asian tourists turning up at our games? It’s European tourists invading Chinese league games! ‘We’ played one of the Shanghai clubs who had an ex-Chelsea player in their side, I think we lost…
To be honest, I didn’t love Chongqing and I felt lucky we’d been given a place in Chengdu instead. The city seemed vast and industrial, the sky was always grey – even by Chinese standards – the buildings were huge but not beautifully-designed. It almost felt oppressive. I doubt it would be on many itineraries, for good reason. It’s probably one of the few places I wouldn’t go back to in China.