Saturday, October 01, 2005


After a five hour bus ride we've arrived in Chongqing, where we'll depart this evening on a cruise down the Yangtze river. Chongqing is the third major Chinese city we've visited, and I am beginning to notice some differences between the three cities. Of course, my experience as a foreign tourist in Beijing or Chongqing may not tell me much about what city residents are really like. But even as a tourist I observe some life in each city as it is really lived, and it feels like there is some connection between the culture of each city and the way that residents treat an outsider.

In Beijing I was somewhat of a novelty item. Chinese tourists wanted my photo and sophisticated Beijingers were almost insulted that I didn't say hello in English. In Chengdu people were less wealthy but often friendly and curious. Each city is full of people and each skyline is full of communist era dirty concrete apartment buildings and new high rises under construction, but Chongqing is poorer and meaner than Beijing or Chengdu. As our bus pulled into Chonqing this afternoon we passed blocks of shacks built from bamboo mats and cheap plywood. Very few people here look wealthy and far fewer people are interested in helping confused Westerners. Very few services cater to Western tourists and the few sales people who have approached us are mocking and aggressive. In Chongqing, it's difficult to tell if some tall buildings are actively under construction, if the project has been abandoned, or if they are being torn down. Chongqing's poverty lends the city an odd charm. Dilapidated buildings cover the city's rolling hills and trees line ancient streets. This tired city looks almost organic--as if it came out of the ground and will crumble back into it.

The trip from Beijing to Chonqing had been amazing. We spent the past several days in the Sichuan region of the country, with Chengdu as our nome base. On day one we visited a Panda breeding facility, where I actually held a panda cub. This cub was one big boy. He weighed about one hundred pounds. As massive as he was, he was as soft and gentle and fussy as any baby. Even the adult Pandas were incredibly gentle.

We left the reserve and had lunch at a Buddhist temple in Chengdu. Think big Budha, think classic temple, and you can guess what it looked like. It was great to enjoy some fantastic vegetarian food at a place that doesn't serve anything else.

We left the next morning for Mt Emei. Mt Emei is the tallest Buddhist holy mountain in China and stands about 3,000 meters high. Religious pilgrims climb the mountain to worship in the temple at the peak. I don't know why we climbed the mountain. Perhaps we have an appetite for pain. The difficulty of the climb was what made the experience so humbling and amazing. Buddhists have carved stairs all of the way up the mountain, and the ascent is about twenty one kilometers. Monkeys cover the path and have mastered the art of piracy. We were stopped more than once by a fifty-pound menace with bared teeth who expected us to hand over whatever we had in our pack. The babies were cute and oh-so-much fun to feed. But babies attracted big brothers who were seriously frightening.

We finished 15 kilometers in the first day of our climb and spent the night at a lower temple. Life in the temple was not what I had expected. The monks there were not particularly pious. The monk who checked us into our room was a social butterfly who stopped to chat with every person in the monastary before finally leading us to our bed. I suppose this is less of a shock than the monks in Chengdu who had cell phones. We finised the final five kilometers of the climb on the second day and travled back down the mountain.

My time's up. I'm off to sail down the Yangtze. More to come...


  • At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You are tiring me out! Go, go, go, go. I though I went until I dropped. No way. Go girl.
    A Friend


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