Friday 11th March
Does anyone know the spoof Jetlag Travel Guide series? One of them is about a mythical Central European country called Molvania. The sign at the capital city airport has this proud slogan greeting new arrivals:
Welcome to Molvania
Home of the World’s Largest Nuclear Reactor
Birthplace of Whooping Cough
I’ve just spent the last 24 hours in Chongqing, one of the biggest cities in the world, with more than thirty-one million inhabitants. The sign at the airport could have said:
Welcome to Chongqing –
Smog City in Winter,
The Furnace in Summer
Apart from knowing about the 31 million inhabitants (ie about the combined populations of Hungary and Romania) these two facts were almost all I knew about the place.
Oh, and the bang bang men and women, of course, the amazingly athletic people who are hired by the hour to carry bundles of stuff attached to a stick across their back. A good bang-bang man or woman can be running up and down the hills of the city all day and still have the equivalent of less than two dollars to show for it.
My first impressions didn’t do much to change the image I had in my mind.
It was foggy AND raining when I arrived after midnight on a delayed flight from Ning Bo. I was then driven the thirty kilometres into the city by a taxi driver who had clearly managed to pass his driving test without ever looking in any of his mirrors or even choosing the correct gear for any particular manoeuvre.
This morning, from my room on the 28th floor of the Harbour Plaza Hotel, I looked out on a murky brown/grey city-scape of high rise. It wasn’t promising.
Then I had breakfast and read the British Council’s up-beat introduction to the city. It was clearly written by someone who loves the place and the general area. By the end of reading it, I could see that there was more to this place than smog and intense heat.
It is after all the nearest city to the Three Gorges Dam on the River Yangtse, the biggest dam in the world and the world’s largest concrete structure. Even people who opposed the building of the dam say that a boat trip to look at it is breathtaking.
Then there’s the food. Spicy hot pot is the most sociable meal around. You sit around a pot full of oil, spice and water and add raw ingredients. Apparently blows your head off the first time, but you get used to it – and addicted to it – over time.
And the women are the prettiest in China, apparently, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.
I went to the venue to meet the teachers I was going to talk to. Four hundred of them turned up, having managed to get there in this city of hills, which has no underground transport system. And they were wonderful, totally absolutely wonderful. They were quiet to start with, and by the end were having a ball.
So now, despite being dead on my feet after five three-hour workshops in five days in five cities across China, I just wanted to sit down and write this postcard.
Come to Chongqing –
Home of the Hot Pot,
the most sociable and addictive eating experience
in the world
If you don’t know the Molvania Jetlag guide, you can find some extracts here.