Postcard from Chongqing

Chongqing China

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.

The Three Gorges Dam

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.

Chongqing English teachers
This teacher's mobile phone went off. They had been told they had to sing a song if this happened, so he did. He was good! Sounded a bit like Frank Sinatra.

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.


9 thoughts on “Postcard from Chongqing

  1. Thank you very much, Ken!
    I really enjoyed reading your postcard.

    Anyway, never heard of Molvania so I check the link you gave here. I wonder if there is any chance the author was somehow inspired by Slovakia… LOL! There is a map of Molvania with a city called Bardjov. We have a city called Bardejov. 😀

    Enjoy your stay in China!

    1. Hi Vladka!

      I think a lot of people in Central Europe think that Molvania is based on their country. 😛 But after my four or five visits to Slovakia, I can say that your country and people are much too lovely to be described in the way the Molvanians are described. 🙂

  2. How about you and Dede spending one more fortnight in China? Your blog readers, speacially those living very far away, will have the joy of learning more and more about what is not revealed of this fascinating country. When you mentioned the great Yangtse River, it reminded me of Hudson Taylor and how the Chinese people expressed their profound gratitude for what this great British man did for inland China.

  3. Nice postcard Ken! Heading there in June and trying to find out some info. Now seriously looking forward to the hot pot!!

    1. Hey Calum,

      have a ball there. In the end, it’s all about the people – and they are wonderful.

      And the hot pot is pretty good too – and there’s a scaredy-cat hot pot version which isn’t so hot, and you can even have your own pot. 😛

  4. i visited chongqing in dec 2010 and it is everything you wrote. i actually enjoyed my time, although 2 weeks a bit to long.

    Most days were rainy and cold, but I got a chance to visit stone carvings in Dazu.

  5. Hello sir, nice to meet your blog, its so amazing about this site, because of you and the postcard from Chongqing. I am a gril of chongqing but now, I am studying in France . I miss my hometown very much, so thanks for your beautiful picture, thanks you too sir, and best wishes for you .

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