The Hassan's

Uncle Ho and
Chairman Mao

World Tour '98


(Read Other First Person Travel Stories)

CHEERS FROM CHONGQUIG

We have a guidebook from twelve years ago that describes this city as having a population of 5 million, now there are at least fifteen million, making it one of the World's largest cities. When we travel we take pictures of Pittsburgh to offer people we meet some idea of our city. Everybody knows New York, Washington or LA but few know of Pittsburgh. We show them a city with an accumulation of high rise buildings that took the last forty years to complete. In Chongquig they are literally building a "Pittsburgh" every couple of years. A student we met here described it as a "mile high city - that goes straight up".

In so many way it is much like Pittsburgh. Built on the triangular confluence of two rivers it is the gateway for the Yangtze River. The streets go straight up and down the hills - no one rides a bicycle here. There are stairway shortcuts that allow you to climb steps for ten minutes rather than navigate the winding street for thirty minutes. Fortunately there are taxis everywhere and they are very cheap.

We have been in Chongquig for three days and yet to see but one Western face - he was wearing a beeper so we figure he was not a tourist. We have found that away from the MAJOR tourist areas in China it is much more difficult to communicate. It has been a challenge, but many people want to help you. The only problem is determining if their "understanding" will result in helpful advice or only more confusion.

Chongquig is the jumping off point for Yangtze River cruises, so a lot of tourists fly in or out of town, but seemingly few of them see anything other than the docks and the road to the airport.

There are shopping malls in the middle of the city that would fit in anywhere in the West. In China there appears to be a small group of  "workers" who have an awful lot of disposable income. The great contrast in lifestyle among the Chinese now seems to extend far beyond the Beijing/Shanghai/Hong Kong axis. In the countryside they still use wooden plows and water buffalo while in the city they shop at Gucci.

Along the streets men wait with their paint brushes and rollers seeking work, while others walk the streets with printed signs showing their skills. The lure of the city is proving great, but China figures as long as they can keep from devaluating their currency and maintain an eight percent growth rate they can maintain stability. If the Asian economic crisis comes here the consequences are not going to be minor and the whole world will shake.

About 100 miles from Chongquig is the small city of Dazu (only about a million people). We hired a car that sped along the newly completed Chendu-Chongquig Expressway for the first sixty miles of the trip. Then it was off onto what you might call a road, but in many places it would best be called a track. On the paved roads you encounter many rocks and holes, while on the tracks you discover bits of pavement amongst the rocks and holes. It was a brutal three hour trip. Our driver stopped constantly to seek direction, not too reassuring!

Dazu has one of the great Buddhist monument sites in the World. Between 1179-1215 AD into the sides of a small canyon were carved magnificent scenes depicting the teachings of Buddha. The animation of these bas relief carvings is stunning and many of the reliefs retain the original vivid colors that highlighted them. We saw no other Western tourists here but there were a few Chinese visitors - no Stone Forest attraction. This was certainly one of the most outstanding aspects of the entire trip. Not easy to get to, but definitely worth the journey.

We had dispaired finding an internet site in Chongquig as almost nothing other than the McDonald's had anything in western script. While in the main square we met a student who wanted to practice his English. We noticed he had a computer program with him and inquired about the Net. He and a friend led us to an "Internet Bar",  that they themselves had great difficulty in finding. It was a great place, but in China when you use the Internet you must fill out forms that show your identity card number or in my case the passport info. Not quite sure that the Chinese Government is yet comfortable with the Net. Needless to say we weren't going to try and access any exotic websites. Did however as we got ready to leave try and access CNN and found access "unavailable".

Tonight we are off by plane for Beijing-will report from there.

Take Care
-JOHN & LOIS

Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan

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