Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hostile in Chongqing

My girlfriend, by text message, "don't hate the hostel"--Tina's Hostel Chongqing. Good advice, but I will just report the facts. Their English is so miserable that I don't know the name of the company or the direction in which the boat I take later today will go. They wanted to charge me 30RMB, but luckily I printed my receipt which clearly showed that it was 25RMB/night. Really, it is the principle of the damn thing. I do not need to quibble over 30RMB (five yuan more for six nights). I will only stay here three nights now. Last night and Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I think I will be on this boat for the rest of the nights.

They gave me a key to the dorm room, where two American women who prove Texas is the obesity capital of the world and a Chinese student of theirs were also staying. I bent the key trying to open the door because the lock was stripped maybe because the handle for the door was missing. Once inside, I wished to place my things in a locker, but the key for the locker, while less chintzy, would not turn the lock. I went upstairs and they laughingly told me that it was not my fault, the locker key never works for anybody! Nevertheless, they assigned me another locker and gave me a new key, but again it did not work.

The bathroom is customarily revolting. The Western toilets have been plopped down on top of the old squatters so that I am sure all manner of foul smelling expelled matter collects in the seams and grooves.

The directions say that you can easily see the sign from the street. Not only could they not get my can driver to understand, while speaking for five minutes on my phone, that we were right out front, but when the can driver finally brought me back to the location of said phone call, I got out of the car and walked right passed the steep stairs to the hostel, because the sign (at the bottom of the stairs) is totally obscured by a tree. It has been raining, which it always has since time in eternity, in Chongqing which means that it has been raining in the hostel. The whole place smells like a wet, unwashed towel and it brings me back to the after dinner terror of my childhood when mother would chase us about the kitchen with something we referred to as "the rag." (This practice continued years beyond when it should have.)

No breakfast so I am off to wander until 2PM when I must be back here to meet the taxi for the boat down the river, I hope.

But, you know what? The Internet works and the people who work here are pleasant!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chongqing Bound


I am leaving in an hour to catch a bus to the airport. I will land in Chongqing in the early evening and be to the hostel by 9PM at the latest. Here, courtesy of Lonely Planet and a wonderful CouchSurfer, are some of the things that I hope to do. How many can I cram in as a solo traveler?

Three Gorges Museum

This sleek museum showcases the history of settlement in the Chóngqìng region. A 1st-floor exhibition about the Three Gorges includes a model of the dam, and upstairs you can learn more about southwest China's minority cultures through their clothing and artwork. Some exhibits have better English captions than others, but the artefacts are well presented throughout.


Cíqìkǒu Ancient Town

The opportunity to glimpse slices of old Chóngqìng makes it worth riding out to this part of town, on the Jiālíng River west of the centre. Most of the buildings, many dating to the late Ming dynasty, have been restored for tourists, and the main drag can feel like a carnival, but away from the central street, a living, working village remains. You can easily lose yourself in its narrow lanes, peeking into homes and tiny storefronts. And there's plenty to eat here, both in the alleys and overlooking the river.

It's also worth poking your head inside Bǎolún Sì, one of Cíqìkǒu's only remaining temples. Its main building is more than 1000 years old.

Stilwell Museum

The Stilwell Museum by Eling Park is something of a novelty in China as it focuses on the American involvement in WWII. It is the former VIP guesthouse of the Kuomintang and residence of General Joseph Stilwell, commander of the US forces in the China-Burma-India Theatre and chief-of-staff to Chiang Kaishek in 1942.

Stilwell realised early on that a successful resistance required the cooperation of the Kuomintang and communist forces, and it was at his urging that Chiang relented for a time. Repeated efforts to bring the two sides together in a truly unified front against the Japanese largely failed, Stilwell said later, because of Chiang's obsession with wiping out the communists. Vinegar Joe's caustic personality grated with Chiang and others, so despite major victories including retaking the Burma front and procuring fighter jets for the Chinese air force to fly a key route over the Himalayas, called the Hump, Roosevelt relieved him of command in 1944.

Jiefangbei Square

Junction of Mingzu Road, Mingquan Road and Zourong Road, Yuzhong District, Chongqing 400000, China

Muslim Restaurant of Tian Shan

Serves the dishes of the Silk Road, meaning lots of lamb - braised lamb, stewed lamb and lamb wrapped in buns - eaten with a side of black vinegar and garlic. Try the lǎng (50 jiao), crispy onion pancakes baked to perfection on the side of circular ovens.

Hú Guǎng Huì Guǎn guild

The Hú Guǎng Huì Guǎn guild served as the seat of immigrant life 300 years ago in the Qin dynasty. Eager to increase the paltry population in Sìchuān, the government encouraged widespread immigration beginning in AD 316. By the time of the guild, the population was 800,000 and rapidly growing as settlers arrived mostly from the Hú (Húnán and Húběi) and Guǎng (Guǎngdōng and Guǎngxī) provinces, as well as ten others.

People came to the guild for legal processing and to worship and celebrate with other new arrivals. English guides are available, though you could easily spend a day wandering on your own through the beautifully restored guild houses and their collections of furniture, art and jewellery. Also worth checking out are the daily performances on the three opera stages, highlighting some examples of the traditions immigrants brought to Chóngqìng - from the tea art of Xīzàng to the quick-change biàn lián mask changing of Sìchuān. Free preview performances are put on at 14:30. Full performances with tea service are at 20:00. The guild is a 15-minute walk from Liberation Monument.

Lǎojiē Shíbātī Teahouse

A teahouse has stood for 600 years here at the top of the Eighteen Stairs. Come for a fresh pot served with small plates of dried fruit and cakes and an arresting view of the old city. There's beer too.
There's been a teahouse on this spot for more than 600 years and walking in here is like stepping into an antiques shop, with its wooden interior, period photos and fabulous furniture. The views are cool too as you look over one of the oldest parts of town, a maze of winding market lanes that can be accessed by walking down the teahouse's namesake alley, Eighteen Steps Lane (十八梯; Shíbātī).

Pirates Pub

Serves up the ingenious combination of pirates and disco. Local bands start playing most nights at 21:00 but the mutiny doesn't happen until 23:00. Look for three ship's sails.

Little Swan Hot Pot

Recommended for those who don't subscribe to the sweating-buckets-perched-on-a-plastic-stool hotpot experience. There's air-con, tablecloths, and five kinds of broth. Ask to 'zìzhù huǒguǒ' ( 助火鍋), which allows you to choose from 30 different meats, vegetables and noodles wheeled to your table.

Yangtze River Cruise

As I mentioned previously, it may be possible for me to get as far as Three Gorges. For the Yangtze river cruise, you can normally (except peak season or holiday season) to get the cheapest next day boat ticket at ChaoTianMen dock ticket offices in JieFangBei. The company is called Chongqing Travel Group. The domestic (3 star) boats cost ranging from around 400 RMB (no meals included) to 650 RMB (meals included), and from 2 days to 4 days.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Into the Panda's Den

Planning for a Chongqing Visit on the National Holiday

The People's Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square. The Central People's Government passed the Resolution on the National Day of the People's Republic of China on December 2, 1949 and declared that October 1 as the National Day. I will be free at 6PM on Thursday and do not have another class until the morning of Sunday, October 7.

On Friday, I will fly to Chongqing and stay at a dirt cheap hostel (US $27.89for six nights). The name of the hostel is Tina's Hostel Chongqing. It has several dubious reviews, but quite a few glowing ones, as well. I am going by myself and have some trepidation about getting around in a city of 7 million or more, but it will be fun to be there for October 1. It is also the city that has attracted attention surrounding the Bo Xilai Affair. Mr. Bo was an avid promoter of "singing Red Songs" and so I may get a chance to witness that. 



Nationalism is running high right now as things escalate with Japan after the September 19th anniversary of the Mukden Incident (1931).

The former police chief of Chongqing is on trial. Mr Wang, who ran to the US Consulate last spring, was charged with defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking. He may get off lightly for bringing Gu Kailai to justice.

Mr. Bo Xilai is the now well-known former mayor
Wikipedia reports, "The politics of Chongqing is structured in a dual party-government system like all other governing institutions in the People's Republic of China. The Mayor of Chongqing is the highest-ranking official in the People's Government of Chongqing. Since Chongqing is a centrally administered municipality, the mayor occupies the same level in the order of precedence as provincial governors. However, in the city's dual party-government governing system, the mayor has less power than the Chongqing Communist Party of China Municipal Committee Secretary, colloquially termed the 'Chongqing CPC Party Chief'.


"Chongqing also has the distinction of having been the wartime capital of China during the Second Sino-Japanese war, and, for a brief period, being the seat of administration for the Republic of China government before its departure to Taiwan.

"Chongqing is headquarters of the 13th Group Army of the People's Liberation Army, one of the two group armies that comprise the Chengdu Military Region responsible for the defense of China's southwestern borders with India and Myanmar, as well as security in Tibet."

I am eager to meet people in this western hub on the shores of the Yangtze River. I may even make it to Three Gorges on this trip. I will certainly make it to Three Gorges Museum.


China Three Gorges Museum is situated at the west part of the People's Square of Chongqing. Occupying 30,000 square meters, the museum was completed and opened to the public on Jun 18, 2005. It's not only a museum of Three Gorges but also a comprehensive museum of history and art with a collection of over 170,000 cultural relics.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Long unexplained absence

I did not hurt my back playing soccer (or football). I did not have a heart attack or a stroke. I did not go on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney and Xi Jinping. I did not fly home to vote in the New Hampshire Primary. I did not have a birthday bash last Friday that laid me low. Nevertheless, it has been the longest stint of my not posting since I arrived in China--more than a fortnight since my last post.

I have been busy with work. I have been enjoying myself--mostly at Qing Yi Fang (the tea-flower-goldfish market) and various other haunts with which I have made you familiar in the past. I have also been reading.

Last Emperor Puyi and his wife, Li Shuxian
I say that I am reading two books at once, but really I have laid A Dream of Red Mansions (Volume 1 [of4]) aside and am buried in The Last Emperor of China: My Husband Puyi by Li Shuxian. She was his fifth wife, as a matter of speaking. That is to say, he had a wife and then a few concubines whilst he was "the emperor behind closed doors" and the puppet emperor of the Japanese occupation, marrying the Fortunate Concubine in 1943 at the age of 15, a year after his third wife---the 22 year-old "Auspicious Concubine"-- died. His second wife was the "Virtuous Concubine" or Wenxiu. His proper first wife was Wanrong, who became his Empress in 1922.

One of the most interesting projects that I have been honored to undertake literally fell into my lap when I was chatting with a Chinese friend, who goes by the English pseudonym of Jack London. We were at a local bar and I was bemoaning the signage at museums throughout China, which so butcher the English language and which are so full of anti-Japanese sentiment, when he told me that he was indeed the person who wrote the material for Puyi's Palace, one of the foremost tourist destinations in Changchun. You may remember that I visited there within a couple of weeks of arriving and shared some pictures and thoughts. I have begun making revisions to the signs.

I took the HSK2 exam and ran out of time, filling in bubbles willy-nilly in the last seconds. This was a huge disappointment and setback. I know the vocabulary cold, but have so little experience hearing/reading the words and phrases in context that I am quite sure I did not get the 90% which I got on HSK1. Nevertheless, I will prepare for the HSK3 in January. We have an ambitious study plan, which involves me learning how to write and pronounce (tone and all) twenty words each week. I must know 600 words to pass. Luckily, one of my lovely doctor students presented me with a gorgeous calligraphy pen that makes writing a joy.

I am sorry to be missing a family wedding and family memorial service, but send my public blessings to George Gregory, my godson, upon his marriage, and to the Nelson Lee clan, upon his foreseeable departure from God's green earth.

I have also watched the New Hampshire Primary with some interest. Hon. Maggie Hassan is the candidate with the wherewithal to defeat Ovide Lamontagne, but New Hampshire would be well-served to have somebody with the ideas and strength of character of Hon. Jackie Cilley. That my old state is condemned to another indefinite period of pledge politics is grim news. That they are also condemned to the continuing hegemony of Ray Buckley and his minions is also not good news. The Presidential campaign is evidence of how debased American politics has become and how much of a role that obscene amounts of money continues to play.