Ancient Chongqing

Two hours outside the city center is Mount Baoding, one of two mountains in Dazu County (I wrote this incorrectly in my last post), a World Heritage Site (checkin’ it off my bucket list, oh yeah!). On the mountain are Dazu Rock Carvings of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian influence from the days way before yore. People back then obviously had a lot of time, patience and unmatched artistic abilities as they were able to produce these magnificent sculptures and carvings. Here’s what I’m talking about:



Guanyin and the Thousand Arms

The rock carvings are some of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s amazing to me that something from centuries ago (7th century AD to be exact, thanks Wiki) can still exist.

Dazu county, besides the mountains, is known for its quality knives. Many modern rock sculptures–lions that guard banks for example–are also made here. I guess the skills from sculptors of the Dazu Rock Carvings were inherited by today’s Dazu residents; it’s in their blood.

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Not quite as old as the Dazu Rock Carvings is Longxing Ancient Town, which I dub “Mahjong Heaven.” Despite it being a tourist attraction, fortunately still a minor one, my walk through the old alleys felt more like a stroll through the locals’ neighborhood. People hung out everywhere–a girl washing her hair in a bucket on her doorstep, kids running around being kids, all the cafes filled with people playing mahjong, clothes drying outside, the elderly on break from mahjong resting on benches chatting away, vendors selling goods at their front door. It is the friendliest, most bustling and homey town I’ve come across in a long time, perhaps because it is small. But actually, in general Chongqing gives off a friendlier vibe than Beijing. Maybe it has to do with the climate. Colder weather, colder people? Warm sunshine, warmer people?

Mahjong Madness!

 

Longxing used to be farmland, but the Chongqing government in its endeavor to develop the city bought the land (I believe for a fair price) and began building it up. My aunt says the reason people there have so much time to play mahjong (aside from it being Spring Festival) is because these former farmers have no more land to cultivate, and also because they are much better off than when they were farmers (they now run all the small businesses in town). My aunt also says in 10 years this part of Chongqing will become the next most developed area of the city. If this is so, I’m glad I got to visit Longxing before the streets become crowded with tourists.

We bought two chickens from him. (Is that a beer in his hand?! I just noticed this! I've been noticing a lot of new things in my photographs since this new WP theme displays HUGE photos!)

Here they are! (Sorry chickens, but you are guaranteed fresh. I hope you have a better afterlife.)


This little one's got the blues.

and this little one is pooping in the street hehehehe (I didn't notice the poo under her butt until I uploaded this photo!!)

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I’m Back!

For the past 2 weeks I have been visiting Grandma He and paternal family in Chongqing to celebrate 春節 (Chūnjié), Spring  Festival/Chinese New Year  (Year of the Dragon!). This was my first Spring Festival, a 15-day celebration (1/15-2/6), in the motherland. In the States, this holiday meant little to me but huge potlucks with our Chinese family friends in Boston, an annual event that sadly diminished as I got older.

Grandma He, the cutest most grandma-ey-ist grandma on earth!

The spirit of Spring Festival is equivalent to the entire holiday season back home which explains why the spirit I was missing around Christmas was far but made up for. Red lanterns hung everywhere, businesses offered special 春節 discounts, train tickets sold out, a week off from work, traffic cleared up (AMAZING), bags packed and most everybody was back home with their families, and I with mine.

Spring Festival has a lot of traditions that I don’t think my family keeps to. But the ones we did maintain this year included eating a Reunion Dinner,  cringing as we watched the annual Spring Festival Evening Broadcast (6 hours of flashy, cheesy music, dance, and comedy) on TV, exchanging red envelopes ($$$!), eating “rice dumplings” filled with black sesame (nom nom), and setting off fireworks (terrifying). I read in the China Daily that at least 70% Chinese people gain weight over this break, and according to my scale, this is accurate.

Right next to our balcony!

We did a whole lot of sitting around this holiday, but that’s part of the tradition: being at home. However, when I wasn’t at home learning how to knit socks with my grandma, stifling her dogs with my love and affection, munching on snacks, playing games on my phone, sniffling because of my cold, and freezing my buttocks off because there’s no indoor heating in the south, I was out and about with my parents, throwing ourselves in the mix of massive crowds. My uncle, a Chinese history professor turned businessman, took us to several awesome places I never knew existed including Dazu Mountain, Longxing Ancient Town, the former Communist Party headquarters in Chongqing, and Baigongguan (Kuomintang’s cruel prison for Communists in the 1940s). We even took a 2 hour train ride to Chengdu, the city with the best food–and pandas–in the world! Don’t you worry, I’ll write more about that trip in another post.

If there were a sudden natural disaster, we would all be doomed. (Photo taken at Ciqikou)

Sakyamuni Entering State of Nirvana at Dazu Mountain

Longxing Ancient Town: Mahjohng Haven

A room in the Communist Party headquarters (photographs were not allowed so don't tell!)

Cave for Interrogation at Baigongguan

Me and Yoshitomo Nara's Little Red Riding Hood at Chongqing's Three Gorges Museum

I’m back in Beijing now, 10 degrees colder outside but infinitely warmer and more comfortable indoors, and fireworks are still exploding (quite an annoyance). I have many, many more photos to show you but I’ll post them in installments to keep you comin’ back for more!! I will, however, leave you with this:

My dad.


Cruising Down the Yangtze

Another highlight of my trip to Chongqing a couple of weeks ago was the boat ride along the cityscape. The port at which the boats are anchored is where two great rivers of China–Yangtze and Jialing–intersect.

The boats are quite extravagant, and so is the lady who runs the boat above.

My parents and I were tricked into paying more money for a fancier boat (should it be called something else? Yacht? Ship? Chitanic?). The smaller one docked next to ours looked far more exciting.

My family is Chinese, but we’re a gullible bunch and fall for tourist traps all the time. Oh well, so our boat had chandeliers and spiral staircases and 80 yuan kettles of tea, at least it was a peaceful cruise.

Irony, or perhaps I should use the term disparity, runs this country. Here’s just one example:

Can you guess which boat I was on?

I’ll give you a clue, I was not on the same boat as this lady who was cooking up a small storm. Though I would’ve gladly given her a hand if I got something delicious to eat in return. I’d do anything for food, except light the stove with a match–I’m afraid of fire.

Anyhow, it was a short ride up and down upstream Yangtze, but I had a pleasant journey.


An Ancient Town in the Modern World

If only I had this message written on my wallet, then I might–just might–consume rationally. But it’s so difficult to resist when you walk into places tourist traps like Ciqikou, an ancient town in Chongqing where everything looks like it should either be hanging on my walls or settling in my stomach (mostly here).

From fresh black sesame candy to sweet globs of sticky rice, how can anybody resist a taste?

Steamed Sticky Rice Stuffed in Bamboo on a Stick

Mahua, a typical twisted treat from Tianjin, China, but in Chongqing, they make 'em spicy and numbing.

Barrel of steaming hot sticky rice ready to be mortared and pestled into little globs of...rice balls?

That's my dad.

The Little Rice Balls lightly toasted and sprinkled with sugar

Or One Big Glob of Rice

The Smashing of the Black Sesame Candy

And where else am I to find nunchucks and chicken-feather hackey-sacks if not here in the ancient town? Decathalon Sporting Goods? I don’t think so.

At the end of one of the many roads within Ciqikou, I saw the light; the bright, glimmering reflections of useless souvenirs.

One of the exits of Ciqikou overlooks the Yangtze River. Gloomy as that day was, it was still refreshing to be by a body of water.

Strolling along the dock, I came across a particularly ominous but beautiful abandoned bridge that looked very familiar to me. As soon as I took the picture, I remembered why. I had seen an image of this place in an article in the New Yorker.

 

It didn’t quite feel like déjà vu, but the world felt smaller and I was happy to know that beautiful places we come across in photographs actually exist in the most practical places.