Captivating Chongqing

At the start of April, Jun and I had the opportunity to spend a few days together without having to work. Because of the way the Qingming Festival holiday fell this year, we decided to maximize the holiday and used some of our annual leave days to make it a longer holiday. We decided to stay in China and go to a place that neither of us had ever visited. After considering distance, price, and interest, we settled on Chongqing.

0037

Chongqing is one of the four city-provinces in China. It used to be part of Sichuan province, but because of its growth, size, and the development of the Three Gorges Dam it was separated in 1997. Chongqing is perhaps famous for its hot-pot cuisine and other spicy dishes.

Having settled on this as our destination, we were excited to see what Chongqing had to offer.

Day 1

Our first day started early in the morning when our delayed flight arrived in Chongqing. Because we arrived around one in the morning, we had to take a taxi to the hotel. This taxi driver was either incompetent or tried to take advantage of us, because he went in a circular route to our hotel. Jun and I checked our phones and realized that he was not even close to the hotel. When Jun mentioned this to him the driver started to go in the right direction. When we arrived Jun and the driver had an argument over the price. Jun prevailed and we got a reduced price for the ride.

Check-in was quick and we were soon in our room, showered, and in bed.

Later that morning we got ready for our day, which was one of food and walking. The food started at breakfast. One of the things the hotel restaurant served was a variety of spicy noodles. Those noodles were the best part of breakfast and a great way to start our day.

From there we then went to Hong Ya Dong, which is a recreation of old Chongqing buildings that are built on the side of a hill. The area is known for offering a variety of local food to enjoy. We first tried a raspberry yogurt drink that was good. And after exploring the different levels of the place, we ended up having a berry chocolate sundae. That was even better!

From Hong Ya Dong we went to the Chongqing Art Gallery, which is in a building that looks like a hot-pot with chopsticks sticking out of it. It’s a really neat building. The art inside was nice. There was a variety of paintings in different styles by contemporary Chinese artists.

From there Jun and I decided to have lunch and try our first hot-pot in Chongqing. The food was delicious, but it was indeed spicy. The best part of it was that the quality of the hot pot was much better than what we would normally have in Guangdong, and the price was also much cheaper. It was a great introduction to Chongqing hot pot cuisine.

From there we went to Arhat Temple. It’s a Buddhist temple in the middle of a construction zone. We had to walk around the entire construction site in order to find the entrance. When we did we were amazed at how old and beautiful the temple was. Walking around the different structures of the temple, we were engulfed by the aroma of incense and smoke that permeated the entire complex. It has a serene atmosphere even with all the people there.

In contrast to the temple, we next went to visit a guild hall. But again because of construction and the hilly environment, we had a difficult time trying to figure out how to get there. On the way we stumbled on a place called the Shieh’s Manor, which is a contemporary design exhibition that fuses traditional architecture with modern interior design. Surrounded by walls indicating construction, we first encountered this manor by noticing a bamboo-lined staircase leading to an entry way. We were curious and decided to go see if it was anything interesting. It turned out it was. The mixture of traditional and modern was really neat to see. It seemed fairly new since we were the only people there. But that led to an exclusive feel to the place that was delightful.

After walking a bit more we found a set of stairs that led down to the general area we thought the guild hall would be. The Huguang Guild Hall is an example of a traditional type of building that was common during the imperial period. This guild hall is the largest Kongsi complex that is found in a Chinese urban city. It has not only examples of traditional architecture, but also examples of traditional art and crafts. It was a neat place with many different buildings that went up along the hill.

Just outside the guild hall is a building showing examples of traditional crafts similar to the ones found inside the guild hall that could be purchased. It was interesting to walk around and see the different things that people in the area have continued to make for centuries up to the present.

0026

Afterwards Jun and I decided to go visit TestBed2. This is a creative zone that has been built from what had once been a banknote printing facility. The drive there was amazing since it went along the river and then up the side of a mountain. The views were spectacular! The area had a number of restaurants, cafes, galleries, and stores that we leisurely explored. There was also a nice view of Chongqing from up there as well. From there we were getting a bit tired so we decided to cut through Eling Park to head towards the metro and go back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

For dinner Jun wanted to try Chongqing noodles, and he found a recommended hole in the wall place near our hotel. We were lucky that when we went there weren’t a lot of people. When we walked by at a later time there was line of people going outside the entrance waiting for a chance to try the noodles. After having eaten the noodles I understand why there would be a line, they were indeed delicious.

webwxgetmsgimg (2).jpg

Afterwards Jun and I decided to take a walk along Jiefangbei, a pedestrian street in Chongqing. It was great to take a walk before going back to the hotel for the night.

Because it had been a long day, we went to bed early and slept for a long time!

Day 2

Jun and I ended up sleeping in this morning and just enjoyed a relaxing in our hotel room. It ended up also being a rainy day, which accentuated the soporific atmosphere.  Around noon we ventured out to have lunch. Instead of strictly spicy food, we decided to have a different kind of Sichuan cuisine. While still mildly spicy, it was significantly less so than the previous day’s hot pot.

From there we walked to the metro and took the monorail to first see an area with buildings that were built in the early twentieth century that have been moved there: Liziba Park. The buildings include banks, government offices, and residences. The effect is a hodgepodge of buildings in one area along the river. It was nice to just walk around the area. But what was really interesting is that from the park we could look back at the metro station we arrived in. We discovered that the station is built in the middle of a residential building! The train just goes through the middle of it.

From there we went to the Chongqing Zoo. The zoo was a mix of modern designs of a zoological park with older examples of outdated enclosures. For the pandas and red pandas they had nice, roomy enclosures, but for the primates they had cramped enclosures. So it was a mix of enjoyment and sadness. The highlights of the trip were seeing the panda bears and red pandas. I have never seen either of these animals being as active as they were here. They were running around and being engaged in a friendly way. That was really wonderful to experience. One panda bear just ran outside suddenly and started to mess with things. He was playing and climbing on anything he could find. Then when he had exerted his energy he ran back inside to eat. Then there was silence. It was as if he hadn’t been there! The rest of the zoo was that mixture of awesome and dreadful based on the location. In general it was a nice visit, but I do hope the zoo updates the older enclosures.

From the zoo we went back to the central Chongqing. We went and saw the Great Hall of the People. It’s a large auditorium, but the outside architecture is one of the things Chongqing is known for. The size and architectural design of the building were indeed impressive. As we were walking around the building, we noticed that we could go inside and thought that there might be something interesting to see in the building. After we walked in to the building we realized there was nothing to see except for the auditorium. The only thing we got from it was the ability to sit down for a bit.

From there Jun and I decided to walk through the older residential areas of Chongqing to go back to where our hotel was. It was neat to walk through the winding streets and see how the people in Chongqing live their lives. It took a bit of time to figure out how to navigate, as the map of the phone app indicated things only in two dimensions, but because of the mountainous terrain some streets were either above or under you based on the elevation you were at. After figuring it out we were able to find our way through the area. Once we were back to the main commercial area of the city we decided to have afternoon tea and do a bit of shopping before dinner.

0049

After looking through restaurant reviews on his phone, Jun found a place recommended that offered a different kind of local cuisine. Located on the sixteenth floor of a building near the People’s Liberation Monument, we had the spiciest meal of our entire trip. It consisted of a plate full of peppers with meat inside. It was delicious, but I needed to continuously eat rice to cool down my mouth. It was still an enjoyable meal though.

From there we went back to the hotel and enjoyed the rest of the evening relaxing.

Day 3

Today was our last day in Chongqing. After breakfast and checking out we took the metro to visit Ciqikou. The place used to be an isolated town that has become part of Chongqing. The buildings here are mostly original and not recreations. You can wander centuries old streets and get a feel of what life used to be like here. The unfortunate thing about the trip was that because of the holiday the area was packed with people who wanted to visit. There was so many people that it was difficult to go through the narrow streets. Jun and I decided it was not worth it to try to go around it and decided to walk to the nearest metro that was not the Ciqikou metro; that metro had a line that was incredibly long that went outside the station.

That decision proved the best since we got to see things that we may not have seen. The first thing that we found was a temple on the top of a mountain that had some nice views of the area. Around the temple at the top were some old buildings and narrow lanes. The next thing we found was a really neat metro station with a variety of wall murals painted on it. One thing about the Chongqing metro that we had to get accustomed to was how deep underground they are. With all that space many of the stations have interesting interior decorations. And the last thing we found was another amazing hot-pot restaurant. This was our last full meal in Chongqing before we had to go to the airport. It was delicious and a nice way to end our trip.

From the restaurant we took the metro to the airport and had an easy journey back to Shenzhen. All in all our time in Chongqing was quite enjoyable and a nice escape from the everyday.

Spring in Southern China

The Tomb Sweeping Festival came on a Tuesday this year, which allowed Jun and I to share a three day weekend. Since we’re saving for our trip to the U.S., we decided to stay and explore in the general area.

On our first day together we went to Shenzhen’s Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. It was quite a bit of trek to get there; due to the holiday there was a lot of traffic. Once we got there we spent a few nice hours walking along the botanical gardens.

This garden is the first botanical gardens that I have ever visited that is built in a mountain valley. To get to the main area you walk along a winding road to the valley. Once there you can explore a number of areas. We first went along the pine ridge and had nice views of the valley. We then went to the dessert plants greenhouses. That was a beautiful area. From there we went to the petrified tree forest and the paleontological museum. That was strange to see dinosaur fossils in a botanical garden!

From there we next walked along the lake. There were a number of nice inlets to watch the birds. Afterwards we went up to Hong Fa Temple. From there you could see the other end of the valley. Then we went to see two of the enclosed gardens at the park before we left. It’s a pretty neat park and it was a nice break from the city.

The next day Jun and I went to Hong Kong for two days. We didn’t do much besides meet up with friends and eat some amazing food. We did some shopping and just enjoyed spending time together. For the most part we explored the Western District of Hong Kong Island. We walked along the different alleyways and saw some amazing street art and just enjoyed finding different things that made Hong Kong special.

Our last day we met up with some friends at Hong Kong Disneyland since we had free tickets. It was busy, but it was still fun to try out the new Iron Man experience.

Overall, Jun and I had a great few days off. Now it’s back to work for us.

Langtou Village

The start of April brought spring rains and Qingming, or Tomb Sweeping Day. It’s a traditional Chinese holiday to remember and honor ancestors. For this year’s holiday, Jun and I decided to visit a village in northwestern Guangzhou called Langtou. The village is renowned for its ancient buildings and surrounding greenery. The village was founded during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), but most of the current buildings were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties in the last 300 years.

Getting to the village isn’t difficult—that’s if you know how to get there. Jun and I researched on both English and Chinese websites on how to get there; they said to take a bus that would go to Xinhua town and then to take another bus to the village. What we didn’t know was that there was a bus that went directly to the area we wanted to go. So what happened was that the bus we took dropped us in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately we had cell coverage and was able to get a car on Uber.

DSC02776

Once we got to Langtou we started randomly to walk around the village. The first thing that struck me was that the majority of the buildings were made out of brick. In most of the more modern areas of China they build using concrete and tiles, and the buildings have a distinct, twenty-first century look to them. The buildings in the village looked like they were from the nineteenth century. Many of them had plants growing out of the structures. It was nice to see more traditional architecture in Guangzhou.

Another striking thing about the village was the lack of people that we saw. It might have been because of the holiday and/or the rain, but there were many places where buildings were locked up and alleys were empty. Combined with the rain and fog it had the feel of a ghost town.

One thing the village is known for are the buildings related to schools and bookshops. Education was important there. Many ancient villagers passed the imperial exams that were taken during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The accomplishments of these villagers are commemorated through the placement of markers in front of the different schools and bookshops in the village.

After having explored the main area, Jun and I started to look for a place to eat. We saw on a map that there was a restaurant along the greenway, but when we walked over there we saw it was closed. We then walked in a circle back to where the schools and bookshops were and found a restaurant. Getting there required us to walk through these side alleys. Once we got back to the restaurant, a little girl came to us and told us that we could go in and eat. We ordered three dishes that could have fed five people. The vegetables were grown locally in the village and the meat likely came from the same area. It was quite good and filling.

IMG_2833.JPG

After lunch Jun and I went to visit some of the ancient alleys and to look inside some of the houses that have been turned into museums. Because of the rain the lighting inside some of the buildings were poor. And with few to no people there some places were eerily quiet. It added a creepy but appropriate feel to the day.

Once we had seen all we could we went to the tourist office to ask what the quickest way back to central Guangzhou was. At this point we learned of how easy it was to get here. So we walked from the village to Tanbu Town—about a 15 minute walk from the village—and took the bus back to Guangzhou. Much easier than when we left.

Langtou is a beautiful village. Jun and I enjoyed exploring it and seeing a different, more quiet, part of Guangzhou.