Hotter Than Hell
Trip Start Jul 31, 2010
15Trip End Aug 15, 2010
The flight to Chongqing was a quick one, barely an hour, but they served us food all the same. Based on this, I will assume that no matter how short your flight is in China, they'll feed you. Indeed, food seems to be a constant preoccupation in that country, and even in places where you'd expect food to be prohibited, such as museums, we saw people snacking away.
It was at the airport in Chongqing that I made an unhappy discovery. I hadn't brought my whole Lonely Planet China with me, having ripped out the pages on the places we'd be visiting, and would only carry around the pages needed at the moment, leaving the rest in my large backpack
Emily, who as you will remember had never backpacked before, had written down some relevant information about Chongqing (read: how to get into town from the airport) in her journal, and that helped us out quite a bit. We figured that since we were leaving on a cruise the next day and then going directly back to Beijing, we didn't really need the guidebook that much anyway, as we only had that night's accomodations to find.
There was a bookstore in the airport, so we decided to buy a city map. Emily went ahead of me, and when I looked up from putting something back in my bag, she'd already been surrounded by the entire staff (all five of them!), who seemed very excited to be helping a foreigner. This set the tone for our time in Chongqing: though they didn't quite know how to communicate with us, people were really friendly and happy to help us out.
Thanks to Emily's notes, we knew how to get to the centre of town, and boarded the appropriate shuttle bus
When I travelled in Vietnam in 2002, the tourist circuit was pretty limited, and it was a given that at every bus drop-off point, there would be a dozen people offering you a room in their family's (or friend's, or neighbour's) hotel. I'd expected some of the same in China, but apart from in Xinjie, it hadn't happened, most likely because we'd been in large cities. But when we got off the shuttle bus in Chongqing, there were the people with the hotel flyers! We ended up going with a guy who said the hotel was just around the corner.
"Are you sure it's safe?" Emily asked worriedly, as we followed the man through an underground passage to the other side of the busy street.
"Sure it is," I assured her. "He just wants his commission."
The man led us to a very large building, the ground floor of which was a bank, I think
"This doesn't look like a hotel," Emily pointed out, still unconvinced.
"We can always leave if we don't like the place," I said. The elevator finally arrived, and we reached the fifth floor, which is where the hotel was, and it was fine. We were shown what was probably their most expensive room, but as it was pretty cheap by Japanese standards, I didn't even bother haggling with them or asking to see a cheaper room.
This hotel had a scanner with which to scan passports, but they seemed to be having trouble adjusting the settings. As one of the female employees tried to get the scanner to work, the young man looked at my passport in dismay, probably wishing that our names weren't in a strange, foreign script. How could he speed the process along so that we wouldn't have to spend another five minutes standing at the desk, watching him try to copy our information?
"Do you have a Chinese name?" he asked me hopefully
He was quite relieved when I said I did, in fact, have a Chinese name, so he had me write it down on the form. "Go cool down in the air-conditioned room, now," his coworker told us, and we did just that.
A while later, when we'd cooled down a bit and the check in process had been completed, we went out to explore. The air was thick and hazy, and certainly as hot as anything we'd experienced up to then, though at least the sun wasn't directly overhead, as it was late afternoon. We headed toward what on our map looked like a large square, figuring we could probably find something cool to eat there, or at the very least something of interest to see.
The square turned out to be the People's Square, and was large indeed. At one end of it stands the Three Gorges Museum, which we resolved to visit the following day; in its centre stands a large gate; opposite the museum is the Great Hall of the People. To one side of the square, a digital display on top of a building informed us that the temperature was 42 degrees.
Under a large tree, a group was performing traditional songs, and we stood and listened for a while, alongside the elderly locals with their large fans. [I've included video of this, and I'm sorry for the poor filming job; obviously, I'm unused to taking video.]
After consuming some cold snacks (I had corn ice cream!), we wandered a bit further and saw what appeared to be a shopping mall. I wanted supper, and we both wanted to get out of the heat for a bit, so we went in to check it out.
In the basement, beneath the stalls selling clothes and bags and cross-stitch patterns, we discovered Trust-Mart, which is apparently now partly owned by Wal-Mart. We spent a good twenty minutes in the stationery aisle, exclaiming over the adorable, dirt-cheap notebooks, before moving on to the food section, fully expecting to be amazed by the strange snacks for sale. We weren't disappointed! We left with, among other things, blueberry flavoured chips, kiwi flavoured chips, and various drinks. We also bought a dragonfruit, because it was ridiculously inexpensive (about 40 cents), and Emily had never eaten one before.
It was past eight o'clock when we finally left, and the People's Square looked very different at night
The display on the building now proclaimed a cool 38 degrees.
"Dance with me," Emily demanded, so we put down our bags and I attempted to waltz her around a bit. An extremely thin elderly gentleman eventually cut in, since I was doing such a poor job at leading Emily, and he tried to teach to some basic steps, much to my delight.
Back in our hotel room, we took cold showers and ate some of the food we'd got at Trust-Mart (which I kept wanting to call Truth-Mart). Earlier, we'd been very amused by all the amenities available to us in the room: instant noodles, drinks, playing cards, toiletries, condoms, "hygeniec towels"... We were feeling a little frisky, so between bites of blueberry potato chips (which tasted like blueberry bagels, but crunchy -- very weird), we broke out the deck of cards and had a rousing game of cribbage.
The next morning, the following conversation took place between me and the desk staff (except that I wasn't half as eloquent in Chinese, obviously):
"We would like to leave our bags here, and come back for them this afternoon."
"You want to come back to the room? You still have it for another two hours."
"No, we won't come back to the room, we want to go out and come back for our bags later."
"She wants to keep the room?"
"No, she says they won't come back."
"We won't go back to the room, we just want to leave our bags here
"So you don't need the room anymore?"
"No, we don't need to go back to the room. We just want to leave our bags and come back for them later."
Finally, they figured out what we wanted, and the young guy (whose English consisted of "Excuse me" and "Thank you") showed us to a room off the lobby, where a mahjong table was set up, and told us we could leave our luggage there.
Our plan for the day was mostly to find ways to kill time before boarding our cruise ship in the evening. We went back through People's Square (display: 40 degrees) and poked around in the little antique market by the Great Hall of the People. Well, mostly Emily poked around while I ate a popsicle. Then we kept walking for a bit, before deciding that in such heat, we might as well find a place to rest, so we went back to the People's Square (display: 42 degrees) and the Three Gorges Museum.
We liked the Three Gorges Museum for several reasons
When we emerged, the digital display on the nearby building informed us that it was 46 degrees. FORTY SIX. Seriously? For my part, once the temperature creeps past 32 or 33, it all feels the same -- i.e. EXTREMELY HOT -- to me, but it's kind of neat to be able to say that we've experienced that kind of heat. (Of course, this temperature was recorded from the top of a building exposed to the blazing sun, so the air might not have been quite as hot, but still: FORTY SIX!)
Emily hadn't been as thorough in researching foods to try as she had for our trip to southern Japan, but we had agreed that one thing we could not miss was eating hot pot in Chongqing. For one thing, I love hot pot; for another, how could we live with ourselves if we didn't eat hot pot in the city that boasts having the world's spiciest? We hopped on a bus and got off a few stops later, closer to the downtown core.
Finding a restaurant was easy, once we'd figured out which characters to look for, and we were soon seated
Unfortunately, my knowledge of food-related words in Chinese isn't very good. I know the words for different kinds of meat, and the word for dumpling, and can guess pretty accurately whether something is a vegetable, but as to which kind? Hah. It took a combination of my electronic dictionary, the cell phone of one of the waitresses, and Emily's drawings to finally make a selection. Sadly, I failed to photograph our spread, but we ate dumplings, lamb, cloud's ear (a type of mushroom), cauliflower, winter melon, and seaweed. The hot pot itself had duck soup in the centre bowl, and the rest of it was deep red with chili peppers, chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorns.
Just as in the airport bookstore, and at the hotel, the people in the restaurant were very friendly, and seemed excited to try to communicate with us. They tried very hard to use the few English phrases they knew, and I'm sad to have dashed their hopes of easy conversation so quickly when the limits of my Chinese became apparent. When we were nearing the end of our meal, I overheard one of the waitresses say to another (the waitstaff was sitting at a nearby table, a couple of them napping in the heat of the afternoon), "Go ask them if they want some rice." "I don't know how to say that in English!" she protested. But a few minutes later, after having consulted her cell phone, she came over to our table and asked us, pronouncing slowly and carefully, "Would you like some rice?"
You may have heard that eating very spicy food in hot weather cools you down, since you sweat so much
Our last item of business in Chongqing was to return to Trust-Mart; I for a few more notebooks, and both of us for drinks and snacks to take on the cruise with us. It was nearing five o'clock as we walked back through the People's Square one last time ("Hey, only 44 degrees now!"), and after picking up our bags from the hotel, we hailed a taxi and directed him to take us to Pier 8.