Since our flight was not until late afternoon we had some time to kill in the city of Chongxing. You may have heard it called Chungking. Whatever you call it, this is the largest city in China (land and population-wise) – it is simply enormous. The population is between 33 and 34 million plus another 10 million or so that are “floating”. The area of the city is 31,500 square miles. To put this in perspective, 5 Beijings would fit in one Chongqing!
To reach the bus from the cruise ship, we had to climb 99 steps hauling our carry-on luggage (our suitcases had been collected earlier and sent ahead to the airport). There were porters that would carry your bags for you for a small fee; we carried our own.
Our first stop was at the Stilwell Museum. Who is General Stilwell? If you are a WWII buff, you probably already know. If you are like me, you have never heard of him before. Stilwell was sent by the US government to oversee Operation Dixie, which created an 1100 mile road through Burma to Chongqing to transport munitions and supplies for military operations.
A little history – Chiang Kai-Shek (Nationalist) and Mao Zedong (Communist) were at war in China prior to WWII. Both factions were fighting for control but put aside their differences when the Japanese invaded. By the way, WWII is known as the Sino-Japanese War here in China. At first Chiang Kai-Shek was happy to have Stilwell’s help, but that was short lived. After a mere 7 months, he requested that the US government take Stilwell back! He repeated the request for the next couple of years. Chiang Kate-Shek’s wife was actually the one responsible for Stilwell coming to China in the first place! She was quite a lady – educated in the US at Wellesley. She became so Americanized that she forgot her native language. She became known as a banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.
Madame Soong Mei-Ling (wife of Chiang Kai-Shek) was quite a formidable woman in her own right. It took him 5 years to convince her to marry him. He already was married and had a couple of concubines (second and third wife). In order for her to marry him, he had to agree to 3 conditions: divorce the 3 wives, convert from Buddhism to Christianity, and never have children (she didn’t want to lose her figure). When Mao took power after WWII, the couple relocated to Taiwan where he died. She moved to NYC and lived there until she died at the age of 106.
The story of Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife was more interesting than the museum itself which consisted of a few rooms upstairs and plenty of photos downstairs. While we waited outside for everyone to finish touring, a couple of men were trying to sell us toys – flying minions and flying birds. We were not tempted, but many women in our group purchased some to take home for their grandchildren.
It was time to head in to the main part of Chongqing. The Yangtze River flows through the city; there are 154 bridges across the river here! It is known as the “Hot Pot Capital” because one can find over 200,000 people selling hot pot on the street corners. Speaking of hot, summer temperatures can reach over 110 degrees! However, the government claims that the temperature never goes over 40 Celsius. Why? Because there is a law that if the temperature reaches 40, everything must shut down! So obviously, the temperature is never above 40 – duh! Another nickname for Chongxing is that it is one of China’s “stove” cities.
We were dropped off at the City Center Square. All cities in China have a town square, because when they were rebuilt, it was with help from the Soviets who also include town squares in their cities. The Soviet Union designed all of the new cities that were built after 1949. This explains so much. . .
The City Center Square had a couple of tourist attractions. There is a huge museum here, the 3 Gorges Museum, that contains over 5,000,000 historical relics spread over floors. And, the price is right (free). Directly across from the museum is Chongqing’s city hall which was patterned after the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Finally, we saw a building that was in a stereotypical Chinese style! There was a small admission price to enter, so we contented ourselves with taking pictures of the exterior.
Our drop off/meeting point was in front of a KFC. After 4 days of non-stop Chinese food, pretty much everyone in our group made the pilgrimage into KFC for some good old, American chicken! I was amused to see recipes up on the wall for food that is supposedly served in a KFC – pecan pie, “special sauce” (by the gallon if you look at the quantities on the recipe), and deep friend cauliflower and parsnips. Mmm-mmm-good!
There was also a Walmart nearby. Out of curiosity, we visited the “Wal-Marche” (as we call them). It was essentially a large grocery store, very similar to the Asian grocery stores where we live. In other words, live tanks of seafood in addition to food items. We exited the store and decided to find a spot under a shady tree in the town square to people watch.
There were a group of dancers (our guides refer to them as square dancers, which they literally are!) dancing to Samba music. They were on their lunch break. Before packing up and returning to work, a couple of them came to pose for pictures with us. Our guides warned us that Chinese people LOVE posing for pictures with American tourists. Sure enough, we were asked to be in several pictures with local folk. They all proudly showed us the pictures they took before moving along.
Next up was our flight to Xi’An, an ancient city and former capital of China. We were met at the airport by our local guide who gave us historical information about the city on our drive to the hotel. After 4 nights on the “prison ship”, we were delighted to be staying at the Xi’An Novotel, a perfectly lovely hotel.