08.12.2013 - 09.12.2013 15 °C
Across the road from my hostel there is a shopping mall, so new that it only has about half of its shops tenanted. That mall is on the edge of Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street - a somewhat misleading name, as the central few blocks of Chongqing have been turned into a pedestrianised plaza, out of which numerous tall banks, hotels and other commercial buildings sprout alongside squat shopping malls. The key selling point of this area is that there are 3,500 shops. I did take a walk through but didn't find that it had anything at all to offer me, with one exception, It did surprise me that in Communist China, there would be such an aggregation of high end consumer brands - there were Gucci, Rolex, Versace, Ermenegildo Zegna, Dior ... shops all rubbing shoulders with each other and shouting out their presence with large neon signs. Funnily enough, the thing that I liked was right at the very beginning of my walk - a branch of a chain of Chinese restaurants called UNCLE, which provided English menus, decent food and chilled beer (very rare in this part of China to find the beer cold).
But then I went up to Ciqikou, which is the Chongqing version of an ancient town and came away feeling absolutely delighted. Although a lot of the shops were obviously just selling to the tourist market, one thing that made it better than other ancient towns I have visited is that it is not a recently manufactured one. It was originally set up around 900 years ago as a place in which porcelain was made (it is on the banks of the Jialing River, which would no doubt have been helpful for that trade). I don't know how many of the original buildings are still standing (not a lot, I suspect) but the town like any other town, has just gone through a process of natural regeneration. I think the pictures will largely tell the story of my visit - once again, I found myself the centre of attention from a couple of groups of young women (I *think* they were late teens or early 20's), wanting to have my photo but also to find out where I was from, and how I was doing - it made me think these girls are kind of cool, the way they're willing to just approach a complete random (particularly an old and hairy one!).
So anyway, my photos are in three basic groups - here are some general shots of the streets of Ciqikou, starting near the metro and going down to the river:
On my walk, I encountered a panda, and right near the end found a hostel that would have been really cool to have stayed in (not that I was in any way not happy with where I was staying, but this one backed on to the river)
There were a couple of historic spots - Xin's Variety Shop was used as a means of communications between the people in prison (they are just across the tracks and up the hill from Ciqikou) and the outside world and a central point in the underground resistance (I think the fellow standing outside is supposed to be Xin, but there is nothing to identify him)
and an old guild house which has been turned into a sort of museum (its exhibits took the form of placards and photos rather than anything that would make for a good photo, except for the entry).
My second group of photos is of the various foods I saw as I walked around - many not identifiable. I only actually ate one of the foods pictured: those who know me will probably be able to work out which.
That last fellow was a real showman, keeping up a non-stop patter as he made his rotis (starting with a small ball of dough which had to be stretched out - he'd throw the dough in the air as part of that process) but no matter how busy, no-one seemed to be able to get near his stand without him noticing, as might be obvious from the far from surreptitious photo I took of him. As I was leaving the area, I came across the sweetest little coffee shop, just a couple of tables and a couch, and the most lovely of ladies running the place. She made me a pour over filter coffee, at my table, but doing it properly - just putting a little water in at a time, let it do its work, then pouring a little more. As she did so, she talked me through the types of beans used, the fact that she had roasted them herself and generally chatted. As a wee amusement, she provided a slice of lemon with coffee grounds and sugar: you roll up the lemon and suck through its contents. Oh, and the coffee was great. I was a wee bit surprised to walk over the brow and find a whole bunch of other coffee shops - I knew about the 100 or so tea shops in the area, but not the coffee.
The theme of my third group of photos is simply colour: