再访重庆(上) / Chongqing Revisited (Part One)

再访重庆(上)

我在以前的两篇博客(2009年6月1日的《开放之前的商务旅行》和2009年6月29日的《畅游长江》)中曾经提到,1978年乘船从重庆去武汉的那次旅行令我十分难忘。后来八十年代初的时候我又去过一次,但此后很长一段时间里都没有再去,直到最近才有机会重游故地。

在我没去的这段时间里,由于重新规划,原属于四川省的一部分被纳入扩大后的重庆直辖市范围内,城市人口猛增到3,200万。重庆一跃成为世界上人口最多的城市,但事实上它的辖区内还包括大片的耕地和农村。

我第一次去重庆是在1978年的8月,那时候重庆被称作是中国三大火炉之一,天气热得足以让人昏聩。如此高的气温再加上全是辣子和花椒的川菜,重庆的夏天简直就是大汗淋漓的庆典——尤其是在那个还没有空调的年代。

当时我们住在市里条件最好的重庆饭店,那是一座传统风格的中式建筑。饭店四周正在进行大规模的建设施工,采取的都是人工作业——放眼望去看不到一件挖沟机之类的机械设备。为了躲避酷暑,大部分施工都是在晚上进行。许多光着膀子的壮汉挥舞着锄头和铁锨,一边唱着号子一边挖深沟,他们的身姿在夜晚的灯光中构成一幅幅剪影。

饭店的客房里连电话都没有,我就去前台咨询能不能拨打国际长途。于是我被领着穿过一条长长的走廊,又拐过好几道弯,才来到地下室的一个房间,那里就是饭店接线员所在的总机房。

接线员看见我似乎很高兴。我想也许是因为那一天甚至整个那一星期都没有什么人要打国际长途的缘故。我告诉她如果有可能,我想打个长途电话,然后把电话号码给了她。

接线员转过身,面向电话交换机。交换机是一个巨大的木头盒子,上面装着可以转动的金属手柄,就跟老电影里演的一模一样。接线员咔嗒、咔嗒地转动着手柄——那时候还没有手动拨号盘——接着就把国际长途的号码口述给了线路另一端的下一位接线员。如此这般,依次传递,终于——我的电话接通了。

虽然通话的质量听起来像是在铁皮鼓里说话,但无论如何……至少还是接通了。我记不清那次简短的通话到底花了多少钱,但大概也抵得上饭店一晚的房费了。那年月,长途电话还是要一项需要耗费很多人工的服务,属于奢侈级别而非日常消费,价格无论是在中国还是其他地方都极其昂贵。

重庆横跨长江上游,曾是(现在也依然是)包括大型货运帆船在内的各种船只的汇聚之地。在乘船顺流而下的途中,我惊讶地看到许多纤夫拖着巨大的非机动木船逆流而上。他们三、四十个人组成一队,身背粗绳,身体前倾,在沿江石壁上凿出的狭窄纤路上缓缓前行。

Chongqing Revisited (Part One)

As I wrote in two earlier posts on this blog (Business Travel Before the Open Door[6.01.2009] and Cruising on the Yangzi River[6.29.2009]), I made a memorable trip from Chongqing to Wuhan by ferry in 1978. I returned once more in the early 1980s, but had not been back since, until very recently.

In the interim, parts of what had been Sichuan Province were reconfigured into a greatly enlarged municipality of Chongqing, with a population of some 32 million people. This makes Chongqing the most populous city in the world, although its boundaries includes large swathes of rural land and communities.

That first visit was in August, 1978, and Chongqing lived up to its reputation as one of China’s three furnace cities. The heat was sweltering. Between the heat and the cuisine, which involves both fiery hot peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, Chongqing in summer was a celebration of perspiration — especially in those pre-air-conditioning days.

We stayed in the Chongqing Hotel, the best in town at the time, with its traditional Chinese style. architecture. There was fairly significant construction work going on around the hotel, all of which was done with human labor — not a backhoe or other piece of machinery in sight. Work was largely done at night to avoid the terrible heat. Scores of bare-chested, sinewy men with hoes and shovels chanted and sang in sing-song unison as they dug ditches deep, silhouetted by the glow of lanterns.

There were no telephones in the guest rooms. I asked at the front desk if it was possible to make an international call, and was directed to a room in the hotel basement, down a long corridor and around several corners, where the hotel operator sat in the telephone room.

She seemed happy to see me. I don’t think there had been many, if any, requests to make international telephone calls that day, or maybe that whole week. I explained that I wanted to make a long distance call, if possible, and gave her the numbers.

She then turned to the telephone exchange, a large wooden box with one of those rotary metal cranks like you see in very old movies. Clackata, clackata, clackata, she cranked — no dialing of numbers manually in those days — and then verbally gave the outbound number to the next operator on the line, who in turn passed it verbally to another operator further down the line, and on it went, until — bingo — my call got through.

The connection sounded a bit like talking inside a metal drum, but still…it worked. I don’t remember the cost for the brief conversation, but it was probably roughly equivalent to the cost of one night’s stay at the hotel. Long distance telephony was a much more labor intensive business then, a luxury rather than an everyday consumer staple, and rates were sky-high in China and elsewhere.

Chongqing straddles the upper reaches of the great Yangzi River, which was (and is) teeming with all manner of ships and boats, including large sailing vessels used for carrying cargo. As we headed downriver, I was amazed to see crews of 30-40 men pulling large non-motorized wooden vessels back upstream, using thick ropes, leaning and walking slowly forward on narrow ledges carved out of the rock faces which lined the river.

 

1978年,重庆附近的长江 / Yangzi River near Chongqing, 1978

到八十年代中,我第二次到访重庆,那里的交通无论从方式还是频率上都得到了较大的改观,城市显现出更加富裕的景象,与外界的联络也变得更加畅通。饭店的客房里已经安装了电话和空调等设施,市场经济也正在生根发芽。

等到最近这次重庆之旅开始前,我心里已经充满了希冀,想要一睹这座规模庞大、历史悠久的古城新姿。过去几个月,重庆因为高调打击官员腐败而获得了极高的媒体曝光率。所以,随着我搭乘港龙公司的航班从香港起飞,一直到飞机降落在重庆的江北机场,我的好奇心不断地在膨胀。

刚走出机场,就有人过来用英语拉生意:“泰克斯?

毫无疑问,他是问我要不要出租车。

我婉拒,朝着正规的出租车排队处走去。

车子从重庆机场向俞中区驶去,沿途的景象让我一点儿也认不出记忆中的那个城市了。新建环城高速的两侧是郁郁葱葱的灌木和大树组成的绿色走廊,“走廊”背后极目望去都是一幢幢崭新的20层住宅,有些已经入住,但很多还都是空房。

路上我还经过一家雷克萨斯经销店,即使在美国的南加利福尼亚州,这种店也并不常见。后来我又看见一个大型的商店群,由于它的概念还太新也很舶来,所以商店的名字就直接按Outlet的英文发音叫做“奥特莱特”。这真有点儿讽刺,因为在奥特莱特的老家美国,店里很多打折商品都是中国制造的。

送我到市里的出租车司机态度出奇地冷漠生硬。而通常,中国的出租车司机和其他国家的司机一样,都很健谈,尤其是在碰到能说本国语言的客人时。

后来,当地的一位朋友告诉我,重庆出租车司机从机场拉客人到市区,要价通常都会高出计价表一半甚至一倍。所以,假如我不会说中文,司机也许会因为觉得有希望从我这里多挣点儿钱,态度就会稍微好一点儿。

我和重庆出租车的第二次邂逅也值得一提。那位司机的态度很友好,也没有为了车费而纠缠不休。他忙于在车阵中穿梭,都顾不上讨价还价。他的驾驶风格包括一边在车流中闪展腾挪,一边每隔不到5秒钟就狂按一阵喇叭,在那些相对又窄又挤的街道上,这位司机不放过任何一个可以超车的机会。他开车狂按喇叭、如同F1飙车的架势似乎就是重庆人生猛的代表。

不得不说,重庆环城高速公路的建设规模和范围会给人留下深刻的印象。也许,在如此短的一段时间内,出现了如此众多的新建道路,这刚好可以解释一个独一无二的创新服务行业在重庆崛起的原因。由于找不到更好的称谓,我姑且先把这个行业的相关从业人员称作是“人肉GPS导航系统”。

他们是一群男人——很多很多男人——站在高速公路旁,手里举着一块白色牌子,上面写着红色的大字“带路”,意思就是“为人指路”。

不用花多少钱,你就可以让他们上车带路,指引你一路抵达目的地。这个主意还真是聪明,从站在路边的人数上推断,这应该还是个朝阳产业。而且,这进一步证明了,科技并不一定完全能取代人类。

(待续)

On my second visit, in the mid-80s, transport links to and from Chongqing had improved in variety and frequency, and the city showed signs of greater affluence, with better connections to the outside world. Hotel rooms had telephones, air-conditioning, etc. The market economy was taking root.

As I began my recent trip to Chongqing I was really curious to see the new face of this big, old, historic city. Chongqing has been very much in the news in recent months for its high-profile crackdown on official corruption. So my curiosity was piqued as my Dragonair flight from Hong Kong touched down at Jiangbei Airport.

As I exited the airport terminal, a tout walked up to me and said in English: “Tackus?

No doubt he meant “taxi.”

I declined and walked over to the designated taxi line.

The drive in from Chongqing’s airport to the Yuzhong District presented views unrecognizable from what I remembered of the city. Behind the lush corridor of trees and bushes lining the new highways around the city lies a forest of new 20-story apartment buildings as far as the eye can see. Many empty, some not.

I also passed a Lexus dealership which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Southern California, and later saw a large outlet mall complex, which is so new and foreign a concept that “outlet” was rendered phonetically into Chinese [奥特莱特(au-te-le-te)]. This is ironic, considering that in the homeland of outlet malls, the U.S., so many of the discounted products on offer in these places are made in China.

The taxi driver who drove me into town was unusually cold and gruff. Often taxi drivers in China, like other countries, are fairly talkative folks, especially if you speak their language.

Later, a locally-based friend told me that Chongqing drivers will often try to ask for a fare 50% to 100% higher than the fare shown on the meter for a trip from the airport into town. Based on that, my driver would probably have been happier and seen better income potential from me if I’d been a non-speaker of Chinese.

My second experience with a Chongqing taxi was also notable. This driver was friendly and there was no haggling over the fare. He was too busy weaving in and out of traffic to haggle. His driving style. involved honking the horn at approximately 5-second intervals as he skittled through traffic, passing other vehicles at every possible opportunity on the relatively narrow and congested streets. The honk-a-thon-ic, Formula One style. of driving seems to be a Chongqing macho thing.

You can’t help but be impressed by the scale and scope of highway construction around Chongqing. Perhaps the emergence of so many new roads in such a short time helps explain the growth of an innovative new service sector, which seems to be unique to Chongqing. For lack of a better term, I would call the players in this sector “human GPS units.”

These are men — lots of them — who stand by the side of the highway holding a white sign with red Chinese characters on it: “Dai Lu 带路”, which means “Show the way.”

For a small fee, you pick them up and they help you navigate to your destination. Quite a clever idea, and judging by the numbers of them by the roadside, it looks like a growth business. Further evidence that technology doesn’t always replace people.

(To be continued…)


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