Chongqing Revisited (Part Two)
After a brief stay in downtown Chongqing I drove to Zhongxian, a rural area now part of greater Chongqing. Ten years ago, this would have been a fairly treacherous all-day drive. Today, with the aid of modern highways most of the way, it’s 3 hours or less.
Zhongxian’s main town is Zhongzhou, a sleepy river town ten years ago, which now boasts a small but glossy central business district. As with many small towns in China, the grandest building of all is the local government headquarters.
A Sunday night visit to the upmarket Yonghui Department Store showed the degree to which consumerism has arrived even in smaller Chinese cities. The place was buzzing with people, including many ruddy-faced folk who obviously still work the land.
The downstairs floor was bustling: food, drinks, and pharmacy. It featured bright lighting, with modern displays and an impressive array of fresh produce, live fish, and packaged goods.
Upstairs were the departments of clothing, accessories, toiletries and cosmetics, household care products, books, toys and hardware. Global brands like Tide and Safeguard mingled on the shelves with local ones.
The books section was crowded, with a good variety of offerings including self-help books on yoga, and lots of childrens’ books. Consumers of various ages squatted on the ground while sampling various titles.
The clothing section featured well displayed, good quality products, mostly of local brands I’d never heard of, although there were a range of Pepsi brand socks which may or may not have been authorized. I normally associate their products with the mouth rather than the foot, but perhaps that’s the idea: wearing these socks will help keep you from putting your foot in your mouth.
My presence and that of a few other foreigners did not draw any particular attention, which is a big change from times past. Small children played excitedly on the escalators, and groups of friends chatted in the aisles, demonstrating that the most upmarket diversified retail store in Zhongzhou was part retail experience, part amusement park, and part central town square.
Locals told me that the new affluence here was partly a result of the controversial Three Gorges dam project, adding that while many people benefited from that project economically, many others were displaced and struggling with resettlement as a result.
Seeing local farmers at work, transplanting rice seedlings and doing other chores in the fields, it’s clear that in the countryside here, the work is as back-breaking as it traditionally has been. Farm plots are very small and carefully terraced even up steep hillsides, making mechanization virtually impossible. The younger men and women have in many cases left the farm fields for factory and construction jobs, leaving many rural villages with a skewed demographic of old folks and toddlers.
忠县的插秧劳作 / Transplanting rice seedlings in Zhongxian
在办理港龙航班的登机手续时，我看到柜台后的墙上挂着一个大牌子，上面用英文写着：“A declaration is necessary if there are fragile subjects in the checked baggage（托运行李中如含有易碎主体，必须予以申报）”。
在这段文字中，“Subjects”——也就是“主体”——指的是人（例如“all the King’s subjects / 所有国王的子民”），而不是东西，不能当“物品”讲。
很快我就办完了登机手续，经过安检，直奔候机厅走去。我觉得有点饿，于是在免税店对面找到一家很不错的小餐厅，名叫“Al Capone’s”（艾尔•卡彭，美国著名黑帮人物——译注）。虽然那里无论是环境还是菜品看上去都跟我芝加哥老家的“艾尔”扯不上半点关系，但他们的大碗牛肉汤面还是很不错的。这家 “黑帮”小餐厅没有沦为最近打黑行动的牺牲品，这让我感到很欣慰。
I returned to downtown Chongqing the next day, spending one night before it was time to fly back to Hong Kong the following day.
The Hilton Hotel doorman, a recent college graduate and very helpful fellow, flagged a taxi for me.
The driver was talkative, and asked where I was flying to that day. I said Hong Kong. About halfway to the airport he asked what my fare had been on the trip from the airport to downtown. I told him RMB46. He then tried out the idea that I pay him RMB 80 due to the rising cost of fuel. I shot that idea down, suggesting we follow the meter instead. He became untalkative.
He dropped me at a bright new terminal. After I paid him, he drove away, just in time for me to realize he had dropped me at the new domestic rather than old international terminal.
On the sliding glass doors I noticed prominent signs indicating that pets and balloons were prohibited from entry. The “No Balloons” sign was a first for me. Luckily I was balloonless at that very moment, and my poodle was at home.
The fleeting sense of relief that I was not in violation of the pets or balloons rule was quickly washed away as I reflected on the fact that I was in the wrong terminal.
After quietly thinking some rude thoughts about the taxi driver, and finding no signs indicating the location of the international terminal, I asked a fellow traveller for directions.
She was a well-dressed middle-aged Chinese woman carrying a fancy shopping bag emblazoned with the English words “I’m David”.
I resisted the temptation to say “Hi David, I’m Tom.”
She pointed me in the right direction.
I then began the long march to get there: over, under, sideways and down — not a path which was designed with the traveler carrying luggage in mind — no luggage ramps, multiple high curbs, and a fairly long slog in the midday sun.
When I got to the international terminal (which for some reason lacks the signs prohibiting balloons and pets) there was a standing room only crowd of mostly older Taiwanese tourists. The Jiangbei Airport Customs authorities were not yet on duty for some reason, so we massed in a poorly defined queue, resembling a giant centipede, with a winding column 3 or 4 people thick in the middle, and a fringe of wiggly, restless people coming and going along the sides. (In a way it was a déjà vu moment reminding me of the last time I transited Los Angeles International Airport which has many centipedes of its own.)
Finally four Customs officers showed up, and the dam burst.
Forward charged the centipede, with me lodged in its gut.
As I checked in for my Dragonair flight, I noticed a large sign on the wall behind the counter: “A declaration is necessary if there are fragile subjects in the checked baggage.”
Although I understood the meaning it was intended to convey, the English usage was wrong and potentially misleading.
“Subjects” in this context means “people” (as in “all the King’s subjects”); versus “objects” which would refer to “things”.
So, the sign seemed to be asking passengers to declare any fragile people that might be in their luggage.
For example: “Excuse me, sir, I wish to declare that Grandma is in my suitcase.”
Or perhaps “Officer, there is an elderly chap in my Samsonite.”
Soon I was finished checking in and made my way through exit formalities and on to the waiting room. Hungry, I found a nice little restaurant right across from the Duty Free shop, called Al Capone’s. Although neither the décor nor the menu bore any resemblance to Al’s and my home town of Chicago, they served a fine bowl of beef noodle soup. I was grateful this particular Al Capone had not been a victim of the recent anti-corruption sweep.
Although just a fast-food place, it was more inviting than the #1 VIP Lounge, which is shared by ten airlines, offers seating for about ten passengers, is hot, lacks a toilet, and has a range of stale biscuits for snacks.
With the exception of a few rogue taxi drivers, I found Chongqing people very warm, friendly, and helpful, and I won’t leave it so long before going back again. By that time the new international air terminal, currently under construction, will probably have been completed.
(To be continued…)