再访重庆(中) / Chongqing Revisited (Part Two)

再访重庆(中)

在重庆市内稍作停留之后,我就驱车前往忠县,那里如今已经算是大重庆市的郊区。如果在十年前,由于路途凶险,开车可能要走上一天。但现在,因为大部分路程都可以走高速公路,所以才用了不到三小时。

忠县的县城在忠州,十多年前那里还只是江边一座沉睡的小镇,但现在却以小型中央商务区自居。和中国许多小城市一样,忠州城里最宏伟的建筑莫过于县政府的大楼。

星期日晚上我去定位高端的永辉百货商场逛了一圈,发现即使是再小的中国城市,也已经迎来了消费者权益保护运动。商场里面人声鼎沸,熙熙攘攘,其中很多人都脸膛黑红,明显是种地的农民。

这家百货商场楼下比较热闹,经营的是食品、饮料,还有药品。店里面灯火通明,陈列时尚,一排排新鲜的农产品、活鱼还有包装好的物品卖相诱人。

楼上经营的是服装、配饰、卫生用品、化妆品、家居用品、书籍、玩具和家具。汰渍(Tide)、舒肤佳(Safeguard)之类的国际品牌混在国产品牌中一起销售。

图书区里人头攒动,图书的种类也非常丰富,从瑜伽教材到幼儿读物可谓应有尽有。不同年龄的消费者蹲在地上,翻阅着各式书籍。

服装区里陈列优雅,产品质量上乘,大都是一些我从未听说过的本地品牌。但也有一种名为“百事”牌的袜子,不知道有没有得到过同名品牌的使用授权。反正一提到这个牌子,我一般只会想到嘴里喝的,不是脚上穿的。但没准儿这就是它的创意所在:穿上这种袜子可以有效杜绝啃脚趾头的恶习。

我和其他几个外国人的出现并没有引起任何特别的关注,这和以前相比有了很大不同。孩子们在滚梯上快乐地玩耍,几帮朋友在货架间聊着天。一切都表明,这家忠州最高级的百货商场不仅仅是一个购物的场所,同时也是个游乐园兼活动中心。

当地人告诉我说,如今这里能够富起来的部分原因是由于颇富争议的三峡大坝工程。但他又补充说,虽然很多人都从这项工程中获得了经济上的好处,但也有很多人不得不迁居外地,为了重新安置下来而苦苦挣扎。

看到当地农民仍在田里插秧或是干着其他农活,我发现这儿的农村人其实仍然过着辛苦劳作的日子,和过去没有太大分别。耕地的面积很小,层层叠叠的梯田甚至开垦到了陡峭的山坡上,根本就无法使用任何农业机械。很多青年男女都不愿意再种地,而是跑到工厂和建筑工地打工谋生,只留下老人和孩子驻守乡下,人口比例出现了失衡。

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

第二天我返回重庆市内,停留了一晚,然后飞回香港。

希尔顿饭店的门童——一个应届大学毕业生——帮我叫了一辆出租车。

司机很健谈,问我当天要飞往哪里,我说要去香港。车开到离机场大约还有一半路的时候,司机问我从机场到城里打车付了多少钱车费,我告诉他一共花了46块人民币。于是他试图让我付给他80块,理由是汽油涨价了。我灭了他的痴心妄想,让他按计价表收费,结果他就没那么健谈了。

他把我送到一座新候机楼前,等我一付完钱,马上就驾车离开了。我这时才发觉,原来他把我送到了新国内航站楼,而不是老国际航站楼。

我看到玻璃滑动门上写着“宠物和气球禁止入内”的显著标识,这还是我平生第一次看到“气球禁止入内”的字样。还好当时我既没有带气球,也把狮子狗留在了家里。

我刚庆幸自己没有违反宠物或气球的规定,马上意识到自己走错了航站楼,高兴劲儿转瞬而逝。

在心里暗骂了出租车司机一顿,我四下看看也没有找到前往国际航站楼的指路牌,于是就向其他旅客打听。这是一位穿着入时的中年女士,随身带了只印刷精美的购物袋,上面用英文写着“我是大卫”(I’m David,百家好旗下新锐男装品牌)。我努力控制住自己,才没有脱口而出冲她说“大卫,你好,我是汤姆”。

她给我指出了正确的方向。

于是我开始了长途跋涉,一路登高爬低、兜兜转转——这条路绝对不是给拎着行李的旅客设计的,不仅没有行李坡道,还有几个高坎儿,让我在正午的艳阳下步履维艰。

等到了国际航站楼(这里不知为什么就没有禁止气球和宠物入内的牌子),我看到一间没有坐椅的房间,里面站满了一群大都上了年纪的台湾游客。江北机场海关的工作人员因为某种原因还没有到岗,于是我们就乱哄哄地、有一搭无一搭地排着队,像是一只巨大的蜈蚣,中间弯弯曲曲的是三、四个人并排站着的队列,两侧还有一些闲人来回走动。(这让我有一种似曾相识的感觉,让我想起上次在洛杉矶国际机场转机的时候,也有很多这样的蜈蚣队。)

终于,四名海关关员现身,现场仿佛大坝决堤。

“蜈蚣”开始向前蠕动,我就排在“蜈蚣”的肠子里。

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)”。

虽然我明白这句话想要传达的本意,但它的英文用法的确是错误的,而且还有可能引发歧义。

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。

因此看起来,这个标识是让旅客申报自己的行李中是否有易碎的人。

例如:“对不起,先生,我要申报装在箱子里的奶奶。”

或是“报告长官,我的新秀丽箱子里有个老家伙。”

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。

虽然只是家快餐厅,但Al比1号贵宾候机室更吸引人。那个贵宾室由十家航空公司共用,大概只有十个座位,里面很热,又没卫生间,小吃饼干都是些陈年旧货。

我觉得除了个别欺客宰客的出租车司机以外,重庆人还是非常热情友好、乐于助人的。下次再来重庆,我不会间隔那么久了。到那时,也许建设中的新国际航站楼就已经竣工了呢。

(待续)

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…)


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