Chongqing: A Visit with the Cutest Animals in the World
We left beautiful Guilin this morning on Xiamen Air headed for a rendezvous with Pandas in Chongqing.
The long drive out of Guilin showed off even more of the city’s parks, landscaped medians, and clean, attractive commercial areas. As with all the Chinese airports, this one was built with future expansion in mind and located a fair distance from the center of town.
They say Chongqing is the largest city you never heard of, and with 33 million residents it proved to be true; currently the largest incorporated city in the world, it includes towns in the nearby Yangtze area. There are massive residential towers lining the highways, one after another, for as far as you can see; then you round the next bend and there are even more. This is the worst pollution we have experienced on the trip, and since we are in a very industrial city, not surprising. The weather has gotten much warmer than forecast (91), but those gracious Chinese ancestors have kindly held off the predicted rain. So basically, we are having Miami weather – it’s warm and humid. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it would be in the summer when the humidity is up and temps reach well over 100.
Historically, Chongqing was an important city and a major salt mining area; during WWII it was extensively bombed by the Japanese but never occupied, partly due to the assistance of the Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots.
We saw the locally famous Great Hall of the People, new tank-shaped Opera House, many bridges and the incredible amount of construction currently underway. They have cleared massive spaces for more new buildings and everywhere you look, the skyline is a mix of cranes interspersed with the existing monolithic buildings.
I saw my first Panda in 1972 at the London Zoo, it was a really big deal since at that time only about four were outside of China and visiting China was not an option. Today, China has dispersed a few more of the rare animals around the world, and zoologists are working closely with the Chinese to breed and monitor this national Chinese treasure. Currently there are only about 1,400 Giant Pandas remaining in the wild.
The Chongqing Zoo has seven (one was just relocated for breeding), due to its proximity to the remaining natural Panda habitat. Things were in a bit of a tizzy, since they are approaching their very brief breeding period. We did spend time watching Liang Liang, a 13-year-old very prolific male; You You, a 6.5 year-old male, and the 1.5 year-old baby girl Mangzai. At least they think the baby is a girl, they are never really sure about Pandas. Mangzai was selected after a naming contest, and means honest, cute, active and healthy.
We also got to see some very active Lesser Pandas – they were just darling, and I would love to take one home, if I didn’t think it would put our cat totally over the edge!
Oddly, there is a major art gallery and art school located within the zoo grounds. We had an interesting, translated presentation from a Chinese Master, and were able to see some artisans carve stone and delicately paint the inside of small bottles. The gallery offered some very pricey major paintings for sale.
Eventually we made our way to the Yangtze River, and our other reason for traveling to this central Chinese town – to board the Yangtze Explorer for a three-day trip east down the river. Because the geography here is hilly, it can be quite a walk down to the river when the water level is low (which it is right now). This town is famous for the local “bang-bang” porters who carry cargo, supplies, luggage and more onto the waiting ships and barges or up to residential apartments and commercial shops and businesses. Even though these “bang-bang” men have been providing the same service for hundreds of years, their numbers have swelled since the river relocation project (more on that tomorrow) to around 100,000. Their technique is a simple one used for generations; they carry a single bamboo pole (called bang-bang) across their shoulders with ropes on either side to tie the items they carry or baskets to transport smaller items. Even though I had read about them, I was surprised to see so many along the downtown streets and along the waterfront. We even utilized their services to easily get our luggage and hand-carry items on board. It’s another interesting contrast of modern and ancient.
We boarded the Yangtze Explorer around 5 PM – got settled in and enjoyed dinner prior to the sail-away just after 10 PM. The departure was nice, and there were quite a few lively-looking boats used for short river trips; we would call these party boats at home because of their bright neon lights and music. It was nice that city officials turn on lots of additional lights on the downtown buildings for the benefit of the departing riverboats, but then, it’s lights out at 10pm!
Tip of the day: Chinese ladies don’t generally stand in an orderly line and wait their turn for the bathroom, they will sometimes queue at the door of the stall, or push past you; so, if you stand in line you might be waiting a long time . . . .