Dec 3, 2012

Chongqing: Indian Restaurant

A surprise find!

Indian food in ChongqingWe just looked up, and there it was

Our first night in, we decided to wander for dinner. Chongqing rivals Sichuan as home of the hot pot, and we were pretty sure that we could find a good one just by flinging ourselves at the city.

But, instead, we found this Indian Restaurant.

We were led upstairs by a cute young woman in her 20s. She wore hipster black rimmed glasses and a chic short haircut, and she was kind of sheepish about her English, although she spoke well enough. “不客气 is ‘Not at all’, in English?” she verified with us, and then proudly and carefully used it throughout the meal to answer our 谢谢s [thank yous].

Peter and I split some hearty vegetable samosas and a perfect garlic naan. My chicken with cashew sauce was sweet and creamy with white chunks of breast meat, while Peter’s potato and cauliflower curry was just the right amount of spicy. The sauces tasted premade — it kind of reminded me of Progresso soup — but as far as Chinese Indian food goes, it was a pretty good meal.

Dec 3, 2012

Chongqing: Arhat Temple

History in the middle of the present

Arhat Temple
Arhat TempleArhat TempleArhat TempleArhat Temple

Arhat Temple is a 1,000-year-old Buddhist temple which is now smack in the center of Chongqing’s commercial district. Much like Central Park in New York, you can see the surrounding city from inside, but you feel immersed in a separate environment.

Though that separate environment doesn’t cast off all commercialism; At the entrance and throughout the temple, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase tributes to the gods and souvenirs for yourself. (In the absence of government or other funding, this is how the monks support their operation.)

The long passageway from the entrance to the inner temple was lined with ceramic gods who had received some gifts of apples, baijiu, incense and other small tokens. Many visitors bowed to these gods in prayer.

The main room of the temple is given over to a hall containing more than 500 life-sized Arhat statues. A sign instructed, “Don’t take photograph of carven statles in this temple!” so we didn’t, although we really wished that we could. The statues were amazing — all arranged in action poses, with distinct features and personalities. Men of every complexion are represented. Some hold animals or tools, and some are a little more otherworldly and have extra eyes or another little man inside their chest. Some Arhats occupied clouds, some rode sea creatures. Some interacted with their neighbor, while others stared intently down at the viewers, and still others stared off into space. There was clearly a commitment to giving each and every statue a life of its own.

The room itself was a fit setting for these guys. The ceiling was gilded in gold with images of dragons all over, and colorful banners hung from the rafters. The Arhats were accompanied by some tremendous gold Buddha figures, and there were small altars at relevant locations. We espied a monk giving a young girl a consultation at one of these.

Everything is still in really good shape … although we learned later that the present statues were molded in 1986, so its no great preserved treasure, but it’s still impressive to see.

Dec 2, 2012

Chongqing: Day and Night

And up and down

Chongqing city center
Baskets, in a museum
Above: We saw this stick-and-basket display in the museum in Chengdu’s River Viewing Pavilion Park, but as you can see … right: The bang bang man is still very much alive in modern day.
Baskets, getting some present-day use

Central Chongqing has a similar set-up to Luzhou, with a peninsula tapering west to east between the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. Our hostel was towards the tip, and pretty much right on top of all the river-import/export activity.

Chongqing is one of China’s steepest cities. Like, think San Francisco ups and downs. And, thanks to the rivers, it’s also one of China’s busiest commercial ports. These two facts combined to create the bang bang men. “Bang bang” is the Chinese word for stick — which refers to the thick bamboo poles these supremely muscular guys sling over their shoulders to carry goods up the hills from the piers to wherever it needs to go. It is impressive to see them in action. It also makes me thankful that Luzhou’s peaks are somewhat less treacherous.

A ten minute cab ride west of all that industry, you find all the restaurant-shopping-tourism action. The downtown area retains that up-and-down steepness, but it’s still far more walkable than that of other Chinese cities we’ve visited. Our visit was short, but we managed a lot of wandering — from the requisite big-city-Carrefour-stop to historical sites to delicious nibbles. More on that to come …

Nov 26, 2012

Chongqing: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel

Back on the road

The Chongqing Yangtze River International Youth Hostel
Omelettes for breakfastOmelettes for breakfastRoom oneRoom two

For the last weekend of National Day, we decided to get out of town. Our 12-hour fly-by of Chongqing this summer left us wanting more, so we hopped on a bus for the 2 and a half journey east.

This time we went rogue, accommodation-wise, and opted for a hostel that was not in our guidebook: Yangtze River International Youth Hostel. It was located just at the tip of the center-city peninsula in a quaint, traditionally styled building.

It was also right underneath a brand new bridge that was being constructed. I guess we’re just drawn to that sort of thing. But each room came stocked with ear plugs to block out the noise.

The restaurant-bar area was cozy and funky, with a full menu of Chinese and western foods — as reasonably priced as anywhere else. They had a small outdoor area, which would have been lovelier minus the giant construction cranes, but it was a perfectly nice place to enjoy a drink or a meal. Our particular favorites were the homemade mint tea and the breakfast omelets, the latter of which attempted a Mexican flavor (with a vegetarian option!) via a Sichuan spice rack. Oh, and the french fries were pretty wonderful, too.

Our room the first night was small but cute. It was two levels, with a small sitting area and TV downstairs and the bed upstairs. We loved it … until suspicious scrabbling noises started up in the walls and ceiling, and continued until dawn. This was not ideal. Rat fear makes it pretty hard to sleep.

In the morning, we asked for a change of rooms. They moved us, no problem — and, to be honest, they didn’t seem all that surprised by our complaint. Our second room was just off a balcony that overlooked the river. Minus the giant mold patch on the ceiling, this room was pretty nice.

There’s a really charming hostel here, gone slightly to seed. Like, someone had really cared for this place many years ago, but didn’t have the money or the desire to do the upkeep. The staff is genuinely helpful and friendly — they gave us thorough and accurate directions to pretty much everywhere in the city. As it is, however, mice and mold are just too much for us to return (although, to be fair, they weren’t enough to make us leave).

Sep 16, 2012

Summer vacation: A pizza hunt

Ending up in a familiar place

Dinner at Pizza Hut
Shapingba District is not the city center, but it is a city center — and much more convenient to our hostel.

We were too tired to get into the main city center for dinner, but there was another center, Shapingba, that was a short bus ride away. So we researched a pizza place on the internet (we’re always on the lookout for good pizza in China) and hopped on the bus.

After much searching and a very long walk, we never found the internet pizza place … but we did stumble upon a Pizza Hut!

And I can report that Pizza Hut pizza tastes exactly the same in China as it does in America. It really brought me back to those days of grabbing a Personal Pan at Penn Station on my way out to visit my parents on Long Island. But for Chinese people, Pizza Hut represents a really fancy night out. It’s expensive (relative to a normal Chinese dinner), for one thing. And we saw many dressed up couples out for a date.

The menu, much like many of the Western restaurants in Luzhou, is about 20 pages long. In addition to pizza, they offer salads, pasta, rice dishes, fried snacks … pretty much any kind of stereotypical western food. We tried a garden salad and onion rings. They weren’t very good. But the iced tea we got was pretty tasty.

Next stop, Qingdao …

Sep 15, 2012

Summer vacation: Shopping in Ciqikou

And don’t forget the snacks

The streets of Ciqikou

Ciqikou has existed as a neighborhood for more than 1,000 years, but most of what’s there today is touristy shops and food stalls. So, in our afternoon walk around the neighborhood, we bought some trinkets and ate some snacks.

There is some beautiful souvenir shopping to be doneRoti!

This past year in Luzhou we haven’t done that much shopping, because we don’t often see too much that we want to buy. Often, cheap stuff is cheap and junky, and expensive stuff is expensive and junky. Oddly enough, though, in this little touristy district there were a ton of cute, covetable objects.

I found a scarf at a store that specialized in World Traveler wear — that special style that blends motifs from Tibet, Africa, SE Asia, etc. Peter and I both recalled that there was a store like that in each of our college towns. Other stores offered: your name in calligraphy made to look like an animal, fun jewelery, paper fans, etc. One place sold vintage clocks that would sell like hotcakes in any hipster neighborhood. It was an interesting mix of merchandise.

On the snack front, there were a bunch of noodle and hot pot restaurants; the usual suspects. But we opted for pancakes from the Indian roti stall! We were really excited to find it. China is rightly proud of its cuisine, but we’re still surprised at how little fusion goes on with other nearby cultures. I mean, India is right there! Couldn’t we get some dosas up in here, every once in a while?

For dinner, we have a taste of modern Chongqing …

Sep 14, 2012

Summer vacation: En route to cool breezes

Chongqing: Home of a big airport

Here's Chongqing

All summer, people had been warning us that Luzhou is as hot as Hades in August. Like, busting 100 degrees daily hot. So our plan for August: leave the city.

Our ultimate destination was Qingdao, on the northeast coast of the country, but we had a brief stopover in Chongqing — because the airport there serves more destinations that Luzhou Lantian Airport.

Some basic information:

  • Chongqing is about 2 and a half hours from Luzhou by bus.
  • It used to be a part of Sichuan Province, but in 1997 the municipality struck out on its own as a separate governmental entity.
  • There’s still a very Sichuan flavor about the place, specifically the spicy flavor of hot pot!
  • The city population is about 5 million.

Some non-basic information coming up …

Sep 14, 2012

Summer vacation: One night by the river

Chongqing: Perfect Time Youth Hostel

Our room overlooked this scene on the river.
The view from our hostel window.
Perfect Time's perfect entrance

Chongqing is supposed to be a really fun city, and we actually do have designs to spend significant tourist time there, but in August, it’s even hotter than Luzhou. So our time there was little more than a drive-by.

Our crashpad for the night was the Perfect Time Youth Hostel. Which is both adorable and really far from the center of the city. It’s located in the Ciqikou district, a fake old-timey neighborhood similar to Chengdu’s Kuanzhai Xiangzi. Our room was pretty big, and it overlooked a riverfront bustling with tourists and seafood restaurants.

There was a cute little bar downstairs that had a good looking food menu, though our waitress informed us, when we tried to get an afternoon snack, that the cook was not there. It wasn’t clear if she meant for the day or ever.

When we visit Chongqing in earnest, I don’t think we’ll stay here again. But only because the location is inconvenient for real tourism in the city. The hostel itself was charming and comfortable, and it did us well for our brief layover.

The bedsWhat a cute sink!Play pool in the common area

Tomorrow, find out what happens when we actually leave the hostel …