Starting from the end of May, Finnair opened the first direct air-link from Europe (four times a week) to Chonggqing, one of the largest Chinese megalopolis in China.
More than 29 million people live in this city that extends around the estuary of the Jialing River, over the Yangtze at the access of the stretch leading up to Three Gorges Dam. Hundreds of thousands of buildings and skyscrapers scattered over a metropolitan area that includes several smaller cities almost as big as Lombardy.
However, you will probably never have heard of Chonggqing. Actually, in Europe, this important commercial center that leads to the Western China, towards Tibet, Yunnan and Shaanxi, is almost unknown. Although HP produces here half of their laptops and tablets, and Iveco has its most important production center of Asia, the city is often unheard of as tourist destination as well as ignored by the media (but some of you may have heard of the Bo Xilai scandal).
The plane lands gently through the mist that envelops the city for most of the year and which is due in part to the strong evaporation of the two rivers, and in part to the pollution (drastically reduced in recent years thanks to the introduction of gas vehicles, of which Chonggqing is leader in China).
Although initially disturbing, the mist gives a dreamlike and surreal aspect to skyscrapers scattered on the lush hills surrounding the city, located on a peninsula embraced by the Yangtze and the Jialing. Even during the night, the lights of bridges (dozens of which connect the river banks) and palaces seem to get lost in nothingness, in a timeless dimension, drawing the eye to the liveliness and chaos of the streets around us.
Try to walk in the streets animated by sellers of chicken feet skewers and spicy meat (they call it the spicy city; try the Hot Pot that will anaesthetize your mouth – and this is not a metaphor), stands with snakes, colored ears poodles (latest fad) and few cents trinkets. If you can, visit the Old Town, where you will still find the old wooden houses of the pre-boom era, when the government did tabula rasa, destroying temples and old houses and succeeding where the Japanese bombs failed.
Chongqing was, in fact, the provisional capital of the government of Chiang Kai-shek during the Second World War and suffered the tough bombing of Japanese military aviation force.
Near Jiaochangkou metro station, in the area of discos in the city center, you can find the World War memorial. Contrary to the devastation suffered by the Japanese in Tokyo, the inhabitants of this city suffered limited losses thanks to the many tunnel bunkers dug using the slopes of the city. Even today anyone can visit many of these tunnels, an ideal refuge to find a little coolness during the summer heat that sometimes exceeds 40 ° C.
Do not miss the museum on the Three Gorges Dam with its unmistakable architecture (a dam, dominated by water, that sometimes seems to evoke a flood). Over 2 million people relocated and the transformation of an entire region in order to build one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in China. A mammoth job, which is negatively impacting on the geological territory structure. If the walls of the mountains give way, the lives of dozen millions of people would be at risk.
If you want to escape the city for a few days, the options are a cruise on the Yangtze River or a visit to the stone carvings of Dazu, a series of religious sculptures dating back to the seventh century. Here you will find nearly 50,000 statues with representations of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, scattered in the forest and made by monks over more than eight centuries.The site is very expensive (bring your student card or anything else that can be passed off as student card), but it is very well kept and it offers an interesting comparison between the Song and Qing styles.
If you are interested in modern art, visit Huangjueping Street, the largest collection of Chinese street art. Along Huangjueping there are many art studios. Visit some of these and talk with local artists. Who knows, maybe you can find some interesting work by the new Ai Weiwei!
Pay attention to food: as I said before, in Chonggqing people love the hot pepper and local pepper corn that has a strong anesthetic effect on the lips (cathartic when it goes to the brain simultaneously with the hot one). In return, the spicy flavors are very interesting. Choose ingredients from the counter and, at the table, waiters will cook them for you in pots of vegetable oil full of spices, or on the griddle spreading infernal sauces.
Before leaving the city for your next destination take a trip to the local disco like True Colors, you can observe the local youth who drink western alcohol and listen to horrible Beijing techno-pop. Have a dance too, and you will be the center of attention. All will ask you questions and invite you to the table.
Who says that the Chinese aren’t sociable?