Well, that was a longer hiatus than expected. I’m currently in Shanghai where the hotel has blessed me with uncensored Internet. We were in Chongqing for the past few days visiting Stephen’s family. The hotel Internet there would not allow me to Access Facebook, WordPress or Tumblr — I couldn’t even download Gmail attachments! It was particularly frustrating because social media is the best way to vent about such first world problems as not being able to complain about your lack of social media on social media.
The day we left for China we had breakfast with Stephen’s coworker and his wife. We informed them that we were going to visit Stephen’s family in Chongqing.
“Is that near one of the big cities in China?” the coworker’s wife asked.
“It is the biggest city in China,” Stephen replied. Chongqing has more than 30 million people, but most Westerners — including myself before I met Stephen — have never heard of it. I guess that’s because it doesn’t have China’s tallest building or The Forbidden City. That, and it’s hard for white people to pronounce. (“Chong ching”)
We were in Shanghai before we left for Hangzhou and Chongqing.
“You will not recognize Chongqing now,” said Stephen’s friend Stock Exchange Guy (we give all his Chinese friends and business associates nicknames because I can never remember their Chinese names.) “Much growth.”
While the area we stayed in near Stephen’s uncle’s place looked relatively the same as when we were there in 2009 (save for a fake Apple store on every corner), I couldn’t get over the amount of growth we witnessed on the drive from the airport. I have never seen so many tall building cranes in my life. Clusters of new buildings were going up on every corner. Banners featuring pictures of happy Chinese families and Chongqing’s new slogans graced every turn: “Safe Chongqing,” “Eco-friendly Chongqing,” “Traffic-easy Chongqing,” and my favorite, “Heslthy Chongqing” (typo included). Stock Exchange Guy was right — Chongqing is growing at an insane rate. Perhaps in five years white people will know it exists.
If I had to give Chongqing a slogan, it would be something along the lines of “Glorious newness arises amongst the old” — I bet it sounds better in Chinese. By “old,” I mean utter crapholes — I use “craphole” in the nicest way possible, but it’s the only way to describe some parts of China. There are these decrepit buildings that no American would ever step foot in — yet alone live there as many people do. A lot of these crapholes inexpicitly sell very fancy tile, which I’m sure people buy for their very fancy high-rises. It seems so pecular, buying furnishings for your expensive place from this craphole. And of course, around the corner from the craphole area there is a shiny new Gucci store and a multi-story mall. Maybe that would make a good slogan for China in general — “Around the corner from the craphole is a shiny new Gucci store.” That probably also sounds better in Chinese.
Anyway, we were there to visit Stephen’s family, which is always an interesting experience. They speak absolutely no English, and I speak no Sichuanese. But we still manage to talk to each other, either through Stephen’s translation, pointing, or laughing. It sounds cheezy, but laughter really is the universal language. Stephen’s family laughs a lot, and I often laugh with them — not because I understood the joke, but because Sichuanese just sounds so funny to me. Mandarin Chinese I’m used to and can even occasionally get the jist of the conversation, but the Sichuan dialect sounds like Jabba the Hut’s language to me. So when Stephen’s little cousin says something and everyone laughs, I laugh too, imagining she’s talking to Jabba the Hut.
I really do need to learn Chinese though. I get that urge every time I’m here. One night we were hanging out at Stephen’s aunt and uncle’s place and Stephen’s younger cousins decided to make me a dessert (I could make a whole China Impressions post about Chinese desserts). It was chunks of gelatin in a sugary molasses-like syrup.
“Hao bu hao?” Stephen’s aunt asked me. I knew what this meant. “Is it good?” I even knew the appropriate response — I saw the Rosetta Stone picture of the woman smiling while eating rice — “hen hao chi.” But for some inexpicable reason I didn’t say it, I just smiled and took another bite. I don’t just need to learn more Chinese, I need to get over my fear of speaking it.
I’ve got some other China Impressions posts in the works — this was supposed to be a short post to let you know I’m still here. I’ll leave you with this image to let you know just how “comfortable” it was in Chongqing this past weekend.