Friday, October 14, 2005


The train trip to Chongqing was very relaxing, albeit long (9am Sunday to 1:30pm Monday). It was great to be able to just sit and read, sleep, or do whatever as you pleased. The only minor annoyance was the Chinese man who had the bunk above me. He would climb down and sit at the foot of my bed, right by my feet while I was reading and just stare at me. I think he wanted to start a conversation, but didn't know how.

NS and I ventured down the train to the dining car for dinner... overall an expensive and not very good meal. One of our favorite things to eat at the local Korean restaurant in Yantai is finely chopped chili peppers in soy sauce with garlic. Add the peppers to some rice, and thats some goodeatin'. Well, we asked the diner car staff for this on the side, and ended up getting a huge bowl of whole peppers with a sprinkling of soy sauce on top, and no garlic to be found... sigh... just not the same. Even writing this is making me hungry for our beloved Korean food.

The rest of the train journey was uneventful, except when I found out the hard way that they lock the bathrooms when the train is in a station. The toilets empty directly onto the tracks (makes for a very gusty and windy experience when traveling along at 150 kph) and they don’t want the stations getting dirty… makes sense I suppose. But I didn’t know this, and I was seriously considering bribing the conductor with money and/or alcohol to open the door due to a sudden urge.

Anyway, we arrived in Chongqing the next afternoon, and while I enjoyed the train, after 36 hrs I was ready to disembark. Outside of the station we were immediately approched by two men asking if we were interested in a boatride. We hopped into a taxi with them and went to a nearby travel agent where we secured ourselves two second-class tickets onboard a Chinese cruise. NS and I were rather relieved because the Chinese boats were significantly less expensive than the US-run ships. We now had a few hours to kill before the boat left in the evening, so we took a taxi into downtown.

The center of Chongqing was quite nice. It is not a very pretty city (it had been bombed out by the Japanese during WWII and had been rebuilt like many building in the 50’s and 60’s… concrete and ugly), but it still seemed to be bustling with culture and activity. Clearly the people here had a reasonable amount of money to spend (you could tell from the selection of stores… I felt like I was back in Shanghai), and the shopping areas were very nice. NS and I went into a large department store where I found a nice acoustic guitar ($40), which I purchased for the boat ride. We wandered around Chongqing for a while and eventually had dinner at a “Steamboat” restaurant. Steamboat is a manner of cooking here where they put a large stewpot on your table and you boil your own dinner over a fire. The pot is divided into two sections, regular seasoning and spicy. The spicy side was filled to the brim with red chili peppers and cayanne pepper… Being a culinary masochist, I promptly cooked all of my food in the spicy side. Afterall, we were in Sichuan province famous for its very spicy food. When in Rome… It was very good, but my mouth was on fire for the rest of the evening.

After dinner we walked through the old part of town, through a street market, and to the boat office. A Chinese shoeshine lady severly pissed me off... despite the fact that I was wearing grubby sneakers, she wanted to polish them for me. I kept insisting “meyo, bu yao” (no, I don’t want) but she wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally to shut her up I let her start cleaning my sneaker with a toothbrush, and all of a sudden another shoeshine lady comes over, grabs my other foot and starts cleaning that shoe at the same time. The boat company then announces that they bus to the boat is leaving, but I can’t stand up because two Chinese women are holding each of my feet. Despite my yelling at them and trying to pull away, they won’t let go… finally I end up throwing a 5 RMB note past them (which they dove for) so that I could get away. We took the bus to the boat, found our room, and settled in for the night. In second class there are two bunks to a room (so four beds) and I think I annoyed our two Chinese roommates with my excessive guitar playing… oh well. I wandered the boat for a while and met a group of German business school students from Qingdao (in my same province). I stayed up for a while talking to them, and then it was off to bed… the tour guide was going to wake us at 6 am to go to our first stop: Feng Du (ghost town temple), so we had an early night.