Tina’s Hostel is very hard to find. Actually most hostels are impossible to find, located in random alleys off the main road. After wandering around Zhongqinglu for about 10 minutes, we finally found a sign for the hostel painted on a wall of a crumbling building. I was a little scared, but how bad could it be? Tina’s was rated the best hostel in Chongqing by Lonely Planet. When we turned the corner and saw the entrance we were a little less worried. Tina’s is a cute, eclectic building with murals in marker and paint on the walls along with travel advice and notes in any language imaginable. We made our way down to our room- a tiny closet of a room with a bunk bed. The awesome mural on our wall of a rock band almost made up for the fact that one part of our wall looked like someone took a giant sledge hammer to it. Being in the basement, our room was pretty dark and a little weirdly damp, but the beds had some sort of mattress!!! The bathroom was pretty bad though. There were about 6 toilets, however, all but one had signs on them saying they were broken, and even the non-broken one didn’t flush half the time, didn’t have toilet paper and reeked of pee. The showers were pretty bad too; apparently there were giant spiders on the ceiling of the men’s showers. When we arrived there was no hot water so we had to take ice cold showers, but we eventually figured out that there was warm water in the evenings so we took our showers then.
The first day in Chongqing, we arrived a lot earlier than we had planned because we had to change our train ticket to 9am rather than our original 3pm train. We used this day to basically wander around the city. We somehow stumbled upon the city center, which has a giant clock tower surrounded by business high rises as well as any store imaginable, including Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, etc, etc. While wandering around we eventually found a roller rink arcade. All I have to say is that there are some pretty intense roller skaters in Chongqing. Nate somehow convinced me to play arcade games with him for about an hour which was very entertaining. We made some 10 year old friends who were very impressed by Nate’s basketball skills. I also tried my hand at a few shooting games; I had never been quite fond of them at home on my brother’s PS2, but there’s something about actually holding the gun in your hand and being able to aim that makes killing zombie monsters a lot more fun. We had to buy a minimum of 50 coins, but after an hour or so we still had a lot left, which we gifted to one of the 10 year olds who had been trailing us for the last hour.
It was very interesting to compare the city center to the rest of Chongqing. I had no idea, but Chongqing is a massive city, one of the four mega-cities in China which means over 20 million people. Half of Chongqing is under construction, the other half looks like it’s falling apart. But the center of Chongqing was a bright, new, business-shopping district with China’s best-dressed girls all wandering around in the most ridiculous high heels you will ever see in your entire life, while their accessory boyfriends carry their second most important accessory- an obnoxious fake designer purse. However, amongst all these young rich couples, many people in the city center stood out. There were a lot of older people selling fruits out of baskets attached by rope to a stick laid across their shoulders- a common theme throughout Chongqing. Chongqing also has a lot of people on crutches and people who can’t walk properly- maybe poor healthcare? I also saw the most disturbing thing I have ever seen in China thus far: a man lying down in the middle of a walking-only street in the city center. I looked over and not only was he missing one of his legs; the skin had formed around a broken bone that was jutting out of his leg. This exposed bone was jagged and broken and while the leg looked healed, there was a towel with blood underneath him. In my 21 years of life, I have never seen anything that disturbing or emotionally upsetting. In America, someone would have called an ambulance within 5 minutes of this man entering a public place. But in China these things happen, and all of the young couples just walked right on by. I didn’t quite get a great look at his leg, but I still think about this man and why China, a supposedly communist country, does not have the governmental programs to help this man, at least medically.
On a lighter note, Nate and I spent the first evening completely lost in Chongqing, attempting to find something cool along the Yangtze River. I find it weird that we call it the Yangtze when its real name is Chang Jiang, or Chang River. I feel like Chang is a lot easier to pronounce (and spell) than Yangtze, but whatever. For the last few years I’ve been telling people that my Chinese name is Jiang Lan- Jiang like Yangtze River Jiang, so finally seeing this Yangtze River was so weird for me! I almost feel some sort of attachment to this dirty brown river, just because of my Chinese name.
It was definitely a struggle to figure out how to get down to the river. The entirety of Chongqing is built on a giant slope down towards the water, so Chongqing not only has a lot of hills, but also has a lot of stairs. We eventually found some random high rise to get us down to the river, and wandered around the highway for a decent while until we stumbled upon an old-town-esque complex! There were giant house-like buildings built into the side of a hill, with a waterfall, restaurants and a giant cave. We were very excited that we now had something to do with our lives, and decided to climb up the side of this cliff to explore the waterfall and the cave. Eventually we arrived at the cave and were greeted by… fake pirates? We weren’t sure what it was, but the entire cave, complete with hundreds of steps, looked like a Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Eventually we discovered that all of this was an advertisement for a giant seafood restaurant!
After eating dinner at a different, non-pirate themed restaurant, we decided to explore the cute building built into the side of the cliff. There were Lijiang-esque shops on one floor and a giant food street on the next floor. We drank some plum juice and snacked on chuar while taking photos of cats on leashes (it’s definitely a thing in Chongqing) and dogs without leashes. Getting back to our hostel was a huge issue though. We wandered around for about an hour, asking random people how to get back, knowing we had to go up the hill and left. We ended up walking through some pretty interesting construction sites and dead ends, and eventually decided to take a cab because we were completely lost. Pretty successful wandering day I have to say!
The next day, after sleeping in a bit, Nate and I made our way to the old town. We were told by our friendly hostel staff that we needed to take the subway and then a bus. The subway was easy but the bus was a little harder. We eventually found a bus stop with Ciqikou, the old town, as the last stop (yay for pinyin!) but it was going the wrong way! Normally in this situation, you cross the street and catch the same bus going the other way, but of course, the street was a one way street so we had to follow it back to a main intersection and then try and figure out which way the bus was coming from. After asking around for a solid 20 minutes, we eventually found a bus stop to get us to Ciqikou. While waiting for the train, we met an English translator, who translated very complicated things like Shakespeare and medical books. He had perfect English and it was pretty interesting to talk with him, especially since no one in Chongqing speaks any English at all, except for some of the hostel staff at Tina’s.
The old town is just off a main street- somewhat Lijiang-eque, but smaller in terms of overall area as well as street space. When we first arrived at the old town we decided to eat lunch on the main street. Nate picked out a hotpot place because it was busy, which is surprising because Nate is not a huge fan of hotpot. I was definitely excited though, because hotpot is by far my favorite meal in China. It’s just SO GOOD. This hotpot was a little different than the hotpot we’d had in Kunming and Beijing. There was only the non-spicy broth, and we were given soy sauce and spices to dip the food in. I made mine really spicy, and it was probably my favorite dipping sauce so far! Nate was called over to pick out a fish for our hotpot (there were no menus or options). When I got up, I was told by the fuwuyuan to sit back down. I guess picking out a fish is the man’s job. All of the bony, inedible parts of the fish were added to the pot for flavor, and we were given paper-thin slices of raw fish, along with a few chunkier pieces to cook in the pot. They also gave us cabbage and potatoes. The fish was amazing, it cooked really fast so you merely held a raw piece in the boiling broth with your chopsticks for a minute and it was ready to eat! Overall, the hotpot was a little pricy but definitely worth it! It was kind of funny how gender specific the fuwuyuans were. Not only was I told to sit down when Nate was picking a fish, the fuwuyuans specifically asked him if we wanted any more food, and made it a point to only show the number on the bill to him and it was not said aloud. I know basically everyone that meets us on our trip thinks we’re dating, but I still found it pretty funny.
The old town was definitely a cool experience. We tried food samples, saw a lot of cats and dogs, explored an old temple and even spotted a couple haunted houses?! There was one area where the old town exited out onto a carnival boardwalk, and by carnival I mean rides and games. Some of the games were definitely interesting: hit the target with a crossbow was definitely new, as well as fishing for goldfish. We eventually found a nice spot in the shade of one of the boardwalk “cafes”. We asked if they had anything cold to drink- they did not; so we ordered two cups of hot black tea (or red tea as they call it in China). It was almost impossible to drink because it was served in glass, but once it cooled down it was pretty nice to sit there by the brown river and chat. It’s a little interesting that even in the summer there were no cold drinks but our theme in China is “ru xiang sui su”, which is the Chinese way of saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
It was definitely a great afternoon, and we had a much easier time making it back on the bus now that we knew where we were going. After a full day in the old town we made our way to the city center to buy train tickets. We had a good dinner of spicy shrimp, eggplant and baicai on the street while getting accosted by shoe shiners attempting to convince us that they could clean our tennis shoes. After a long day, Nate and I headed in early and decided to watch a movie. All of the hostel movies were so scratched up we only found one that would play and were only able to watch about half of it. Sad. But we had tickets to the Dazu caves the next moring so we called it an early night, ready to wake up at the crack of dawn the next morning.