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China Deep Dive: Chongqing's endless sights

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On our first full day in Chongqing we had made a serious dent in our list of activities but we hadn't gotten anywhere close to the end of it. On Wednesday morning we had another quick breakfast at the food court next door and then set of on foot towards the Raffles City skyscraper complex near the tip of the Yuzhong peninsula. Our plan was to tour the Crystal skybridge, a three hundred meter curved tube that is supported by the tops of four skyscrapers. We weren't too sure how to access it or what to do up there but the thing was simply too cool-looking to forgo a close-up inspection. Along the way we stopped at a produce market and admired some of the other brilliantly designed residential towers of Yuzhong.

Once we arrived at Raffles it wasn't immediately clear how to reach the skybridge or if tickets would be required. The information I had accessed online was conflicting in that respect, perhaps because the skybridge was only completed in 2020. We asked various official-looking people and were directed into a mall with a large basement food court. Many of the restaurants looked quite good but we had just eaten and we didn't want to be distracted from our mission. We found a nondescript elevator that took us to a hotel lobby on a higher floor, after which we switched to another elevator that zoomed us all the way to the top of the skyscraper. It seemed a little strange that we were the only ones on the elevator and that access to the skybridge seemed to be completely unregulated. Once we exited the elevator we were inside the glass-walled tube which had a couple of sparsely populated coffee bars and a restaurant on one end. There wasn't any sign of the viewing platform although we were able to get some good views through the glass panels at the coffee bar. One particular eye-catching structure on the far bank of the Yangtze was a pair of golden skyscrapers that had clearly been patterned after the iconic Chrysler Building in New York City. They were joined by a skybridge partway up and adjacent to them were a pair of jet black oblong buildings of about the same height. The four buildings stood out dramatically against a background of smaller, less ostentatious high rises.

The skybridge had been pleasant enough but somewhat anticlimactic. We reversed our steps to return to the basement food court where we had a light lunch at a Thai restaurant. On the way out of the other side of the mall we finally encountered the ticket booth for the outdoor glass viewing platform on the skybridge. There was also something called the Crystal skywalk, which is a walkway at the top of the tube that requires the visitor to hook up to a carabiner attached to a railing. This was the only way to reach the sky deck, via a dedicated elevator, and we had completely missed it because there's no mention of it anywhere on the Raffles website and none of the staff we had asked for directions appeared to know the first thing about it. Tickets were expensive but not outrageous, but only Cleo and I could have done the sky walk and I wasn't very excited about the idea. In the end we decided we had seen enough from the part of the skybridge we had already visited and proceeded on with our day, although later I somewhat regretted that decision. Once we exited the mall we were at Chaotianmen, where I expected to find a park and square at the very tip of Yuzhong at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze rivers. I was looking forward to seeing the rivers merge but the only sight that met our eyes was a massive construction project still in its early stages. The entire square was gone and replaced by a giant pit with the foundations and lower skeletons of some future structures. This was all the more shocking because the latest redevelopment of Chaotianmen Square had just been completed in 1998, suggesting that central Chongqing was now in some kind of twenty-five year redevelopment cycle. We were able to get a nice view of the Chongqing Grand Theatre on the other side of the Jialing with the skyline of Jiangbei in the background and that was about it.

We hopped back onto the metro to visit the famous Zhongshuge bookstore in the Jiulongpo district south of the city center. This unique establishment occupies a two level space in a minitature mall called Zhongdi Plaza that was so dilapidated and nondescript that we initially thought we had to be in the wrong place. Once we found it, however, it was clear that the bookstore's charms had not been exaggerated. The entrance area was filled with lantern shaped bookcases that rested on the ground and were suspended from the ceiling, creating an impression of a cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites. From here we explored a labyrinth of uniquely-designed chambers which culminated in the central hall that was crisscrossed by geometrical staircases reminiscent of an M.C. Escher print. A mirrored ceiling enhanced the sense of an optical illusion. It seemed that few people were in this room to read as practically every platform was occupied by someone trying to find the perfect angle for a photograph. As I strolled through the different rooms I noticed that there were many young people inside who seemed to have little interest in books. They were sitting on the floors chatting, napping, and even eating as though it was a university study hall. I brought this up to Mei Ling and she pointed out that this was probably the only air conditioned place they could come to escape the hundred degree temperatures outside. The staff seemed to have no problem tolerating this, although the books on the shelves were probably well out of the price range of the majority of the local students.

We had to take a bus to reach Huangjueping Graffiti Street. This neighborhood was transformed into a giant canvas for street art by the president of the nearby Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2007. More than eight hundred artists completed the project over a hundred and fifty days. From the moment we stepped down from the bus we were surrounded by enormous murals on building walls and whimsical sculptures.

Somewhere along the way visitors began adding their own graffiti to one little dead end alley off of the main street and a little cottage industry was born with vendors selling brushes and small pots of paint. As much as we dreaded the inevitable soiling of clothes and skin how were we going to deny the kids this opportunity for state-sanctioned vandalism? It never fails to amaze me how our kids can be completely mesmerized by the sudden appearance of coloring implements and a surface on which to apply them. Even Cleo at eleven years old is immediately preoccupied when those kids' menus and crayons show up at a breakfast restaurant.

The kids had as much fun with the paint as they did with any of our previous activities in Chongqing, although Mei Ling and I were ready to get out of there after about five minutes. We put up with it as long as we could and then finally dragged them out of the alley with a great deal of resistance.

I was eager to get to our dinner destination, a night market that I had very little information about called Yes Bear. The allure of having so little information about it was that it was more likely to be an authentic experience intended for locals rather than domestic tourists. The risk was that we would arrive and find we were in the wrong place, or that the market no longer existed. The metro brought us to a rather bland residential district on the right bank of the Yangtze called Nan'An, an area of Chongqing we hadn't yet explored. The walk from the metro to the area along the river where I expected to find Yes Bear was quite long, raising the stakes for the outcome of my decision to seek it out. It quickly became apparent that we were about to get that close up look I had been craving at the golden twin skyscrapers we had seen from the Raffles skybridge.

Once we arrived within sight of the Yangtze I was relieved to see an array of white tents filling an open area between the skyscrapers and the river. This was presumably Yes Bear and the tents were occupied by vendors offering a variety of pleasant snacks as well as some crafts and artisan foods. I can't say it was the most interesting night market we had visited as far as food went but it was definitely one of the most beautiful settings.

From the river side of the golden skyscrapers it was apparent that they were a Sheraton hotel, which amazed me as I expected a tower complex that large to be a real estate development with multiple tenants. The black towers also contained a hotel although I don't know if they were entirely dedicated to that purpose. It seemed like the four towers could have accommodated thousands of guests so I imagine Chongqing must be a very popular destination for business travelers. Facing the other way we had an excellent view of the Jiefangbei skyline including the Raffles complex from which we had viewed our present location that morning.

We hung around this area for about an hour enjoying the atmosphere as the sun disappeared behind the skyscrapers. Not to be defeated by the fall of darkness, the Sheraton buildings were now outlined in brilliant red while their black oblong neighbors wore gold crowns and displayed moving Chinese characters on their facades. Soon enough we had to begin thinking about how we would get back to our apartment in Jiefangbei. The idea of taking the long walk back to the metro was quite unappealing, especially since we were just across the bridge from our home territory. We decided to walk in the direction of the Dongshuimen bridge hoping to find two cabs to bring us back.

As we moved along with our eye out for taxis we realized that there was another long line of lighted kiosks on the sidewalk ahead of us. We soon arrived at a makeshift entryway with a lighted sign marked with the word YES! and a thumbs-up icon. So was this the real Yes Bear market? Then what had the last place been called? Or were they both different parts of Yes Bear? It didn't seem like any answers would be forthcoming but I wasn't about to complain that we'd encountered two night markets instead of one.

The only problem I had at this point was that this new market had better, more exotic food than the first and I was completely stuffed. All I could do was stroll up and down the length of the market making a video to drool over at some point in the future when I had an empty stomach. The most heartbreaking delicacy I had to pass up was a tray of whole turtles that had been stewed in some kind of spicy broth. Meanwhile Mei Ling had bought the kids some little plaster figurines from a craft kiosk. Painting these figurines is a popular night market activity in China and soon after the kids got started they were joined by a young couple on a date night.

We were able to hail taxis easily on busy Nanbin Road and relaxed as they whizzed us back to Jiefangbei. Somehow we had managed to complete another day that was just as long and filled with interesting sights and activities as our first full day in Chongqing. The only question left now was if we could keep our momentum going for a third full day in this breathtaking city.

Posted by zzlangerhans 15:04 Archived in China Tagged family chongqing family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog yes_bear huangjueping_graffiti_street zhongshuge raffles_skybridge

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