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An introduction to Chongqing

Popularity 6Viewed 6473 times 2014-3-20 05:45 |System category:Life

My name is Thomas and I'm twenty-three years old.  I come from a small village in North Yorkshire, close to the city of York in the United Kingdom.  York is famous for its city walls which are hundreds of years old and also for its magnificent Gothic cathedral.

I work as an English teacher in a middle school in the south-western city of Chongqing, which is one of the four municipalities in China.  (The other three are Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.)  This is my second year working here.  I first came to Chongqing in 2012 on the British Council Language Assistants programme after graduating from university.  I studied history at the University of Sheffield and also studied abroad for a year at the National University of Singapore.  I've been fascinated by Chinese history and culture since I was a child and first came to China in 2009 on a scholarship programme run by the British Council called the Prime Minister's Global Fellowship.

Chongqing is a city of ten million people in the south-west of China.  As my students will readily tell you, Chongqing is famous for “hot weather, hot food and hot women.”

As Chongqing is surrounded by mountains and is the meeting point of the Yangtze (长江 – Chang2jiang1) and Jialing (嘉陵江 – Jia1ling2jiang1) rivers, this geography means that the city has a warm and humid climate.  It doesn't get too cold in winter and the summers are as hot and humid as the weather I experienced in tropical Singapore.  Last June my school cancelled classes for a few days as temperatures were above 40C.

Chongqing was part of Sichuan province until 1997 and largely shares the same cuisine, with a few differences.  The city's most famous dish is hot pot.  Hot pot is a large boiling pot of spicy soup that is placed in the centre of the table in which you cook vegetables and meat yourself.  Chongqing people are fond of putting slightly odd things into hot pot, such as duck's blood and pig's stomach lining.  I like hot pot, but I prefer Chongqing classic dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (ma2po2dou4fu) which is spicy tofu with chopped pork and 鱼香肉丝 (yu2xiang1rou4si1) which is shredded pork flavoured with fish sauce and spices.  Every restaurant does their own slight variation on these and other classic dishes.  My British flat mate bought me a Chongqing cook book for Christmas and I enjoy cooking recipes from that and trying to emulate the dishes I see in family-run restaurants around the city.

Chongqing people proudly boast that Chongqing women are the prettiest in China and I would find it hard to disagree.  I'm not too sure about what gender roles are like in other parts of China but here women are very much in charge.  For example, I've never been to a family-owned restaurant where the boss is male.  Women handle the money, take the customers' orders and generally run the entire show.  There is a phrase which is translated as “pulled by the ear” that is used to describe Chongqing men, which cheerily reminds them who holds the reigns of power.  A stereotypical Chongqing girl would be a girl with salon-fresh hair, full make-up, wearing high heels walking down a steep slope whilst eating some kind of spicy snack and talking loudly on her mobile phone in a strong Chongqing accent.

A final point on language.  The local dialect here is very strong and Mandarin (when it's spoken) is heavily accented.  This Spring Festival I travelled a lot and talking to people in Shenzhen, Qingdao and Beijing was so much easier because they spoke standard Mandarin.  Chongqing people differ in how much dialect they speak.  Some people speak almost standard Mandarin but use a few dialect words interchangeably.  Older people, especially those who have received no formal schooling, will speak entirely in dialect.  When speaking Mandarin, most Chongqing people have a distinctive accent which is a bit hard to understand.  People speak very quickly and loudly which can be a bit intimidating at first.  It wasn't until I went to other parts of China that I realised just how loud Chongqing people are in comparison!  Every word is pronounced with a first tone, which obviously leads to some confusion.  The “h” sound in middle of words is not pronounced.  For example, 说 (shuo1 – to speak) becomes suo1.  With no “h” sound and no tones you can imagine the difficulty with four (四 – si4) and ten (十 – shi2) as they both become si1.  Even locals get confused about this!  Another thing is that many Chongqing people confuse their “l” and “n” sounds.  Recently I was talking to my Chongqing friend about my travels over Spring Festival.  I got confused because I thought she asked me about going to the Netherlands (荷兰 – He2lan2) when actually she wanted to know about my trip to Henan province (河南 – He2nan2)!

Thanks for reading, I hope to write more about Chongqing soon.

- Thomas

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report snowipine 2014-3-20 07:20
Great ! Tell us about nowadays  Chongqing. Why? I know many stories about it, but how to say, it is so empty compared with yours...
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-20 15:46
With any of the four Municipalities, we have to understand there are urban and rural parts. Chongqing is by far the largest municipality by total population. Hard to keep track but estimates put it at 32 million v Shanghai at 23 million in 2nd place. However Shanghai is highly urbanized with estimates at 16 million for the true city part. Chongqing has around 10 million in its city part.  I have lived in Shanghai and visit regularly (like a couple of days ago) . I have never visited Chongqing, though I have Chengdu.  I wonder how the rural part fits into life there? Do you feel you are close to It? I teach students about its economic development as a gateway to west China. Took off in recent years Special Economic Zone and New Area Development Zone. Govt needs to help the west of China rise up more.
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-3-20 17:36
Welcome Thomas, good job, we have recommended your blog onto the homepage.
Reply Report 春天有雪 2014-3-21 01:27
very  good   you  write abaout chongqing
Reply Report thomas.wood 2014-3-23 00:18
voice_cd: Welcome Thomas, good job, we have recommended your blog onto the homepage.
Thank you for your support.
Reply Report thomas.wood 2014-3-23 00:27
ColinSpeakman: With any of the four Municipalities, we have to understand there are urban and rural parts. Chongqing is by far the largest municipality by total popu ...
Hi Colin,

I've not visited the rural areas of Chongqing very much, so I can't really comment.  Smaller cities cluster around Chongqing and most of them feel like slightly disjointed suburbs of the city, with the same brands, chain stores, food and the like.  I just tend to get stared at more!

Chengdu is much more of a tourist city compared to Chongqing and has a greater number of non-Chinese living there, especially those working in business.  I think Chongqing should try to get itself noticed on the tourist map because it is work visiting, it's more a case of poor marketing and its relative inaccessibility.  There are plans for high-speed rail links and I think this will greatly encourage tourists to come here.  Currently the train ride from Xi'an is twelve hours and I spent nineteen hours on a train back from Zhengzhou.  Once you have the same clean, comfortable and fast trains connecting Chongqing with eastern cities as there are with Chengdu, then I think tourist numbers will rise.
Reply Report thomas.wood 2014-3-23 00:27
snowipine: Great ! Tell us about nowadays  Chongqing. Why? I know many stories about it, but how to say, it is so empty compared with yours...
Thanks, I will do my best to keep people informed about Chongqing.
Reply Report Anming 2014-3-26 07:01
I've been living in CQ in the past, it's a great and fast changing place!
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2014-3-26 09:10
As Chinese always say: "once you are in Chongqing, you would realize that you had married too early." This said very much how beautiful the ladies are.

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