Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chinese cities you've never heard of, but should know - Part 2

This blog, and a few of the small accolades I've garnered from it, occupied a line on my resume when I was looking for a job in America a few months ago. I had some nice conversations with prospective employers about China and my writing.

The man who ended up hiring me at his company had a lot to say about one post in particular. My Top 10 Travel Destinations in China really struck him.

After hiring me, he told me that he'd been immensely impressed by the information that I'd presented on that Top 10 post. It wasn't my writing style or skills that moved him. Instead, it was simply the fact that I presented new information, geography, and locations that he was completely unaware existed.

The company I'm working at is a reverse logistics company that is closely involved with the trucking industry. My boss and the owner of the company years ago was a trucker. He prides himself upon being a geographical genius. During his trucking days, he'd driven, literally, all over North America. He often engages in discussions about certain cities or terrain he's seen. Maps cover the walls of his office.

Like many Americans, my boss knows very little about China. He knows the most basic of basics about the place. His life has never crossed paths with China and he's never needed to know more than a little bit of information about the country.

My Top 10 list has turned him onto China though. Every few days he tells me about the Google Maps he's looking at and how, as he simply scans random parts of the country, he finds new topography and cities he didn't know about before. He specifically has talked about how crazy it is to "just stumble across a city of five million here and then a city of seven million there."

When listening to him tell these stories one day, one city in particular came to mind - Chongqing. I told him to go look it up on Google Maps and then get back with me.

Chongqing (重庆)

Chongqing is a municipality in southwest China with a population of over 30 million people. The actual urban center of Chongqing is only about five to six million people. But the greater area of Chongqing is much larger and more populous.

I've been to Chongqing. I spent about twelve hours in the city in the summer of 2006. I took an overnight bus from Yangshuo in Guilin Province to downtown Chongqing. I remember not sleeping well and waking up on the bus at about 6AM. As I woke up, I saw building and people bustling outside. I thought we were in downtown Chongqing, or at least very close to the bus' final destination. Instead, we drove through developing outskirts of Chongqing for hours. I finally got off of the bus at about 10AM. I remember looking out the window of the bus hour after hour amazed at the scale of the construction.

Chongqing is the definition of "sprawling."

The purpose for me going to Chongqing was to board a boat headed down the Yangtze River. I took a four day, three night trip from Chongqing to Yichang, the location of the Three Gorges Dam. The trip through the Three Gorges culminating with a stop at the Three Gorges Dam was impressive.

Obviously, the flooding of the Three Gorges and the dam a few hundred miles down river has greatly affected Chongqing. For one, instead of one of the world's great rivers flowing through the city, a, largely, stagnant lake now cuts through the center of downtown. The simple rising of water affected Chongqing greatly. Hundreds of thousands of people who used to reside next to the river, largely in the countryside to the east of the city, had to move. Many of those who lost their homes went to Chongqing.

A couple years ago, American newsman Ted Koppel did a documentary on the Discovery Channel - The People's Republic of Capitalism. For the series, Koppel featured Chongqing as the the symbol of the future of China. Unfortunately, I never saw this documentary and I'm not seeing any videos to put on here from that program. But from the articles I've read about the program, Koppel chose Chongqing because most Americans have not heard of the city.

Although I can't find Koppel's program, I have found a couple other program on Chongqing.

The first is from called "City on Steroids." I just watched this video. It's 28 minutes long. The host is annoying and pretty clueless. But the video is well-produced and the sights and sounds of Chongqing make it worth checking out.

And here's another video I found on Youtube about Chongqing - Chongqing: Invisible City I found on Youtube. It's very much like "City on Steroids" (minus the goofy host). I encourage you to click on the link. For some reason, the video owner has disabled embedding the video.

Chongqing is a city western people should know about. It is one of, if not the, fastest growing cities in the world. It, possibly more than any other city in the interior of mainland China, is going to be an engine for growth going forward.

Disclaimer: I know that these "Cities you've never heard of, but should know" posts aren't groundbreaking. I know that Chongqing and all of the other cities that I'm writing about on these features are nothing new to people knowledgeable about China. Saying that, cities like Xi'an and Chongqing are mysteries to average folks who don't have a particular interest in China. The videos I just posted and the info I just gleaned about Chongqing is, I think, worthwhile. I'm looking forward to trying to get more info on other cities outside the few that people are most familiar with.


Ramesh said...

Brilliant write up Mark - Already this series is becoming a collector's item. You have a knack of bringing things to life that few can. I would have normally passed on a writeup on Chongqing - I haven't been there, but from what little I learnt even from Sichuanese, it was pictured as a dreary place ; if there was a place in Sichuan to go, it would be Chengdu. But your account is fascinating.

And you are completely right about "unheard of" cities. Most people in the world know only of Beijing and Shanghai in China. The number of blank stares I have got when I say I live in Guangzhou is not funny. Your series will be an eye opener to most people.

Mark - I can completely understand why your boss hired you.

Anonymous said...

Dangit Ramesh! You stole my thunder... Before I even saw Ramesh's comment I was going to start mine off by saying I think this has been some of your best stuff Mark. Great series.

As Ramesh said, its easy to see why it didn't take you long to get hired in this economy.

Its so funny, when I started getting more interested in China, I did the EXACT same thing as your boss, just randomly picked out points on the map and was astounded that there were so many cities with millions of people that I had never even heard of.

One of my favorite questions to co-workers and acquaintances is "Can you name the most populated city in the world?"... they NEVER can. Yes, yes, city limits no, but really Chongqing is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The next thing I do is describe the city and tell them how it reminds me of the megacity in Blade Runner, then I show them one of the many funky pictures of Chongqing and it really gets their attention. Fun stuff.

Mark said...

These are really nice comments, guys. I'm flattered. And coming from two of the best commenters on this site... Having such intelligent readers is an honor. Seriously.

That's funny about Guangzhou, Ramesh. I suppose if you said "Canton" a few more people may have an idea of where you live. But probably not.

You're right, Hopfrog. Chongqing is a crazy place. It's one of the most fascinating places in China to me. It's like so many other developing cities in China... times ten.

If I could go live in another city besides Xi'an in China, I'd want to go to Chongqing. I'm sure there are serious drawbacks to living there, but just being part of such a social experiment would be a trip.

Qian would never agree to live in a southern part of China though. She went to university in Hunan and has told me that she has no interest in ever going back to live in a southern Chinese city again. Fair enough. It's not like we're planning on moving back to China anyways. But if any foreigner interested in living in China asked me, I'd definitely endorse living in Chongqing.

Anonymous said...

First off, my condolences on Kansas. I was just telling a friend the other day that this was the easiest tournament to pick a champion for that I could remember in a long time and that Kansas was going to cakewalk their way to cutting down the nets. Then they go and lose to Northern Iowa.... NORTHERN IOWA!! Oh man, thats what makes the tournament great though.

Ok back on topic. Here is a photo of what I am talking about, and if you've never seen the movie Blade Runner, SEE IT! One of the best sci-fi movies ever.

Also, I had no idea about the whole North/South thing in China until I met my wife. When talking about the Chinese my wife often uses the terms North People and South People. My wife also would not want to live in Southern China, because of the heat, language difference, and cultural differences, but she does say often that the best food in China comes from the South.

ADM said...

Hi again Mark,

I'm not sure I'd personally characterize big Adam Yamaguchi as "goofy," but those clips are particularly good and edgy -- not to forget, this is the same outfit that tacitly signed off on intrepid (some would say foolish) investigative journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling traipsing into North Korea across the Hermit Kingdom's Yalu River border with China. Watch some of their other material and you'll see what I mean. It's all top-of-the-line stuff.

But your review is helpful, and would have been extra special if you tossed in a bit of historical perspective also with information about how the city was the final GMD/KMT stronghold in Nationalist-ruled China before CKS and his followers took flight to the island of Taiwan. There are countless verbatim summaries of daily life in Chongqing/Chunking on offer written by a gaggle of former US diplomats allied to Chiang.

I appreciate the two clips, however. Made for some good weekend entertainment.

Maybe you can give us some insights about your trips into Hui country, Ningxia, Gansu, and perhaps into Xinjiang?

Mark said...

@Hopfrog - I appreciate the condolences. I need them. I've been in a sad state since the game started.

Growing up a Kansas fan with Roy Williams as the coach should've prepared me for such losses. Self has had a few now too.

It's painful. I'll get over it though. Thank God KU won the championship in '08. If we hadn't pulled that one off, we'd all be suicidal right now.

That's a sweet photo of Chongqing. I saw Bladerunner a long time ago. Will try to get it again soon to refresh myself.

The North/South split in China is real. It's at least as pronounced as, say, Boston and Biloxi! People from both sides think the other has something funny going on in the brain.

@Adam - I didn't want to pan that movie. It's worth watching. But I think that is in spite of the host, not because of him. Now, surely he had a lot to do with making that video. And, overall, it's a cool program. So I can't go too far on criticizing him. But to me the guy's personality is very goofy and at times hard to watch.

You're right, I should've put something in about the history of Chongqing.

I guess I was getting fatigued after the intro and finding those videos. My window of "blog time" was closing and I had to do other stuff!

Thanks for giving a few words about the history and pointing people in the right direction of finding more info.

Xujun said...

Mark, thanks for the nice introduction to my hometown. If you are interested, I have a series of blog posts commenting on Ted Koppel's "The People's Republic of Capitalism" - see:


By the way, I thought "City on Steroids" is not bad, especially its portrait of the "bang-bang army," which is a unique Chongqing phenomenon due to the city's hilly topography.

Mark said...

Xujun - I'm glad you could appreciate this introduction. I look forward to checking out your posts on the Koppel series at your site.

I'm going to make a few links for people so that they can just be linked:

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3

I didn't think "City on Steroids" was bad. I put it on my this post because I thought it was worthwhile. Just thought the host was, uh, I've already used a number of adjectives so far.

Vishal said...

Great reading piece! Cheers

Deepa said...

You are absolutely wrong when you say, these posts are not ground breaking. I have only seen the city of Guanzhou, and have been so fascinated. And there is no better source of information about a country than one coming straight from the heart of a native.

Like Ramesh says, these series are definitely a collector's item.

Mark said...

Thank you so much, Vishai and Deepa! Very much appreciate your kind words.

California health insurance said...

Thanks for all of this information. Enjoyed learning about the different cities.

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The North/South split in China is real. It's at least as pronounced as, say, Boston and Biloxi! People from both sides think the other has something funny going on in the brain.