Ancient river gate, Chongqing
First, a little background information about Chongqing:
Chongqing 重庆 is a major city in Southwest China and one of the five national central cities in China. Administratively, it is one of the PRC’s four direct-controlled municipalities (the other three are Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin), and the only such municipality in inland China. From 1937 to 1945, during the second Sino-Japanese War, it was General Chiang Kai-shek’s provisional capital.
Chongqing sits at the confluence of the Jialing and Changjiang (Yangtze) Rivers, and is extremely hilly. Because its streets and narrow alleys twist and turn up and down hills, there are virtually no bicycles here. It can be a confusing city to navigate, and even its taxi drivers often get lost.
Chongqing municipality has a population of 32.8 million, making it one of the largest urban areas on the planet. An article in The Guardian gives an interesting perspective on the city:
Chongqing is the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet. Its population is already bigger than that of Peru or Iraq, with half a million more arriving every year in search of a better life. And yet so frequently is this story repeated in China, that outside the country its name barely registers.
Upon arriving in Chongqing, I took the subway to the central city, where I had reserved a room at the Sunrise Mingqing Hostel. Located down a few flights of stone stairs, and hidden around several turns in a narrow lane, the hostel was an oasis of quiet in a traditional courtyard building.
Since I had stayed at the hostel on my first visit to the city, I was able to find it easily this time. My single room was comfortable, and the sound of the rain all night long made it seem far removed from the rest of the world. I was one of only a few guests that night – I heard other people, but never saw them.
After my first night, I transferred to the Somerset Hotel, paid for by the British Council, which sponsors the IELTS exam. In the center of Chongqing is Jiefangbei, or Liberation Monument, around which is the city’s main shopping and business area.
After two and a half days of IELTS exams, both speaking and writing, I was exhausted. The speaking exams were held at SISU, the Sichuan International Studies University, about 10 kilometers and 20 minutes away by taxi from the city center. I did manage to eat some local Chongqing food, which some say is spicier than the food in Chengdu. On Monday night it was back to Chengdu by express train – two hours 15 minutes – and back to classes at 8:30 AM the next morning.
I spent a long weekend in Chongqing, working as an IELTS examiner. I left on Friday evening, taking the express train, so that I could arrive early and not have to go directly from the train station to the testing center on Saturday.