Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stats and Alleys

Yesterday morning we attended a lecture on Chongqing, with a particular focus on the region’s growth and development since Chongqing was established as a municipality in 2002. This place has a population nearly the same size as Canada: 31.44 million, living in an area of 82,400 square miles! (I took a few notes). And here is a stat for my peak-loving husband. Can you guess the highest elevation?
Close. :-)

2769.8 meters (9087 ft.)

I wish I could tell you just where that is, but I’m blocked from the Chinese government’s forestry site, and loading Google Earth is just way too slow. :-)

But here in the valleys, this place is hopping, with a growth rate of 12.6% in 2009 (the average in China was 8.7%). We’re talking about a place with 10,000 factories, 1.2 million staff—automobiles, motorcycles, chemicals, electronics—all the essentials for a modern industrial base.

When I hear these stats, I want to head for the hills. My lungs hurt just contemplating it. Yet the reality is that it is this industrial growth that funds such programs as the Chongqing Technology and Business University’s Language and Culture Exchange that brought my students and me here in the first place. But the stats still leave me reeling.

Fortunately I didn’t have to look long or far for a slice of the old Chongqing to chase down my lecture on the new Chongqing. In the spirit of letting others do the packing for me, I followed my colleague, Mary, to lunch, along with three of our other colleague-friends. I’m usually the one who takes command of meals when we’re all out and about together, probably to the detriment of my friends who are trying to utilize their growing Chinese vocabulary (Mary and Pat have been taking Mandarin at Widener for the past year).

Mary, who has a great sense of direction, led us down a few narrow alleys behind the teacher’s canteen, where we normally catch a quick lunch, and voila, we were in another world. Bang bang men with their muscular calves carried heavy baskets of goods tied to either ends of poles balanced across their shoulders. Majiang tables sat at tiny store fronts, and rows of red towels hung strung to dry outside of barbershops. And most impressive: steam rose from bamboo baskets set on glowing coals. Yum. We were not disappointed with our foraged lunch.

Later, on a city tour, we posed outside the Great Hall of the People—modeled after Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. The Great Hall of the People looks somehow small sitting across the way from the more recent Three Gorges Museum, set in a massive public square.

My bet is the Three Gorges Museum sells more entry tickets than the Great Hall, which is an architectural wonder. I’ll have to check on those stats.

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