Chongqing – Serendipity and Hot Pots

Guest blog by Holly Melton

I know you have had this experience too. A serendipitous event that turns an ordinary day into memorable one. Mark and I had that experience today in Chongqing, China.

Our tour guide, Kai Chung, picked us up at the Chongqing train station after another overnight train from Xian, plunked us in the car, handed us a bagged breakfast of hamburgers (actually deep-fried chicken sandwiches), and away we went to the Dazu Rock Carvings – a 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive each way, depending on the traffic. It quickly became apparent that during the night we had crossed into Southern China – lush, green, and damp. We drove by rice paddies, fish ponds, and saw our first water buffalo. Here’s a photo of me walking down the path to the cave dwellings and another of Kai Chung and me at the entrance.

Created in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 1171 -1252), this World Heritage Site is “the epitome of cave temple dwellings”. After 70 years of working on this teaching site, the Buddhist monks were forced to abandon the area due to the invasion of Mongols. A mix of niches and caves carved in the side of a mountain, these carvings were to instruct the people on the stories and teachings of Buddha. We visited the Baodingshun Cliffside Carvings – there are more than 75 additional sites in this area! Fortunately, because the Baodingshun site is so remote, it survived the Cultural Revolution without damage. Most of the other sites were not so lucky, with many Buddha statues being beheaded, defaced, or simply destroyed.

It’s hard in a few pictures to give you a sense of the scale and details of the carvings – thousands of individual carvings. Caves carved back into the hillside with 15 or more larger than life figures. Here’s a few photo’s to give you a taste of the place. One section of a niche telling the story of the water buffalo – a panel of 5 in the series.

The Buddhist Wheel of Life:

Reclining Buddha – see the vines hanging down from the top of the cliff and the people to give you a feel for the size of this carving.

The largest niche had more of the gilding and paint remaining – it must have been an awe inspiring sight for the worshipers to see. Let me say that Dante’s picture of Hell had nothing over on the Buddhist picture of hell (think: mountain of swords, lake of fire, and lots of body parts being sawed off people).

Back to Chongqing – here’s a photo of the city from a nearby mountain. Chongqing is now the biggest city in the world – surpassing Tokyo. I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t even on my radar.

On the recommendation of our dear Phyllis Bettelheim, we rushed to see the “General Stilwell Museum” in Chongqing, before it closed for the day. During World War II, President F.D. Roosevelt assigned General Stillwell to assist the Chinese in their fight against Japanese aggression in China. The museum is housed in the building that was General Stilwell’s headquarters with a few furnished rooms and many framed photos and placards describing the cooperation between China and the U.S. during WWII. Think the “Flying Tigers” and “the Hump Route from India to China” (to get supplies in, when Japan had cut off all access). I realize I know little of the fight in the Pacific theater beyond Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. The people of China suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese and joined with us in fighting back.

Here’s a picture of General Stilwell’s Conference Room:

Now for the serendipity … As we are getting in the car, we notice a “Flying Tigers Exhibition Hall” right across the street from General Stilwell’s Museum. We went in and a young women sat us down to give us a short introduction to the history and importance of the Flying Tigers (yes, in English!). Her manager rushes over and there’s a loud and excited discussion (well, everything sounds excited in Chinese to me). It turns out that the last living Chinese Flying Tiger is visiting the museum with his family! His 90th birthday had been a few days before and this was part of the celebration. Mark and I were introduced to Mr. Long, who graciously shared a few moments with us – telling us how he was selected to go to Phoenix, AZ to train, what an impact it had had on his life, and a few of his experiences. Below is a photo of Long Qi Ming (Eddie) and me in front of the display about his life. The photo behind us is Mr. Long with his wife and son. The son also was at this event and we were introduced to him as well. It was so interesting and such a pleasure to meet him.

My final desire while in Chongqing was to try a hotpot – something they are known for. Here’s Mark with a silly bib on him. The waiter was thrilled to have us there. He tried to help us – making up our dipping sauce (since the funny Americans didn’t know what to choose), picking foods out of the hot pot when we couldn’t do it with our chopsticks, and generally enjoying having someone new to show how to do this and trying to speak a little English with us.

Hot pot in action: the middle section is mild – really a seasoned broth to cook the foods in. The surrounding section is a spicy broth – you can see the red color from the peppers. The spicy broth comes in 3 levels of heat – we chose the lowest level and my mouth still burned. That’s a piece of cooked lotus root I’m holding. Mark and I both are getting better with chopsticks – although the guide did say that Mark is better.

To end this delightful day, we were dropped off at the river port to begin our river cruise on the Yangtze River. We had read that many of the country people who were displaced by the building of the Three Gorges Dam have moved to Chongqing to become Porters. Chongqing is a hilly city and these Porters with their bamboo poles will carry burdens up and down hills. When we arrived at the ship’s dock, there were Porters who offered to take luggage onto the ship for a small fee. We hired this gentleman to bring our bags on board for us.

I will be looking out for Ping the duck as we sail down the Yangtze! (A favorite character in a book that Mark and I must have read at least 25 times to each of our 3 daughters).

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