Badminton and bells in heaving metropolis
Sarah Nicholson visits Chongqing, home to more than 30 million people
T IS only when someone starts reciting facts and figures that I begin to comprehend how vast Chinese cities are.
Take the prosperous metropolis of Chongqing, which is roughly halfway between Shanghai and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on the Yangtze River.
I can tell it’s a sprawling city, as rows of apartment towers stretch back from the riverbank and disappear into the early morning smog.
But it’s not until the SNA Tours’ local guide Michael explains that Chongqing is China’s biggest settlement by both population and geography that I realise I’m one very little fish in one gigantic pond.
“There are eight million people living in the centre of Chongqing, with (a total of) 32 million people living in the whole municipality. The city and surrounds are the same size as Austria,’’ Michael says.
“The locals call Chongqing the ‘mountain city’. Not many people own a bicycle – you don’t tend to ride a bicycle but a bicycle rides you, as you spend so much time carrying it uphill.
“There are 300 new cars on the road every day.’’
Michael says his home town has come a long way in a short time, thanks to the neighbouring Three Gorges Dam. With so much emphasis put on the region in the past few decades, the city was taken out of the neighbouring Sichuan province in 1997 and made an independent municipality.
“We are not part of Sichuan province anymore but it is still part of our culture. We speak the Sichuan dialect and eat Sichuan food,’’ he says.
“Chongqing was also the first place in China to open to foreign capital in the 1980s and now we have Ford, Volvo, Mazda and Suzuki factories – we are the biggest industrial city in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.”
Michael says Chongqing has a 73m-tall Buddha that is so big four people can sit on his toe and play mahjong, a dam built 2000 years ago to irrigate rice fields, and a panda sanctuary.