Bad­minton and bells in heav­ing me­trop­o­lis

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - CHINA -

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.

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