Being alienated in a foreign land is one thing, making the best of it, is another. Here’s how Vini Balan made Chongqing, China a picture perfect trip.
What I like about travelling abroad is sharing the experience with my loved ones through snail mail. Call me sentimental but by simply turning my travel photos into postcards with handwritten messages somehow feels like I bring them closer to experience my journeys, just like when I visited Chongqing in China for the very first time.
The challenging part about this postcard adventure was to look for stamps, a post box and trying to fit in with my fellow Chongqing-ites.
I was born for spicy food but this one…
I always find that the best way to enjoy a city is through its food. And my, Chongqing food is generally spicy and famous with the key ingredient Sichuan peppers especially in the city’s famous dish, the Hot pot.
Hot pot can be defined as the East Asian stew or fondue. It is presented with a pot of simmering stock and an array of ingredients you can choose from that includes meatballs, thin slices of beef, fresh vegetables, noodles and the must-have in Chongqing; the catfish. Then, pick whatever you feel like having, throw them into the hot pot till they are cooked and enjoy your meal! It’s that simple!
Just don’t forget that the broth can be a little too spicy, so request for the milder stock unless if you’re up for a tongue-numbing challenge. I know this might come as a surprise because as an Indian, I grew up eating meals that are filled with all kinds of spicy herbs and spices but the Sichuan pepper is just another level of spiciness altogether. You have to try it to believe!
Another dish that I would suggest to try is the cold Soba noodles soaked in cold Sichuan pepper thick broth with thinly sliced pork, crunchy groundnuts, and garnished with sesame seed, chopped dried chilly and scallions. I guess being so used to hot meals, this wasn’t my favourite dish but everyone else enjoyed it and it looked great on my camera! This is definitely one unique dish I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Concrete jungle & natural wonders.
Food aside, Chongqing is also known as the Manhattan of China. Besides having the number of universities in China, the city is still being developed with the amazing architecture of skyscrapers and bridges to connect it to the village and other touristy areas.
Things do change rapidly here, making your visit in probably two years time different than ever before. I hope there will be more English speaking locals to boost the tourism industry here.
Besides all that great architecture you can find in the city, there are UNESCO-recognized natural heritage sites that shouldn’t be missed, such as the Longshuixia Karst Fissure Gorge, Furong Cave and the Dazu Rock Carving
These places are definitely great for caving and trekking enthusiast. It almost felt like climbing those hundreds of stairs to a temple in India or like Batu Caves in Malaysia, just with an added bonus of two hours of nature and fresh air!
I definitely enjoyed exploring the beautiful waterfalls around the Geopark and figuring out the funny descriptions placed on each work of natural limestone formation in the Furong Cave. Simply hilarious!
Dazu Rock Carving on the other hand is a peaceful place to learn about Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, which to me is very similar to Hinduism. One stone carving here is the Life Wheel that shows you what happens in your after life when you do something wrong and right in the present. No, you don’t get to spin the Wheel!
Another familiar carving that I recalled from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita that I read as a child is the Eight Layers of Hell. One of the punishments you go through for sins such as lying would be tongue ripping and the depiction through these carvings can be pretty cute and amusing, I must say! My camera was also happily snapping away at the beautifully crafted Sleeping Buddha and the Thousand-Hand Guan Yin.
There’s something about Chongqing-ites…
Before I left for Chongqing, I was told about how the prettiest Chinese ladies come from this city. Of course as soon as I got off the plane, all I could think of is how beautiful they can be, compared to the gorgeous Chinese ladies in Malaysia. Like how I am always told to have a different set of look compared to the Indians in India!
However, funny thing about this trip is that I was more fascinated about the older generation in this city. They look like the healthiest people I’ve ever seen–speeding up the hill-walk faster than me and still remain energetic at the end of the tracks. I wonder if it’s the Sichuan pepper that gives them all the strength! I guess it’s hard to compare with my people back in Malaysia as we are all spoilt with public transportation from one end to another and sitting through a traffic jam like it’s our favourite past time.
Talking about favourite past time, mine has to be photographing people and the feeling of the only brown person in the city of Chongqing was a little terrifying, especially when the locals started staring and pointing at me! But I got used to it immediately when people smiled back, willingly to pose for my camera and spoke to me in Chinese as if I understood them. I guess being the odd one out at times like this makes the trip a little special and postcard-worthy!
Chongqing to me is a unique city with a lot of different things to offer, be it three hours ride away from the concrete jungle to the next river cruise, there’s always something to snap, print and post for your family and friends to see.
Try making your next trip extra memorable by posting your travel photos to your loved ones instead of putting them up on a site for ‘like’s, and you’ll definitely enjoy the moment once they receive them!
Tips: If you have no time to find for stamp and post box, get your hotel service to help post your postcards for you. They can also help you with printing, if not, show you to the nearest photo shop. Yes, post-offices do accept photograph as a type of mail. Just have the back of the photo written in postcard format and make sure the stamps stay!
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Chonqing from Bangkok. For additional destinations, lowest airfares and flight information, go to www.airasia.com.
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