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An Indian Abroad: The Chongqing Chronicles

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

This postcard was sent to my friends when I was in Chongqing and it arrived a month later. Luckily for me, I was around to see their reactions when it arrived. That alone was priceless. Snail mails are awesome!

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!  

Honey dearie! Nǐ hǎo my foodie buddy? What do you think of this shot of Hot pot all the way from Chongqing, China? If you think that my Mom’s curry is spicy, think again! Chongqing’s Hot pot is out of this world! Tongue-numbingly out of this world, you’ll definitely love it! Ps. will bring back some Sichuan pepper so we can have a cook out. Get ready your ‘good morning’ towel cause it’s gonna be a hot cook out!

     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. 

To my dear Ebee, I’ve missed you so much and definitely miss our ‘teh-o-ais’ and random road trips around Malaysia. Today, I had this for lunch. It’s one of the famous specialty dishes in Chongqing called the Sichuan spicy cold Soba noodles. What’s so special about it, you ask? It’s the Sichuan pepper spiciness in cold Soba noodles of course. Let’s plan for a random trip to China one of these holidays ya? Miss you Lil’ monkey!

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.

Waaasup Hazey Mazey! I’m in awesome China! Can you believe it?! This was taken in the highly developed concrete jungle of Chongqing. I am not sure what this placed is called since it’s still under construction but I know you would be the person who would appreciate such lego-like architecture. If you look closely, the end of the red beams are actually like those Chinese stamp used in the olden days. Cool eh?

Guten tag Herr Christoph Fleischmann, I hope you’re doing well back there in Berlin. As promised, here’s a postcard from China (the country you’ve always wanted to go to –at least this is one of the cities within the region). This is the magnificent view of Chongqing city at night. I was on a cold and breezy Yangtze River cruise where the food and beer were great and so were the beautiful architectures along the river. With almost all the buildings creatively decorated with neon lights, most of the passengers on board were gazing at them like moths on bulbs! As an architecture lover, you’ll be really impressed with this fastest-developing city in China. Ps. must learn some Mandarin before you begin your China journey!

     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!  

Dear Emt, You are one dude I know that has a wild imagination and I found a great spot for you to run wild! This unique Furong cave has a funny twist to how it became a tourist spot! Most of the natural sculptures are labelled according to the local’s imagination, such as ‘The Last Kiss’, ‘Two Tortoise Stone’ and this shaky snapshot of ‘The Origin of Life’ which was also described as the ‘Man’s treasure’ or ‘Asia’s True Man’. O yeah… you get the jist of it right? So if it doesn’t make sense, then you’re open to your own imagination! Let’s Chongqing soon!

Dear Ari, I bet you would love places like this Longshuixia Karst Fissure Gorge, since you are from Kalimantan; a ‘jungly’ place from Indonesia! Hehe…but seriously Chongqing has some of the best places for nature lovers to explore like the Wulong Karst, Lesser Three Gorges, Three Natural Bridges, Fairy Park Natural Forest and many more that I too would like to visit soon! Will bring back some pamphlets and let’s plan a nature trip soon!

     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. 

Hi Amma! I know you’ve always wanted to go to China to visit Guan Yin temples around there. Guess what! I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of this one of a kind ‘Thousand handed Guan Yin’ statue (right) at the enchanting Dazu Rock Carving site in the Dazu County, Chongqing. It’s actually under restoration and should be done in two years. Here’s a glimpse of it for now. I promise to take you there when it’s done.

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!  

Dear Sammy Salsa, It’s been awhile since we had one of those tomboy-talk sessions. We should catch up when I get back from Chongqing! I’m here for a photography project and I remember how you always use people as the main element of your photography. What do you think of these two tourists from mainland China? It was taken after a 3–hour caving session at one of the famous natural wonders of Chongqing, the Furong cave. Yes! 3 hours of caving, my friend. It was worth it, definitely after getting a few great shots like this by the end of it. Hahah…let’s do a photography trip soon!

To Edho ‘theHaho’, Remember when we used to chill out like this in the jungles of Cyberjaya? Hahahh…heyya dude! This picture was taken in Chongqing, China. These guys will carry you for about 2 hours around ‘Three Natural Bridges’ (one of China’s natural wonders which would be perfect as a set for your next film shoot!) for the price of about CNY 200 if I’m not mistaken. Hehe. Just so you know, this is one of the main shooting locations of the film ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’, with your favourite Chinese actor, Mr. Chow Yun-Fat! Can’t wait to shoot another short movie with you, sir! Will see you in Balikpapan soon! Ps. China is pretty amazing!

     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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  • http://www.vakantiehuizen-dordogne.nl/ vakantiehuizen dordogne

    I think it is really important to write for a wider audience than just the travel writing circle. The Travel blogging circle is a great community but even with so many new blogs coming out all the time it is still a small audience if you think about how many non-blog-writing travellers there are in the world.

  • http://twitter.com/pam_margera Pam Muljono

    Great read! And oh God, I don’t think I’ve sent postcards ever in my life! Now that I’ve read this I might try it one day :)

    • http://www.airasia.com/travel360 Travel 3Sixty

      There’s something nostalgic about postcards in this age of instant messaging. Perhaps it has to do with the selection of the postcard, the handwritten word, the personal delivery. We could go on and on about it, but it’s best that you try it yourself. We’d love to hear from you then. :-)