Before leaving Guiyang, we visited the Number One Scholar Pavilion, on an island in the river and linked to a Buddhist temple on the far bank. This is pretty much all that’s left of the old city. A photo from the 1930s and from today shows the march of the tower block. I’m sorry to leave this province and Guiyang – there is much to explore and I’ve enjoyed this city more than any other in China, so far.
Chongqing has special status as an area for economic development. It is now home to over 30 million people and is a mess of concrete flyovers, sullen ranks of tower blocks and choking traffic. Depressingly ugly. Even the opera house is ugly. I think they may have had Sydney opera house in mind but something terrible happened in translation.
I visited the former residence of General Stilwell, the American commander here in WW2. I don’t know if he met Dad but they probably went to the same parties. It was good to see his office and meeting rooms, intact with furniture and equipment of the period. There was a photo of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai Shek (Leader of the Nationalist Party) whom Dad met on a couple of occasions. He tells of a British diplomatic mission in November 1942: “Madame speaks perfect English; her speech of welcome on behalf of the women of China was a masterpiece; not a word wrong and beautifully delivered. It was painful to listen to the halting and rather tactless utterances our representatives made in reply”.
Chongqing was comprehensively bombed by the Japanese from 1941-44 and nearly 12,000 people died. Details from a painting in the museum show the nightmare it must have been. Dad describes the effect: “At one time or another most of the city has been bombed flat. When it has been rebuilt they have taken the opportunity to build fine wide streets but, having no cement or tar available, you can imagine how disgustingly slimy and muddy they become in wet weather. Though the main streets are kept clear of refuse and human ordure, the paths and alleyways are not. Mothers bring their children out of the house and hold them over the gutters when they wish to relieve any and all of the calls of nature. Kitchen refuse is just thrown on the nearest heap of rubble. The city swarms with rats of a portliness that has to be seen to be believed”.
I was also taken to the ‘old town’ which dates back 300 years and is now a shopping opportunity. I’m glad I’m not staying too long. Chongqing means ‘double celebration’ but I think that spirit must have been killed in the bombing. Even in the ‘40s Dad says that Chongqing was regarded as a terrible place, yet he is positive about it: “It is true that the climate is foul, prices astronomically high, the amenities of civilised life few and facilities for recreation almost non-existent; but it has its compensations”.
News just in: a large gin and tonic was murdered this evening! At last. I thought I’d follow it up with dinner but the buffet restaurant was offering chicken’s feet, pig trotters and fly blown sushi, so I had the complimentary packet of dried peas in my room instead. There’s limits you know.