Chongqing is the biggest city in the world (on a technicality)
The other night I was in a cab on the elevated highway that bisects Shanghai. It was the last night of the third and final trip I’ve made to the city in the last four and a half months. There are times — most times — when traffic in Shanghai is just extraordinary. I would say it’s like L.A. traffic, except in bumper-to-bumper L.A. traffic everybody isn’t trying to change lanes at once — and none of them are (literally) going in reverse or making U-Turns.
And then there are times like the other night when the cars just fly and your cabby rides the gas and rides his horn and slaloms from lane to lane. I’ve spent enough time in China at this point that the white-knuckled terror these rides can induce has subsided dramatically. And on my last night in Shanghai, tearing past the neon and glass and the streaming lights of its Epcot skyline, the ride was thrilling.
The next night I was in another cab, rattling down the dark road from the Chongqing airport to the Marriot downtown. We stalled three times. Twice, someone was driving down the one-way highway the wrong way, right towards us. Once, we had to swerve out of the way of a guy dressed in black on a black, reflectorless tri-cycle hauling large objects covered by a black tarp. I had one of the halting, two-thirds-understood Mandarin conversations with the cabby as we drove through the dark. We crossed the Chiang Jiang river on the way to the center of the city. Like Shanghai, the Chongqing skyline is thick with high-rises. But the city is dark. There are some buildings that are lit up with the weird streaming lights and blinking facades the Chinese tower-builders favor, but most of the city looks like someone has left the lights off so kids will know not to trick-or-treat here.
I woke up the next morning at 5:30 and took a walk so I’d know what happens in the city around time we’re going to be broadcasting live for the P.M. show next week. I walked around until a little while after the sun came up. China, though about as big as the states, has only one time zone. The sun, it seems, doesn’t come up until quarter to eight. So I spent a lot of time walking around in fog and a darkness that I’ve never experienced in a city before. I wound through the hills and the alleys of the city. I rounded one corner and found three guys playing cards around a fire they decided to start in the middle of the sidewalk. Around another corner, I saw a woman decapitate a duck in the street (the man at the fish place next door to her shop was pouring live eels from a bucket into a cement trough in the entry to his store). It was a great way to spend a way-too-early morning.
Chongqing an incredibly different place than Shanghai. I’m looking forward to seeing what we’re able to do to describe its scenes and bring its sounds to the radio next week. I was here once before back in August. The rest of my colleagues fly in tomorrow evening. I’m almost jealous that most of them are coming here for the first time.
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