I love this place.

How could you not love a place called “The Don’t Worry Be Happy Hotel”?

Upon returning yesterday, my third time since my first visit to Chongqing four years ago, I am greeted as returning royalty.

“Aloooooh!” cries the irrepressible hotel manager, Mrs. Qin, as I take up residence in her modest but homey guest house. They have even given me back the same dear room with the big window-wall overlooking the quiet garden I so treasure.

I am back in good old Chongqing, a city I favor over the officious Beijing or the trendy Shanghai or even the glitzy Hong Kong. This gritty Yangtze River town has the zeitgeist of Pittsburgh, and I like it for its authenticity and can-do spirit.

Chongqing is definitely not a tourist destination. However, for an American in search of “real China,” it is a very cool place to be.

In this college-town neighborhood of Huixing where I am teaching at the local university, I will be the only Westerner I will see for two weeks.

So I get stared at a lot. And that’s OK. I’m a photographer; so I stare right back.  And I make pictures. That is my joy, how I experience life – and especially travel. To head out the door with a camera over my shoulder and two unfettered hours at my disposal — well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I am not worried.

And I am happy.

As I return from my photo hike, Ms. Qin spies me from her perch at the front desk, waving her arms over her head and crying out fortissimo, “Happy! Happy!”

I love this place.

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