Pride in place runs deep here. If you haven’t had Chongqing hot pot, then you haven’t had hot pot, my Sichuan trio of students tell me. And the mention of Beijing or Shanghai is liable to result in a sneer and a frown. Hot pot — literally a pot of boiling spicy brothy soup into which you then dunk with your chopsticks anything and everything — is considered Chongqing’s signature dish. Something there is about the experience that harkens back to ancient times. Farmers, herdsmen, shepherds, hunkered down around a campfire, a massive cast iron pot bubbling on the open flame, and into the mix they toss whatever they have been able to scrounge — meat, vegetables, spices, fish…The modern version is far more sophisticated, but nonetheless, there still resonates the hardscrabble past in this open fire cooking done at each table. Eat what we eat, my band of angels challenges me. So I figured, “When in Rome, do as…” and I did as I was bade, including some firsts: cow stomach, duck entrails and pig throat. Now, maybe it was the excellent company, the fine view out the window of the River Jia Ling or the terrific Chinese local brew, but I found CQ hot pot to be excellent — and unforgettable.
NOT A PARTY
At the hot pot restaurant across from campus, a happy rowdy crowd of grad students is partying. No, my host tells me. This is not a party. To the Chinese, this is only “a gathering.” But it sure looks, sounds and feels like a party — and a joyous one at that. When I offer to make their photograph, this is the result. Par-TAY!
I’ve built a few rock walkways in my day. So i know the feel of the cement under my fingernails. The call of the right stone. The sweet monotony of one-thing-after-another. The mind is freed while the hands do the thinking. But here i am tutored by the sight of a simple laborer, hunkering, as i surely cannot, day-long on the sidewalk repairing a gas line ditch. He works with such concentration and ferocity, the rubber hammer telling each stone to get it right, that i must watch and stare. The supervisor grows nervous and demands what am i doing? A passing student who speaks English explains. I am admiring their work. The supervisor’s face, a sunburnt mask, does not change. The laborer i photographed flashes a shy grin.
BBALL in CQ
If anyone is curious about the Yao Ming effect over here, you have to look no further than the campus of SWUPL (Southwest University of Political Science and Law) where on this sunny Sunday afternoon an intramural championship game rages between the greens vs. the yellows. Let me be plain, this is peddle-to-the-metal streetball, and these dudes are taking it to each other. The refs, whistles limp in their lips, stand by idly, in spite of the physicality of the contact. Apparently the rule is, “no blood, no foul.” And another thing that is different, the game is accompanied by raucous pop music blaring over a PA system set up just to punctuate and accentuate the action. Sort of like Midnight with Roy, only 9,000 miles away. I had to stop myself from hollering. GO HEELS!