There I was, sitting in Beijing airport, contemplating a return to the city which was probably the last place in China I wanted to see. I was supposed to only be in Beijing for two hours, but with a delayed arrival and missed connection, I ended up spending 14 hours familiarizing myself with the large empty halls, the “secret garden”, and a few very comfortable snoozing lounges.
My next flight was taking me to Chongqing- the city which left possibly the least favorable impression on me when we traveled through China in 2015. The difference was that I was not there as a tourist, and the likelihood of me revisiting any of the places I had been before. Indeed, as soon as the car made its way over the river, heading further south of the city, I realized I was not going to see anything familiar on my five-day stay.
The Climbing World cup was nestled part of the rapidly growing city. A hill had been conquered by a large new “climbing arena” complete with surrounding relaxation gardens, spectator areas and freshly painted signs. It was a wall which had been built with usual Chinese efficiency. Finished just weeks before the event, construction had only started four months prior. In some respects, this seemed fairly obvious to the casual visitor (we were first driven to the site via a back entrance which was a steep dirt road past several squatters and wild dogs), but in many respects the organizers had painstakingly focused on details to provide a high quality new facility.
What really pleased me was the crowds which were attracted. The free entry to the seating on the hill led to many bemused bystanders sitting down to observe the action, even though the temperatures were as high as the hotpot in the area was spicy. (My arms are still clearly marked by the sunburn I earned on the first day there). I jetted between hotel and arena, stuffed my pockets with sweetbreads and steamed dumplings from the breakfast buffets, rejoiced in finding familiar yogurts and sweets, and was introduced to new foods every day.
By the time I had left Chongqing I had nearly cried because of the spicy hotpot and eaten everything new I was offered. Official dinners with wine, whiskey and beer in frightening quantities and orders led to conversations which were even less understood than usual. I was immensely proud of my work on the official Instagram account, and I had a whole pile of paperwork to complete. This was duly done in my hotel as because as soon as the competition finished, the skies clouded and it rained nearly non-stop for my remaining visit.
The final balance sheet of the trip was positive:
1 successful world cup
8 new foods tasted (2 especially enjoyed)
4 Chinese snacks purchased with nostalgia
4:2 days of sun to days of rain
4:2 days at the venue to days in the hotel
Countless new acquaintances and jokes
… but I think I’ll try to discover someplace new, next time.