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Full Circle

Day 67: Chongqing

Chongqing, China 
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Chongqing. Affairs of the heart, stomach and liver.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWe edge slowly closer to the great grey walls of the city, sombre but undeniably impressive as they culminate in a mini-Manhattan on the crest of a curving promontory carved out by the confluence of the Yangtze and the Jialing Jiang rivers. Though we leave the Yangtze here, it meanders on in a series of great loops for another 2500 miles, through the mountains of the south-west and into Tibet. At 10.15 we are alongside floating pontoons. Our equipment is carried ashore by a procession of twelve agile porters over narrow gangplanks and across mud-flats littered with river detritus - cast-off shoes, polystyrene boxes, bits of rope, cable and the odd bicycle wheel. On either side of us is an almost biblical scene as passengers from other ferries stream across the black mud and up the steep steps leading to the city gates. Until the 1930s, when Chongqing had a piped supply, all the water used in the city had to be carried up these steps in buckets. An army of twenty thousand coolies was constantly on the move.

Alongside the modern city there are still streets and alleyways where old two-storey ochre-washed houses survive, patched and peeling, the holes in the daub and wattle plaster exposing their wooden frames as though they're slowly dying of hunger. They have survived worse times. The Japanese bombed the city with ruthless persistence between 1939 and 1941, when Chiang Kai-shek and his anti-communist Kuomintang Nationalist Army set up their headquarters here.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 67
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Chongqing
  • Book page no: 98

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