The 'Three Hots' of Chongqing, China

We touch down on the runway at Chongqing’s airport and I glimpse at a heavy haze that weighs the city down. We disembark, gather our luggage from a sluggish carousel and greet our transfer host, Leila. She announces herself with an effervescent smile and a flirtatious spunk we haven’t encountered since landing in China over a week ago.

The 'Three Hots' of Chongqing, China china Asia

The air is sticky yet Leila assures us pollution doesn’t exist here. I try to inhale as much muggy oxygen as I can by the gulpful. We weave through peak-hour traffic jams just outside the airport and we ascend mountainous freeways. My ears start popping from our sudden ascent. This instant change in altitude alerts me to Chongqing’s rugged terrain, raw cliff faces trying to shade the city from the extremes of equatorial heat. Skyscrapers sprout from over-towering ranges. According to Leila, these stick-figured structures house the 35 million who have called this south-western city home for generations. On the side of the freeway are rows of lethargic trees being cradled by ropes and wooden stakes. No signs of litter, just clean streets winding upward; cul-de-sacs of intrigue.

Perspiration starts to roll profusely down my back and I wipe my brow of moisture. I fiddle with my hair, knowing that my straightening skills have been beaten by the city’s dome of humidity. Frizz rises uncontrollably from my scalp and I reach for a headband to hide my mess. Leila asks if my hair is naturally black. I reply with an embarrassed ‘no’ and explain my hair is normally light brown. Leila giggles in recognition and reaches for her own artificially dyed brown ponytail. She then reveals to me that Chongqing has ‘three hots’ – hot weather, hot spicy food and hot spicy women. Leila thrusts her shoulders and flashes a cheeky grin to accentuate the latter.

Within an hour we’re offloading our backpacks and fatigue before setting out to take in the sights of Chongqing’s towering riverside banks. Dancing bright lights gleam from tall buildings, caressing us with the promise of nourishment and relaxation.

The 'Three Hots' of Chongqing, China china Asia

No surprise, one of the most famous and spicy versions of Chinese "hot pot" comes from Chongqing

We take the elevator to a nearby restaurant as locals cram in with us, shoving us into every free inch available. The ride lasts only seconds before we all burst out from behind automatic doors like confetti. We’re seated urgently and our waiter fills chilled glasses with frothy local beer. By the time it takes to dress my lap with a napkin and fondle my chopsticks, our sturdy lazy susan is mounted by share-plates. Rich, red sauce drowns a steamed fish, its eyes paralyzed in time. Bowls of sticky rice are dispersed among platters adorned with beans, bokchoy and morsels of spicy chicken. After filling my bowl, my chopsticks latch onto a slither of white fish flesh and shove it into my mouth. My tastebuds instantly burn from chilli before the sweet fish gradually nurtures them back to safety. Our rotating lazy susan hypnotizes us with traditional Chongqing fare and I, despite my lack of a palate for spice, am all the better for it. This is one of Chongqing’s true idiosyncrasies in its seductively spicy glory, nestled in the shadow of its cousin, the neighbouring province of Sichuan.

As we pile back into the lift with full bellies and make our way to our cruise boat, Leila stares at my face. She says I have a highset nose that she would love to have. I’m startled by her compliment. I explain to her that, by Western standards, my nose is extremely unfavourable – big and ugly. Leila dismisses my claims and says many Chongqing women would die for one. She claims that some even go under the knife to achieve the look. I am mortified, trying to convince her that a large, high set nose is nothing worth bleeding for. Alas, she merely stares in awe at my face while pointing fondly at the bump that makes my nose such an eyesore. We climb the gangway and Leila bids us farewell, showering Chris with affection by telling him he has a beautiful wife. Our stay in Chongqing is a whirlwind, and totally unexpected, love affair. I sail down the Yangtze and leave the city feeling a tad bit spicy myself.

First photo property of and by author, “hot pot” photo in public domain via wikipedia 

The 'Three Hots' of Chongqing, China china Asia

Justine de Jonge

Like many Australians, my childhood was crammed with long-weekend getaways, school holiday camping trips and rough journeys packed up in the back of a four-wheeled drive. Yet, unlike many Australians, I spent half of my life being pulled from one side of the country to the other. I have lived in three major capital cities, two gold-mining towns and one seaport. You could say I was born to travel...and write about it! Not only have my travels taken me throughout Australia, I have also experienced Canada, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Jordan, Nepal, New Zealand, Singapore, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, United States of America and Vietnam. I love writing about my travels and experiences over at my blog Fire & Tea.
The 'Three Hots' of Chongqing, China china Asia

@fireandtea

Sipping tea, eating well and travelling often. You can follow my footsteps and read about my travels.
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The 'Three Hots' of Chongqing, China china Asia
The 'Three Hots' of Chongqing, China china Asia

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Comments

  1. Leticia says

    Justine, I adore your work. You bring this so beautifully to life. I’ve always wanted to go there… now even more so!! Beautiful stuff.

  2. says

    I think it’s fantastic that she loves your nose. :-) I have found that the things we most dislike about ourselves are often the things that make us unique and beautiful. :-) I’m not a fan of spicy either, but everything LOOKS so good I’d have to try it. :-)

  3. says

    Thank you for your very kind words Ladies!

    China was full of unexpected surprises and such a delight to travel through. And I even loved this experience in particular because it showed me how much we differ and how how much we are, in fact, the same. We can have different perceptions of beauty yet many, in some way or another, are striving to achieve it.

    And Leila was such a firecracker. We had lots of fun hanging out with her :)

  4. says

    First, I really enjoyed your writing and loved feeling as though I was right there, meeting China for the first time (not that I ever traveled there). You made it feel so lively. Second, I, too, will comment on the nose. I loved this part. I love how this demonstrates that it’s only made-up values that can be completely different elsewhere. I’m sure people in China would think some of the plastic surgeries Western women go through don’t make sense. I think it’s sad that more and more parts of the world work so hard to change their bodies for the sake of an ideal that doesn’t fit most people, and I find it fascinating how arriving in a new place, a new culture, puts a new light on it and kinda exposes that beauty standards are not universal or natural, but rather made up for ideological and financial reasons. Besides that, China sounds interesting! I hope I’ll get to visit one day.

  5. says

    Thank you for your kind words and I’m happy to hear you enjoyed my story. And this is the best part about travel. Discovering what can’t be found in your backyard – different cultures, values and completely different angles of perception! I’m sure you’ll make it to China one day. If you have the desire, you’ll get there one day :)