Andrew Lucchesi

Chongqing could easily be mistaken as hectic. It has many of the tell-tale signs of a hectic, chaotic city. The rules of the road are ignored by most, people are not shy about talking loudly on their cell phones, and commerce runs longer than daylight. But, while many sidewalks seem to bubble over with noise and people, I would never describe Chongqing as hurried. Most people here move slowly, appointments are missed, naps are plentiful, and card games and mahjong fill the hours for most people over sixty, of which there are a lot. Again, with so many people you may be tricked into thinking there’s hectic bustle, but just step under a noodle shop awning or into a cafe and look out over the sidewalk and you’ll see a bunch of casually dressed, ambling folks on their way somewhere, but not a somewhere that can’t wait. This is what I’ve fallen in love with. This world I don’t understand, but can’t help to admire it every time I stare out the window.

I’ve found a taste of grace here. In large part by way of good fortune with my job. I’m lucky that English is my first language and that there is such high demand for English teachers. Still, I think if I had stumbled upon Chongqing through some other life, I may feel the same. I decided to step off the street, get some air conditioning in my favorite shop, reflect and observe. What is it about this place?

First is this: life flows. Quite literally, day-to-day life flows. Never do I fight my car to start first thing in the morning and I never sit in rush-hour traffic. Like most residents, I don’t own a car. I won’t own one anytime soon. And, believe me, I have found more convenience in not owning a car than I ever did in owning one. Furthermore, be it at the coffee shop, the grocery store, McDonald’s or elsewhere, I never wait in lines. Everyone, with few exceptions, just flashes WeChat QR codes to order and pay, so lines dissipate as fast as they form. ATMS are available. The bank beside my apartment has nearly a dozen. It’s easy. I never get put on hold because I never make, nor do I ever receive any phone calls. Lastly, I never allot time in my day for cooking and I rarely wait for food to cook because I rarely make a meal at home. Food is served by moms and pops in every other shop. It’s ready and cheap and it’s ‘round-the-clock.

China cashless

Second is this: the food and the people are fantastic. The social landscape in and around Chongqing is a mosaic of bygones and desperately up-to-the-minute news. To go out for dinner in Chongqing is to pick your mouth’s playground. Hot Pot is the people’s champion of cuisine and entertainment and there’s no close second. Understand this though, Hot Pot is not a monolith dining empire of chain-limited variety. Every pot is different. Every street corner (and there are countless) has a fleet of restaurants with their own take on the best method to deliver an oily pepper cauldron. Each stop has its own mix of offerings. What do you want? Lamb? Chicken? Beef? Pork? Frog? Fish? Crayfish? Brains? Stomachs? Root vegetables? Leafy greens and mushrooms? All of the above? I think you could eat at a new Hot Pot place every night for a year (I would die) and the next time you make a new friend he’ll show to his favorite spot and you’d have never heard of it. I partake when my taste buds are up to the task (I grew up not knowing this level of spice), but it’s kind of nice just knowing it’s there. What’s crazy is that hot pot is just the introduction. When you walk down a busy street at night you practically wade through a swampy murk of delicious smells. From BBQed meats to grilled fish, to stinky roadside tofu, noodles of course, greasy potatoes popping in shiny woks, and anything else that’s eatable once warm. It simply never stops.

The people move at many paces. Drivers, as in most cities, are insane. On most mornings the difference between a routine stroll to work and a wildly close call rests solely upon the stringy fast-twitch muscles and reflexes of an overly caffeinated scooter driver delivering breakfast. But, when seen from a distance, I appreciate the juxtaposition of the scooter guy’s recklessness with the measured plotting of the elderly, slipper-by-slipper, hands crossed behind their backs. I wish that I could share conversations with old people. Perhaps it’s only because I don’t speak with them that I like to observe them observing the world.  All the older folks that I see on my morning walk give off this vibe of a retired philosopher, like they’ve got clear eyes, but full heads. The young people are attractive, but I’m not sure they’ve been told because they don’t act like it. Their fashion seems effortless.

Third is this: It’s different.

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