If Chengdu is a mecca for malls, Chongqing is capitalism on steroids. As we have become accustomed to, the city is in the midst of a construction boom – the skyline is littered with cranes and skyscrapers in various stages of development. This growth has been relentless since 1997 when Chongqing became one of China’s “Special Economic Zones” with favourable tax and trade concessions.
As we checked into our hotel, one of the headlines in the ex-pat newspaper tells the flip-side of the coin – “One in three Chinese suffer from hypertension and high blood pressure.”
That evening we went for what turned out to be the best meal we have had since leaving England, at a place called *Shinfang 123*. Deep fried spicy ribs, spicy roast potatoes, chilli “mandarin” fish, Chinese cabbage and sticky rice steamed with pork. All amazing. Slightly odd however, was the fish’s double act – in round one (about 5 minutes after ordering) it appeared at our table in a plastic bag, very much alive and flapping vigorously. The waitress held out her iphone, which, using google translate read “this one to you?” Unsure what qualities to look for at this stage in the negotiations John gave it a cursory examination and a “thumbs up.” Its subsequent appearance was in more conventional style – chopped and under a bed of spring onions and Sichuan chilli. Delicious.
After dinner, as it was Friday night, we decided to join the throngs of Chinese walking the streets of the central square, enjoying the warm evening under the towering sky scrapers. This part of town is also famous for its barbecued street food and this was in full swing. Sadly we had no room left to try it. Following the crowds we then came to a modern courtyard housing some bars and an enormous nightclub. Milling here were Chongqing’s rich, young things. Outside the club (Muse) were parked two Lambourghini’s and a Ferrari. Feeling decidedly underdressed we tried to slip away into a relaxed looking bar nearby. But as soon as we stepped foot inside, the camp barman squeaked “Hello!! Sit down!” from behind the bar and hopped up and down excitedly. All eyes turned to us, and so it remained for the next hour. We had an excellent time, Jimmy (the barman) relishing being able to show off to Westerners and spinning his cocktail shakers with theatrical flare.
Two rounds of drinks later we made our excuses and headed to our hotel. Already a designer clad girl whose heels were longer than her skirt was throwing up on the pavement, tears on her cheeks. Is this the face of modern China? It seems clear that China is only communist in the sense that it is not democratic. The hallmarks of communism live on in the corridors of power, the lack of free speech, the repression of political opposition, censorship of the media and, ironically, the ivory tower status which membership of the Communist Party confers (an elite which accounts for less than 10% of the population). China still denies that it is succumbing to western excess, but if any of the benefits of communism do survive, they’re invisible behind the façade of economic growth and an increasingly detached wealthy class.