The class trip to Chongqing

Some cheerful students outside Rock City, Chongqing

Some cheerful students outside Rock City, Chongqing

CHONGQING– It’s a little late in coming, but here’s a rundown on the trip in late April with the junior class.

Each year, students are expected to go on a “practical experience” trip, which is essentially the equivalent of an American spring break trip, but with a couple of teachers along. In the past, students could choose from several destinations, such as Hainan, Guilin/Yangshuo, Beihai, Chongqing, Beijing, and even Fenghuang for those pressed for cash.

This year, however, all 150 or so juniors for the College of International Communications went together on a three-day trip to Chongqing. The journey included visits to two factories, one in Jishou and the other in Chongqing. I suppose the national education bureau wants these “practical experiences” to have some kind of relationship to the students’ major and just not be a frivolous trip.

As before, though, the students have to write reports on their experiences, so no matter what, the trips were still part of the curriculum.

Good thing none of us Americans are required to report on our spring break junkets. Hoo boy!

These briquettes will not light -- ever

These briquettes will not light — ever

We left on Monday morning (April 2) on three chartered buses. Our first stop was a manganese processing facility about an hour from campus. The factory takes manganese extracted in Kazakhstan, pulverizes it, and compresses the powdered manganese into briquettes about the same size as Kingsford charcoal briquettes. From there, the compressed manganese is loaded into semis for transport elsewhere.

As China effectively has no equivalent of OSHA, safety in this factory was marginal at best. The manganese just lays in piles. There is no dust mitigation system. Workers may wear paper surgical-style masks, but many don’t. Fortunately, our walk-through took less than 30 minutes, so we’ll be OK.

Chongqing is about six hours from Jishou by bus on the new highway carved through the Wuling range to the west. The highway crosses over the Aizhai suspension bridge and through some pretty countryside.I managed to get a halfway decent photo to show you what I mean. Please excuse the student’s arm in the way. I was on the opposite side of the bus.

Terraced rice paddies, Chongqing municipality

Terraced rice paddies, Chongqing municipality

We arrived in Chongqing around 7 pm, and were divided between two hotels. My bus lucked out, as we got the best hotel of the two — a business hotel with comfortable beds and a halfway decent breakfast buffet. The other hotel was more like a one-star cheapo place, and the students lodged there complained of nasty bathrooms, smelly rooms and noisy surroundings.

My seatmate, Candy Yang. (Photo by Robin Li)

My seatmate, Candy Yang. (Photo by Robin Li)

I have been to Chongqing twice before. Once during a week-long holiday in 2009, where a friend showed me around. I flew in on that occasion, because the highway had not yet been built that far west. The second time was on the way to Chengdu on 2013 to rendezvous with American friends visiting there. I stayed only one night in Chongqing that time — just long enough to enjoy a hotpot dinner.

Chongqing hotpot (huoguo 火锅) is delicious, assuming you can handle the hot pepper in it. As in Sichuan cuisine, Chongqing cooks use both chili peppers and “Szechuan pepper,” a seed that slightly numbs your lips and tongue. If the spiciness is not to your liking, you can order a half-and-half hotpot — the chafing dish is divided in half, with the peppery broth on one side and non-spicy chicken broth on the other. Either way, you order different kinds of meats, fish, tofu, mushrooms and other fungi, and veggies to slide into the boiling broth to cook bit-by-bit.

Wanhoo Motorcars makes three-wheeled vehicles like this one

Wanhoo Motorcars makes three-wheeled vehicles like this one

Our itinerary for our only full day in Chongqing would take us to the Wanhoo Motorcar factory and several touristy places I had already visited in 2009. I didn’t really care about the return engagements, because I was not feeling so well during my 2009 trip and this visit was much more enjoyable, albeit brief.

Wanhoo was founded by a 2004 graduate of Jishou University. It makes three-wheeled minicars and utility vehicles that are popular through Asia, Africa and South America. Nearly everything is fabricated on-site, including the two-cylinder air-cooled engines and transmissions. Safety was a little better at this plant than at the manganese facility, but not up to OSHA standards.

We spent more time there than planned, because one of our bus drivers got really lost, and arrived with load of tired and disgruntled college students nearly two hours late. The rest of us had to wait for their tour to finish, before we could all go to lunch.

"Food Girl" saves the day

“Food Girl” saves the day

Fortunately, this student, who I nicknamed “Food Girl,” came prepared with three bags of snacks for us to munch on. She’s a transfer student whom I have never taught, so please excuse my not providing her real name.

During World War II, when Japan occupied most of eastern China, Chongqing was the capital for the Chinese republic and under the control of the Koumintang (the Nationalists). We visited the site of a former Koumintang prison (crowded and not especially interesting), the ancient quarter, Ciqikou (more interesting and I ate some Indian roti there), a shopping mall built into a cliff, called Rock City, and the central shopping area, where there is a memorial to those fallen during the Occupation.

Here's Yolanda Yang sporting her IU sweatshirt

Here’s Yolanda Yang sporting her IU sweatshirt

The following day, we hit three other tourist spots: a city park on the Yangtze River*, the Three Gorges Museum and the adjacent People’s Hall, before we had lunch and headed back to Jishou. Since the juniors had the whole week free, some took the opportunity to visit Chengdu and had invited me to come, but conscientious teacher me declined, as I had classes the following days.

Since this was a guided tour, we did the usual routine of “get on the bus, get off the bus, visit for 30 minutes, get on the bus, get off the bus, etc.” It’s not my preferred way to travel, but the trip was a break from my usual routine and gave me a chance to interact with these students again. This term, I teach only freshmen and sophomores, and rarely see the juniors.

In all, it was a worthwhile trip, and maybe I will visit Chongqing again — after I see a few other places in China I have not seen yet.


* Chongqing was the destination of the ill-fated Eastern Star liner, which capsized a few days ago near Jianli County, Hubei province, claiming more than 330 lives.

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