Thursday, December 6, 2007

A City of Freezing Fog

Warming my frozen paws at the glimmering heater in my office, I look down on a city not merely enshrouded, but entombed, in fog. I'm starting to see why the Japanese bombers in WWII had so much difficulty razing Chongqing to the ground.

Their efforts were useless, of course. Some fifty plus years later, developers are razing the remnants of the old city without any help whatsoever from hostile foreign powers. I say no help from outside, because to my knowledge Chongqing is a sort of redoubt against foreign investment. I believe that FDI more often pours into the southern SEZs (Special Economic Zones) such as Shenzhen and Xiamen and Shanghai, and those in turn spawn filthy rich Chinese industrialists who invest their loot into the less developed 'wild western' provinces, such as Chongqing. In turn, Chongqingers invest in countryside villas and the tourist traps of tomorrow out in the countryside. Trickle-down (ie, pissing) economics at its finest.

There is a greater problem (for me) resulting from the trickle-down effect. Because relatively few foreigners (albeit numbers increasing) come to invest and inhabit Chongqing, Chongqing has relatively little use for the horde of foreign restaurants one can expect to find in more cosmopolitan cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou. Instead, Chongqing natives proudly take their few investor guests to try the fiery delights of hotpot, rather than coddle foreign stomachs with foreign fare. Chinese investors from Shanghai-on-the-sweet-tooth may be interested, but I imagine the average foreign investor would be put off. And woe is me, who desires a more reasonable and varied palatte: If spicy food is the norm, why not at least have the choice of Indian curries or Mexican chillies? If cuisine drenched in fattening oil is the norm, where is my respite of fresh salad or creamy soups?

I've had many chances to chat with the owners of our local Singaporean and Belgian restaurants, as well as the lonely foreign food shop, outpost against a wilderness of red hot chile peppers. They also lament that while there is almost no competition in their areas of cuisine, they are also vanguards trying to hack their way into an unwelcoming market. Cry not, my flamsa frit friends; do not pine for the sultry internationalist city of Singapore, o' purveyor of beef rendang and samosa! For we fight a noble crusade against the unholy hotpot, and we shall prevail!


But I let my stomach run away with me. I should remember the lesson of the Japanese. No foreign invasion could change Chongqing against its iron stomach and its stubborn will; but the passage of time may allow those same Chongqingers to evolve that desired change by their own decision. Shanghai may have always been a whore for the West, decorated in the best oriental pearls as she may be. Chongqing is more like a lady of fiery and passionate emotions, to be won with great patience and bravery, rather than a simple influx of cash.


Jeffery said...

No hotpot? No spicy goodness? Sadness and woe!

Bai Hai Feng (AKA: Bruce) said...

I don't mean that there should be no hotpot; merely that it should co-exist peacefully alongside subway sandwiches and Indian curries.