Monday, August 26, 2013

The Heguang Guild Hall

Our internship wraps up this week, and we've been trying to cram in a lot of last-minute sightseeing before our departure. On Thursday we say goodbye to Western China, heading to Hong Kong and then Beijing. I'm going to try to post some short, picture-heavy updates in the next few days so I'll be all caught up before we leave!

We visited the Heguang Guild Hall when Tony and Jenni were in town. This site is pretty impressive in it's scale, and even more so because it's inconspicuously tucked away into high-rises on the southern edge of the Yuzhong peninsula. Built during the Qing dynasty, the complex now houses several different structures along with a museum documenting the history of immigration to the Chongqing region (unfortunately, entirely in Mandarin). Some of the buildings date back to the late 18th century, but have been restored more recently. The buildings on this site serve as a great example of some of the varieties of traditional Chinese architecture.

Here are a some pictures from the Guild Hall:

Tucked into the high rises, nestled below the bridge.
Dragon sculpted railings, adorned with colorful ribbon.
Entrance into the temple on the Guild Hall complex. 
Traditional Chinese lanterns 
Some re-creations of scenes from back in the day.
Different style building; same site.
I want a door-knocker like this!
New/old. 
Gardens on the site. 
All the elements that define Chongqing: bridges, mountains, rooftops. 
Some more dragon sculpture!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

China's Development Landscape

As a transportation planner, I am not too well-versed in the world of residential or commercial construction. I focus more on how people get from home to work, than the buildings that contain one's home or work.

However, since coming to China, it's almost impossible to ignore the construction bonanza that's going on here. The cranes are everywhere. Some projects seem reasonable, while others seem completely over the top. Furthermore, the break-neck pace at which all the development is happening raises some significant concerns about environmental impact, safety, and economic repercussions.
The cranes are everywhere!
Environmentally, China does have a green building standard, overseen by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. Here's a great (sort of wonky) blog post comparing the China standards to the US Green Building Council's LEED standards. The standards are not mandatory (neither are the LEED standards) so the impact is necessarily limited, and dictated largely by demand. I don't have enough access or exposure to the process of construction to make sweeping claims about environmental impact, but from a pollution standpoint, I can't imagine it's helping the recent sky-high rates of particulate matter.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ciqikou and Visitors from Shanghai

This past weekend, my friends from Shanghai came to visit. I stayed with Tony and Jenni earlier in the summer for a week after landing in China, and in return I tried to show them a good time around Chongqing, now that I have my bearings.

After catching up a bit, we headed to Ciqikou, the old redeveloped part of Chongqing that's known to be touristy, or as my colleague here put it, "crowded, dirty, and not good." We didn't find it to be nearly that unpleasant, and actually had a pretty good time wandering around two of the main sites: the Zhong Residence and Baolun Temple.

We sort of accidentally visited the Zhong Residence, thinking at first that it was the Baolun Temple. Only realizing after we paid the 5 yuan apiece that it was not, we stayed to look around and it was pretty worthwhile. The Zhong Residence was built about 120 years ago, at the end of the Qing Dynasty. The residence used to have 46 rooms but only about 20 have been maintained, the ones that surround the central courtyard. Here are some photos.
The Courtyard of the Zhong Residence
Some antique furniture
Jenni photographing the ornate bed
More furniture
Can I have one of these awesome bed/rooms?
We ultimately did make it to the Baolun Temple, which is considerably older than the Zhong Residence - built over 1000 years ago. Probably the oldest thing we have seen so far in China, even older than the Dazu Caves! This temple manages to stay quietly separated from the snack shops, noodle shops, knick-knack shops, and hoards of people in Ciqikou.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Weekend in Chengdu

As you may remember, a few weeks back, our friend Carlos came to visit from Chengdu. This past weekend, Lucia and I repaid the favor, heading west after work on Friday.

While we weren't there for very long, we managed to see a lot of the city and get a taste for the differences between Chongqing and Chengdu. For one, Chengdu has a significantly larger population of foreigners, which results in more bars and fewer stares. It also caters to tourists more than Chongqing, perhaps because of the famous Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Here's a blog post someone else wrote that sums up the differences in character pretty well: Chongqing is chaos, Chengdu is chill. (In a google search for "Chongqing versus Chengdu" I turned up this article as well, in case you're interested in starting a company and basing it in either Chengdu or Chongqing.)

The Chengdu train at Chongqing station. 

The crowd exiting at Chengdu. 
When we arrived, we met up with Carlos and hit a few popular foreigner nightlife spots with some people from our hostel - The Shamrock, Helen's, and Jellyfish. My camera takes terrible nighttime pictures so I didn't capture much.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Chongqing Sightseeing: Hua Yan Tourist Spot

Last weekend, our friend Frank offered to take us to his favorite temple in Chongqing. This turned out to be a fantastic afternoon, if a little hot. The temple complex, called Hua Yan Tourist Spot, was not listed in the Lonely Planet, so Lucia and I felt pretty lucky to have found out about it from someone in the know.

It was about an hour and a half away from our house, via two metro transfers and a bus transfer (almost feels like living in LA!). We stopped mid-way for some noodle lunch with Frank after meeting up with him at the appointed metro stop.

The most incredible thing about this "tourist spot" is how tucked away it is, yet how firmly it remains in the urban landscape. It doesn't look like much from the street, albeit a beautiful gateway.
Hua Yan Temple on the approach...

Lucia, Frank and I in front of the entrance gate to the Hua Yan Tourist Spot
 Once inside, though, the intricacies of the extensive temple grounds begin to present themselves.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

(Academic) News Roundup: Pedestrian Safety, Traffic Collisions and Data

Some of the work I'm doing at the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design revolves around pedestrian safety. I've been involved in the field of pedestrian safety in one way or another for over four years, now, and whenever I travel I am the annoying person stopping to take pictures of crosswalks and traffic signs. Needless to say, China is by far the craziest place I've ever had to think about pedestrian safety.

I'll put together a longer post with lots of photos of my observations in Chongqing, but in the mean time, here are some scary/illuminating articles and posts about the pedestrian safety situation in China. Some are super academic; others are more reader-friendly. If you find the subject of traffic collisions upsetting or boring, feel free to skip this post.

First, the problem of traffic-related deaths as an increasing phenomenon in China: The Lancet recently published an all-China issue with a wide range of global health issues. Here's their article summarizing the findings from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study (registration required), some of which relates to the relative importance of traffic injuries compared to other causes of death. This blog post nicely reflects on the Lancet article's findings, pointing out how death from traffic injuries has jumped from 10th to 4th and discussing why it isn't just because China is doing a better job of controlling diseases that used to be ranked higher. This article, from the World Health Organization, points out the effect of increasing traffic fatalities on urban mortality rates, in particular.

Second, the more pervasive problem of data collection. How do you know if the changes you're making have any effect on safety if your data is not accurate? The debate over pedestrian crash data in China rages on: the police data, which is used by the government for official reporting, does not match the death registry data, which places the figure at twice the number of deaths from injury related to traffic collisions. Here's a super academic WHO article discussing this problem. The WSJ presents one possible explanation here, that the discrepancy exists because of differences in record-keeping and methodology. This article, also through Lancet, suggests a different explanation part-way through

"The inaccuracies may be due, in part, to deliberate under-reporting by traffic officers, who are rewarded with a higher performance ranking if fewer accidents occur within their jurisdictions." 

Finally, some work has been done to analyze the traffic collision data. This article does a good job of identifying some overall trends, while this article is a bit gnarlier, comparing the intricacies of pedestrian crashes in Changsha, China and Hannover, Germany, including a section entitled "Analysis of Injury Severity by Body Regions."

As a personal anecdote, I asked for pedestrian crash data on day 2 of my internship, and have continued to press for it, to no avail. To be fair, in the US, data continues to be a challenge in almost every aspect of urban planning, as well. Recently, movements like Code for America have helped launch the idea of using data for urban planning into the forefront of the profession, and I think it's only going to get better over time. I'm not sure whether China is there, yet.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dazu Buddhist Caves - An Epic Day-Trip

Lucia and I had been hearing a lot about these Dazu caves. Lonely Planet writes about them, lots of the China travel blogs I've read mentions them, and they are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, we figured, it was worth a trip, only two hours outside Chongqing.

The Dazu Caves actually refer to all the caves within Dazu County, about 75 locations comprising over 50,000 statues. So specifically, we were headed to the Baodingshan cave carvings. According to the tourist information at the site, the cave carvings were built under the supervision of Zhao Zhifeng, between 1174 and 1252, AD. (I'm quite certain this is the oldest thing we've seen in China so far.)

The caves were absolutely incredible, and definitely worth the journey. But before I go further about the caves, I'm going to give a quick sidebar about the trip required to get to the caves.