Three Gorges Square三峡广场 is the pedestrianised commercial centre of Shapingba District沙坪坝区, and is a place I retain much affinity with due to the fact I lived here during my first three and half years in China.
A four stay in South Korea sandwiched our return, but instead of Shapingba, we chose the newer and better urban planning Yubei District has to offer.
Nevertheless, I have plenty of fond memories in Shapingba that flood back every time I visit, for either work or pleasure, and I’d like to share some of these with you today.
In tribute to the great feat of engineering that is the Three Gorges Dam, the central feature is a mock up of the very structure itself, and which thousands walk over every day. On one side, the ‘upriver’ section meets the dam at ground level, while on the other, water falls down the vertical wall into a pool several floors below.
The most popular feature is the mini flowing river that runs about 100 metres behind the dam. During the summer months, hundreds of children flock here with their onlooking parents to splash around in the water, armed with spray tubes and whatever toys enterprising salesmen and women offer them nearby.
It wasn’t always like this. In my first years here, there was an inaccessible ‘reservoir’ where you could go and watch choreographed fountain shows, or at other times, the crowd pulling short films they projected onto a giant wall of fountain spray.
There are a few architectural additions to the square, such as some of the malls, residential and office blocks. Also, there are now the two operating subway lines one and the loop line, which make for a welcome alternative to the traffic clogged roads and dearth of parking spaces.
Other than the dam, the most recognisable feature is the jagged ‘Three Cornered Monument’ called Sanjiaobei三角碑. It stands high and grand in the centre of the square, and features intricate sculptures depicting Chinese feats of the past century, all the way up to the top. That’s for those who care to study it up close, at least. For all general purposes, it makes sense as a likely meeting point among the thronging daily crowds.
Shapingba is home to the three most prestigeous schools in Chongqing, namely the numbers one, three (Nankai南开) and eight middle schools. Chinese parents with means, high flying academic achievers, children with some special sporting or artistic talent, or any combination of these, vie to send their children in the face of intense competition for spaces.
The reputation and demand for these schools have motivated them to pair up with property developers in other districts. For example, they have opened new branches in the northern Yubei District in and around new residential complexes.
In this type of arrangement, the developers benefit from increased attractiveness to potential buyers, as the children of families here can attend the schools close to home without having to move to a dormitory in Shapinba.
As for the schools, they benefit from expanding their brand at relatively low cost, as much of the infrastructure is provided by the property developers.
My first and only dwelling in Shapingba was the girls’ dormitory on the campus of Number 8 Middle School, the top two floors of which housed senior and prominent teachers of the school and their families, while the newbies had to put up with more humble surroundings outside, so it really was quite a privilege looking back, to have such a nice and convenient position for both work and access to the main square.
Memories that really stand out are the flashing lights eminating from Pingdingshan平顶山, a hilltop plateau overlooking the central district that plays home to sports and recreational facilities. I remember spending a pleasant afternoon here over Chinese tea with a hospitable Chinese family not long after I first arrived, looking out over the city as children played gleefully flew their kites.
Another was the former Shapingba Train Station, the penultimate stop before the terminal at Caiyuanba. At the time, I could see the tracks from the apartment, along with the trains coming and going almost all hours of the night, sounding their loud horns each time for good measure!
The original train station was demolished as part of a massive redevelopment. The new Shapingba Station is open, but the concrete shells of towering new office blocks are still a year or so away from completion.
Back in the day, before the top brass eradicated the deep rooted gangster underworld, thanks to a pair of officials I don’t want to name, I remember the highly conspicuous level of prostitution all over the district, even setting up shop next to school gates where kids filed out after evening classes, and past the pink lit establishments.
Around the start of this second decade, the city cleaned up its reputation, to the extent that you don’t see any, and even the big name hotels are reluctant to fall foul.
In addition, I remember the ubiquity of pirated DVD stalls and pedlars throughout the district, that brought us the latest blockbusters and music releases for a matter of pennies. Step by step over the years, they began to shut down, hide away into closed off back rooms, and to the point now where you have to cough up and pay on an official online platform, like Youku.
A standout improvement is definitely the air quality. While I don’t claim it’s still anything like a fresh Alpine breeze, but the decrepid old clanky buses, trucks and bangers that spewed endless plumes of thick black smoke are now history. Public transport is now a huge fleet modern Hengtong buses that run on natural gas, and stricter enforcement of emissions now make breathing a far more pleasant experience.
Also, many of the polluting factories and heavy industrial plants picked up sticks and moved well away from the city, improving the air quality even further. I remember one day in my first where a plant suffered an explosion, and all of a sudden, warning sirens blasted throughout the district centre as shutters hastily slammed shut. Not knowing Chinese so well at the time, I tucked into an underground cinema to see out the mini crisis.
Back in 2007, Chongqing played host to the Pacific Rim Mayor’s Summit, and rounded the off in one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I have ever witnessed, and even better, our eleventh floor dormitory balcony offered a perfect front seat view!
I could really go on forever, and that doesn’t include the tourist sights in and around the Three Gorges Square, like the hot springs, Ciqikou Ancient Town, Shaping Park, Gele Mountain, Zhazidong Prison, the Martyrs’ Monument, just to name a few! ‘ll do my best to cover all of these attractions in due time.
A trip to the square today, plus a few hours of spare time prompted me to recall these memories and share them with you. I’m sure I’ll add more as time goes by, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my from the heart account of life in Shapingba.
Finally, I know these blog post reads like the first draft it actually is. I will soon edit the post to make it more readable, but I felt particularly eager to bring this to you today. I hope you enjoyed it.