Name: 重庆市人民大礼堂 | Chongqing People’s Great Hall
Where: 重庆市渝中区 | Yuzhong, Chongqing, China
What to do: View the interior of one of the historic city buildings. Relax on the padded chairs.
Getting there: Zengjiayan subway station Exit C, walk through the tunnel until it exits into People’s Park. The People’s Great Hall is on the east side of the park.
Cost: 10 RMB (US$1.50)
The act of spitting is commonplace in China. Easily within your first 24 hours anywhere in the country, you’ll hear the noise of someone loudly collecting every drop of available moisture in their mouth and throat before forcibly expelling it onto some nearby surface. It’s enough of a problem that signs prohibiting the action need to be posted in various places, including subway stations and airports.
It’s gross. Most younger Chinese recognize this and seem to abstain from the practice. It’s also likely much more unsanitary that I’m willing to consider. However, until the day inevitably comes when someone spits on me passing by, I’ve learned to accept it as simply one of those ingrained cultural norms you’re never going to stamp out alone.
That said, spitting in the streets or outside is one thing. There are probably enough worse things that I’m unknowingly walking through that a few random extra drops I can avoid don’t make too much difference. However, what gets me is people often doing the same thing inside buildings
Being one of the architectural symbols of Chongqing, I was surprised to happen upon the People’s Great Hall as I was searching out the locally renowned Three Gorges Museum. Situated opposite one another at Chongqing’s People’s Square, both are quite imposing buildings, although the People’s Great Hall is undeniably more intriguing.
Unfortunately, this intrigue is only surface deep. Paying 10 RMB (US$1.80), I entered a tight lobby adorned with red columns and stairs leading to a dismal white hall encircling the center of the building: the auditorium.
The Auditorium of the Great Hall is used locally for everything from concerts and shows to political meetings. And while it was certainly comfortable enough that I, and many other locals, just relaxed in some of the padded red (…theme?) chairs for a while, the decor was certainly nothing that would wow anyone.
The design of the building is noticeably modeled after the eye-catching Temple of Heaven in Beijing. And although I haven’t yet seen it in person, this Chongqing replica does not do its inspiration justice at all. The stage has a nice, although fairly simplistic, painted wooden carving. What really detracts from the aesthetics is the inner ceiling of the rotunda. Consisting mostly of exposed metal bars, it certainly adds nothing to the building’s appeal.
Returning to that dismal hallway outside the auditorium, I passed by locked doors and bland, echoing walls more reminiscent of my now-abandoned middle school.
Also echoing through these hallways was a sound I’d become all too familiar with in Chongqing; a roaring “HHHHHOOOOOAAAAAAAAACCCCCCHHHHHH” as someone further around the curved corridor gathered up their mouth’s contents of saliva and mucus, only to spit it onto the floor as he came into my view.
Completely setting aside the fact that this is a gross practice to start with, this instance shocked me as it was not only inside, but inside one of the most important buildings in the city! Although I couldn’t say anything about it in Chinese, I did draw attention to it as I walked by the older man, only to be completely disregarded.
I continued to zigzag my way up the different floors of the People’s Great Hall, some of the corridors gave pictures of its construction and history, sometimes accompanied with English descriptions. Other, more puzzling photographs hung on the walls of various European architecture, also no explanation was given as to why. Inspiration? Gifts? I wasn’t sure.
Far too often to be only that single man, I would hear that same spit-gathering sound echoing through the halls. By the time I reached to top floor and went back into the auditorium to take a look, it had become obvious that the people had absolutely no taboo about using this entire building as their own spittoon, despite it’s local importance. And a stray thought came to mind . . .
Of course, I did not and do not have any intentions of taking on this habit myself. Although, it does beg the question of what locals’ reaction would be were I to do the same thing so blatantly?
Leaving the main section of the People’s Great Hall, since the two wings jetting out on either side are off limits, I saw an exhibit about Bayu ‘intangible culture’ and went in. Avoid this if you ever end up at Chongqing’s People’s Great Hall. One room is an exhibit. The rest is about 10 rooms of labyrinthine gift shop counters blocking any logical way out.