Chongqing is one of the largest, fastest growing cities in the world. The giant municipality has a population that now exceeds that of Canada or Poland, four times the size of London or New York.
The focal point of the country’s westward push (the “Great Western Development Strategy”), Chongqing has grown with such speed that it more resembles a cluster of coalesced cities than a single destination, a vast organism held together by the long veins of its transport infrastructure.
Buildings appear to haphazardly emerge and collide, burying beneath their foundations a graveyard of the past.
Pockets of farmland survive in the unlikeliest of places: on the embankment beside a modern suspension bridge, or in the shadows of a vast concrete overpass, where a handful of locals still cling to an agrarian life.
Hidden behind a nondescript door set back from the street, a wooden-beamed teahouse provides a cocoon from this new world, endless refills lazily sipped over long games of xiangqi.
As the sun wanes, a lifetime resident recalls: “When I was a child, all of Chongqing was like this”, gesturing towards the ancient town of Ciqikou, where a handful of old streets are preserved. Outside, a shower of autumn leaves begins to fall.
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Yangon starts early. Before daybreak, makeshift stalls line the streets and begin to fill the air with scents: wet herbs, hacked meat, dried fish, deep fried samosas, smoke and spice.
Local families – women and children often bearing swirls of golden thanaka on their cheeks – gather fresh ingredients in little transparent plastic bags, tied and hooked onto their fingers.
Young Buddhist monks and nuns file through to collect alms, in the form of uncooked rice or money, from dutiful stallkeepers.
These vibrant street markets – zei, or zay – unfold against a backdrop of decaying colonial relics, the remains of a bygone era that still haunts Myanmar, only recently released from isolation and military rule.
Lacking sufficient infrastructure, traders must improvise in order to keep doing business into the night, with torches, LED lamps and strings of car battery-powered fluorescent tubes bringing an atmospheric – though precarious – glow to the darkening streets.
In just a few hours, the cycle will begin again.