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Chongqing: The world’s little-known megacity

Likened to Chicago for its endless skyscrapers dotting a misty harbor, Chongqing, China, has swelled in size to become one of the biggest cities on Earth.

Its mountainous, foggy isolation in southwestern China has attracted about 30 million residents. The former farm village, once a far cry from the modernization of China’s east, has grown significantly through the years, with help from the government’s “Go West” campaign encouraging industrialization.

Documentary photographer Andri Tambunan said he traveled to this boomtown, like many of its migrants, for its alluring energy, spicy food, and beautiful women.

A self-described documenter of social injustice, Tambunan moved away from his usual investigative world of photography to something with more creative freedom.

After photographing the dark and depressing aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, his recent trip to Chongqing was for therapeutic purposes and “to rediscover the joy of taking pictures,” he said.

With no objective and a “metro line” of opportunity, Tambunan hopped off at random stops along the Jialing River to capture the hues of a city still in transition.

Though its skies are a fog-filled gray, its rivers dirt-brown and its concrete an unwelcoming pale, the city is bursting not only with life but also with every color - reflected by the frequent rainbows that occur after a shower.

Neon-colored cable cars and electric-green amusement parks add to the recreational activities enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. New construction is visible everywhere in this continually developing urban landscape.

Despite its growth, Tambunan said Chongqing does not have the feel of a severe class division like other major cities. Everyone can go and enjoy the city’s offerings, whether it’s cooling off near the river or dancing in the street at night, he said.

Yet life is still a struggle for a share of the city dwellers, evidenced by the low-income buildings sprawled across the city and the abundant “bung bung men” who transport hefty goods on bamboo sticks across their shoulders.

It is bustling with all walks of life, though the city can seem lonely and disconnected, Tambunan said.

“You’re surrounded by a lot of people, but at the same time you’re not really a part of it,” he explained.

What connects everyone is the river.

“The city can really get to you, but you can go to the water to refresh yourself and be one with nature. It’s like Central Park in New York,” he said.

Chongqing has morphed from farmland to World War II port to a modern megacity with a Western-like appearance. Yet the preservation of the ancient municipality has not been maintained very well, Tambunan said.

Landfills overflow with trash, and ravines are rife with weeds. Giant canvases of bright yellow flowers and tall green trees mask the many brick buildings, as if to insert a facade of plant life into a concrete city.

But as Tambunan said, “nature will always try to find a way. Nature will always grow in between the cracks.”

- Michelle Cohan, CNN