Category Archives: Parks and Gardens

The Truth About the Qingfeng Skatepark

img_20160925_165831Changzhou has a skatepark, and it looks like something BMX riders and skaters would ride in the X Games. It has transitions, flat banks, and rails. It even has a mini half. It can be found in Qingfeng Park in Zhonglou. The park in general is accessible from the city center via a doubledecker bus.

Sounds great, right? Before anybody grabs a skateboard and runs out there, there’s something one should know. The whole thing is useless and unusable. First, the skatepark is fenced in, and access is restricted. Even if they let you in, the ramps and banks are unsafe to ride. Patches of rust heavily dot almost every surface. So, it’s basically a useless piece of urban blight now. The Qingfeng Park manager has also treated it as a place to store scrap metal.

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Chinglish Park

For some, hunting for Chinese translated very badly into English is a sport. Once you find something absurd enough, you snap a picture and post it on social media so that you and your friends can giggle about it. For others, Chinglish is just another weird aspect of day to day life in China and Changzhou specifically. For them, Chinglish just melts into the background. However, if you are the laughing type, the worst abuses of the English language can be found in Xinbei’s Central Park. You can easily kill an hour wandering around and finding WTF moments. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but sometimes I couldn’t resist and added a caption. I saved the best for last.

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I thought paradise was lost? John Milton said so! Wrote a book about it!
I thought paradise was lost? John Milton said so! Wrote a book about it!
Someone felt the need to use correction tape on this one.
Someone felt the need to use correction tape on this one.

 

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Just in case you can't read this. The last line is "You will have the multidimensionai plensure when visiting the park!" Indeed!
Just in case you can’t read this. The last line is “You will have the multidimensionai plensure when visiting the park!” Indeed! Remember, this is an introductory sign. And this is just one example of the weird nonsense this sign contains. For example, a lot of the “e”s are replaced with the letter “c.”

 

Inseminating? Coagulating! Ewwww! Get a room!
Inseminating? Coagulating? Ewwww! Get a room!

Ink Stone Washing Pool at Dongpo Park

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There are actually three public parks in Changzhou’s city center: Renmin, Hongmei, and Dongpo. Out of all of them, Hongmei Park is the biggest with the most attractions. After all, Tianning Temple and its pagoda are there. Renmin is near Nandajie. Dongpo Park, on the other hand, is far down Yanling Road going east. You pass Hongmei on the B2 going there. It’s almost far enough out of the way where it doesn’t seem “downtown” at all. However, it’s worth the visit.

It usually doesn’t seem as crowded as the other two. But, like most parks, it’s hard to write about the place in its entirety for one blog post. It is important to realize, though, that sometimes it feels like two separate parks. One half is an island in the nearby canal, and here is where you would find the statue to one of China’s most culturally significant poets. The other part, however, seems more general with foot paths going up and down hills.

One attraction here would be Ink Stone Washing Pond. It’s looks like a man made body of water surrounded by large, weathered rocks. These rocks are filled with nooks and crannies. It’s a nice place, over all, to kills sometime and get a walk in. However, last time I visited, I got munched on by mosquitoes.

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The Holiday Inn Snake Run

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“Are you our mayor?”

Laughably, this was not the first time in my life I have been mistaken for somebody’s governing municipal official. But, that’s a story for another time. This time, it was a little kid, and I was at a skate park in Long Branch, New Jersey. Pentagram stickers were plastered all over my helmet, and the person asking the question was nine years old.  His mother eyed me with extreme suspicion. If I could have read her mind, it would have been filled with What is this grown man doing by himself in skate park filled with children? The answer was simple: a half pipe or an empty pool is a good source of cardio.

That was more than ten years ago, now. Funny how life changes. Now I live Changzhou, but some things do not change at all. I still have a skateboard, and I think riding it is a fun source of exercise. While I seldom skate these days, I still keep an eye out for good spots. It’s an instinct drilled into me by my friends back in Belgium, when I was a teenager.

Changzhou does not have many good spots to go skate that I know of. There is a mini ramp and flat banks in Qingfeng Park. Yet, I have never seen anybody there. Its fenced in, and access has looked limited the last time I looked there about a year and a half ago. Over in Wujin, there is a place with no fence at all, and I have ridden my board there a few times.

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It looks like a concrete drainage ditch. When I first found it, it was covered with graffiti. Over the years, that graffiti has changed themes, but all that means is that concrete has several layers of paint, and paint makes concrete much more smooth against urethane wheels. My guess, though, is that the place is seldom used. The last time I went there two months ago, the concrete was covered with dirt and needs to be thoroughly cleaned before riding could be enjoyable.

This small set of flat banks is located in the park behind the Holiday Inn in Wujin. This is also in the part of Hutang that is close to the College City area. The No. 2 People’s Hospital is also nearby, as is a library and the Wujin governmental complex. Unfortunate for me, I now live in Xinbei and it’s a bit too far to go to. Yet, something inside me is itching to get the board out and go riding again. Part of me thinks its just middle age and a yearning for nostalgia and bygone years.

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Grinding Needles in Jintan

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Wisdom proverbs are a big part of a Chinese culture. So are poets and their writings. Sometimes, the two converge and overlap. For example, there is this idiom: 磨杵成针, or Mó chǔ chéng zhēn in Pinyin. If you translate it almost literally its “Grind pestle into needle.” More commonly, it means “To grind an iron bar into a needle.” This saying is often used to say persevering at a hard task is worthwhile.

This proverb is often attributed to Li Bai, who is often considered one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. The story goes like this. Li Bai, at a young age, came upon on an old woman who literally was trying to grind a thick iron bar into a thin needle. The poet-to-be took the iron bar and tried to do it for the old lady, but he eventually gave up quickly. Li told the woman she was being foolish — that it would take forever to do such a thing.  The old woman chided the young Li and reminded him that hard work can lead to good results. The young boy took that to heart and grew up to be one of China’s greatest poets. Eventually, “grinding an iron bar” also became a metaphor for succeeding at something hard.

As for the statue pictured above, it can be found in Jintan — Changzhou’s most westward district. It’s one of three idiom statues that can be found at Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. The district’s central shopping area, Dongmendajie 东门大街is nearby. The bus terminal, and the express bus back to downtown Changzhou, is also in walking distance.

Atop Zi Xia Feng

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“Changzhou has a mountain? Where the hell is that?”

People who say this are usually a little dumbfounded, and they have a right to be. Changzhou is a relatively flat city along the Yangtze River. Both nearby Zhenjiang and Wuxi have more hills. In a way, it’s sort of fitting that the mountain in question is in a north eastern part of Wujin and Changzhou.

The name, according to every map I have looked at, is Qingming Mountain. There are graveyards and at least four temples here. One time, I decided to take my ebike to the top. A small concrete road winds its way up the slope. However, I stopped halfway. I wondered if my bike could even make once the road became steep. So, I pulled over and put my D-lock on my wheel. I walked the rest of the way, and realized that parking was for the best. The road turns to uneven dirt.

As I walked, I noticed a number of people doing the same. Parents were with their kids. Chinese men on ebikes were braver than me while trying to ascend the hill — with considerable less powerful rides than mine. This reminded me of a friend who seen this place before I could, he got his bike to the top as well. Oh well, and too each their own. There was even a guy on a mountain bike getting in some good exercise.

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The peak of the hill seemed a little underwhelming. The trees and the forest line obscures much of the view. So, if you are up here with a camera, there are no great landscape shots of eastern Changzhou to be had. There is also a locked and seemingly abandoned pagoda. It’s one of the mountains prominent features when looking from a far distance. Close up, it appears somewhat neglected. People have scratched Chinese graffiti into the yellow paint, and grass and weeds have sprouted on some parts of the roof. Also, there are a series of rocks surrounding a single tree and an antenna. These stones feature engraved chinese characters displaying the name of the peak, Zi Xia Feng. According to a very good Chinese friend, another rock features a poem, and there are pleas to protect the environment from litter.

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Qingming Mountain has plenty of interesting cultural attractions like Dalin and Bailong Temples. The Zi Xia Feng Peak is not one of those cultural attractions. However, there are plenty of hillside paths, and these are a good if somebody wants to get good exercise via hiking.

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Nevermind the Signs

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It was toward the end of July, the equivalent to the ‘san-fu’ period of the lunar calendar — the hottest days of the year. In China the heat was even more oppressive than usual.

–Qian Zhongshu, from Fortress Besieged

Rather ironically, I read these lines for the first time towards the end of July, where it was so hot I didn’t want to go outside. I decided to start reading a book instead of sweating to death while looking for things to blog about. I am sure I could have possibly found something that agreed with the weather, like swimming pools to cool off in. However, I’m not a swimming pool or beach sort of guy. It’s just not in my personality to put on a bathing suit.

I may not be a water person, but I’m still curious at heart. So, I still know where few places to cool off in the summer. Many people know of the man-made beach in Zhonglou’s Qingfeng Park. This is perhaps the most easy to get to when you live in Changzhou. There is another, but it’s either a car or ebike trip. This one is also not in Changzhou, it’s in Jiangyin, which is Wuxi’s northern satellite city. The place is Huangshihu Park 璜石湖公园, and it is not far beyond the city line Jiangyin shares with Xinbei.

Satellite view of where the park should be.
Satellite view of where the park should be. Notice the lake is missing.

Large parts of the park is a work in progress. If you were to visit here, you would see large fields of dirt likely to be further ecologically developed. There are also, however, a lot of bike paths and walkways around a rather large artificial lake with a sandy beach. I say “artificial” because if you look for the place on Baidu’s maps app under “satellite view,” it simply isn’t there. Also, a temple shares the park land, but the doors have never, ever been open to the public each time I have visited.

No swimming!
No swimming!

At the moment, the main draw is the lake’s sandy beach. A lot of Chinese families frequent the place with their children. You also see couples hanging out together, but you never see sunbathers. That is a concept quite alien to most Chinese people. The biggest irony, however, are the the “no swimming” signs. There are plenty of them, and seemingly all the park patrons ignore them. Even more, there is a guy there selling flotation gear that absolutely encourages swimming.

Go swimming!
Go swimming!

The Children and the Faceless

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Lanyuan Park is located next to the Changzhou Women and Children Activity Center. If you were to walk away from downtown, go over a bridge, you would pass this building. The street name changes from Nandajie to others several times, but it is the same road. This is a building maintained by the municipal government, and it works as an educational resource center. There, families have access to discounted educational programs that cover everything from English lessons to art and more. So, it is fitting to find statues of children in the adjoining park.

One is a group of kids craved from white stone. It depicts two boys and two girls holding on to each other in what looks like a conga line. Their expressions are mostly of mischief. One boy, at the end, is falling down, but he has his hands on the belt line of a girl’s trousers, suggesting he is about to accidentally pull her pants down. The other statue is worked into fountain. A boy and a girls are laying down and watching the water splash into the pool below. IMG_20160731_204742

Again, because there is a family oriented governmental building nearby, this makes sense. There is an odd juxtaposition, though, in Lanyuan. It is strange, surreal, and oddly beautiful. A series of concrete planters showcases bamboo thatches. There is a bronze-looking metal sculpture of two people sitting on a bench. They have no faces and the are huddled together, wrapped in a single blanket. Are they refugees? Old people? It’s hard to tell when the front of their heads are smooth and featureless.

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If I was had to guess, I would have to go with the elderly. That’s just a snap judgement based on my experiences in Changzhou’s public parks. Often, you will see the elderly sleeping and exercising in most public parks. Lanyuan is no different. Even during hot and humid days, you can see somebody’s grandfather swinging and flailing is arms while walking in circles.  I once saw a guy doing the “raise the roof” gesture with his upturned palms in the air. It’s not just the weird excercise. My favorite was an old guy who used to wear a white tanktop and a red sweatband around his head. In one hand, he held a portable radio. At the top of his lungs, he belted out Chinese opera. No matter where you went in Lanyuan, you could hear him. IMG_20160731_212751

For the Love of Lotus Blooms

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Besides peaches, lotuses are perhaps one of the more culturally significant plants in China. It has a particular resonance within Buddhism, and they flower can take on multiple meanings as both a symbol and a metaphor. A lotus, for example, grows out of mud and muck — and that can be taken as a sign of rising purity.

One can ponder all of this significance, or one can just enjoy looking them. Lotuses are fascinating plants, the blooms are lovely, and the seed pods sometimes look downright alien and extraterrestrial when compared to simpler flowers.

In all of Changzhou, there is one park that is especially dedicated to this flower. It’s in the northern end of Zhonglou and near the border with Xinbei. It’s called He Yuan 荷园 — which translates as “Lotus Garden.” It certainly is an appropriate name, because lotus grows very thickly here.

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The park is laid out in such a way to give visitors many different ways to view both white and red blossoms, as well as a few other plants. A large pond lays at the center, and there are many wooden walkways. Around the edges of the place, there are also twisting and secluded stone paths. These seem to be preferable on very hot days, because these walkways afford a lot of shade and benches to sit on. One of these walkways leads to a second story viewing deck that allows a visitor to get a more panoramic vista the water and greenery.

I spent about two hours, in the middle of a hot July day, trying to find the most perfect specimen to snap a picture of. Only, it didn’t take me long to learn that I wasn’t the only one doing that. He Yuan was filled with people with cameras doing exactly the same. Some were just people and their cell phones striking dynamic poses with selfie sticks. However, more serious photographers with expensive zoom lenses were also wandering around, trying to find the most perfect lotus blossom to take extreme closeups.

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It was the first time, however, I also saw this park as crowded as it was. All other times, it seemed empty and largely ignored. But, then, I realized I had first found this place at the wrong time of year. When the lotus flowers are not blooming, there really isn’t much to see except barren stretches of still water.  When winter comes, the only real suggestion as to the park’s purpose is a metallic sculpture of seed pods.

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Xinhua Village Church and Park

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Like usual, my attempts to get a glimpse of the Yangtze River in Changzhou get a little side tracked. The northern most part of Xinbei is filled with industrial ports. This time, it was to a small place called Xinhua Village. Open entering the area, you see a stone with an Olympics symbol. Looking around, I had to wonder what those games meant to this tiny place. Later, on a wechat forum, a friend told me there was a rifle and bow and arrow shooting range out here. I think I passed it without realizing it.

After consulting the map, I was suprised to find a Christian church in the area. It looked a lot more well maintained then some I have seen around the city. The gate was locked and nobody seemed around, so I couldn’t walk in and investigate further. The area also had a small public park with the usual sort of abstract sculpture that is also highly common in Changzhou. There wasn’t much else in the park, with the exception of walkway to strange bunch of round, white pillars clustered together.

I didn’t stay long — as I still had afternoon classes to prepare for. Once I returned home, though, I was surprised when I looked at my digital display. A one way trip from Hohai University on Hehai Road to Xinhua Village looked to be roughly 38 kilometers. That’s just another reminder of how massive Changzhou is by western standards.

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