Category Archives: Tianning

A Mysterious Letter L

Years ago, I created this blog when I bought an ebike. The idea was to wander around Changzhou and figure out what stuff is and then write about it. So, this literally entails sometimes saying, “I’m going to see what is down this street,” and then cruising down said street. Lots of times nothing comes of it. I did this recently on the above road. It seemed weird to me because much of this particular road has walls on both sides, and it zigzags through undeveloped land.

Near one or two small housing complexes, there are these vegetables on the side of the road. Microfarming like this is more common than what one might think. Typically, this occurs in areas of a lower socioeconomic status. Oddly enough, there are signs everywhere telling people not to plant vegetables. The soil is being treated.

That makes sense to a degree, because once I hit this bridge over a canal, the walls on the sides of the road stopped, and small industrial parks started popping up. And then, that’s when I found a tiny park, and this weird bit of public sculpture.

Abstract art is pretty common when it comes to public sculpture in this town. This had me scratching my head because it’s shaped like a big L. Towards the top, there’s what looks like a red revolutionary flag with another L in yellow. Using Pleco on my phone, I looked up the Chinese. Those characters are 腾飞,and that basically means soar, fly swiftly upwards. A secondary meaning has “make rapid advance; develop rapidly, take off.” The back of the pedestal has nothing but the date this was erected — 15 years ago. So, I have absolutely no clue as to what this is supposed to be. I just know I haven’t seen anything else like it in Changzhou.

Near Cuizhu Station

Cuizhu Station 翠竹站 is one stop north of the Changzhou railway station on Line 1. The characters 翠竹 refers to “emerald green bamboo” — according to the Pleco Dictionary app on my phone. If you look around the station, it’s kind of hard to see why this subway stop has this name.

Well, there are thatches of bamboo here and there around the subway station, but none of them currently live up to the descriptor “emerald green.” That implies something lush, and the bamboo here is not. This would be in a tiny green space. Despite the moniker, this would definitely not be a reason to get off the subway here. Actually, there would be two more practical reasons.

Changzhou has three Auchan supermarkets, and Cuizhu is home to the Tianning one. The other two can be found in Wujin and Zhonglou. Truth be told, Auchan really isn’t what it was a few years ago. Back then, I would have rated it a firm second behind Metro. Times change, and the selection quality has gone downhill. However, I’m speaking more from the perspective of a lunch meat and cheese buyer. G-Super in the basement of Zhonglou Wuyue has easily taken Auchan’s spot as one of Metro’s credible competitors when it comes to imported foreign goods. That’s not to say Auchan has gone useless over the years; I have just come to rely on it a lot less for my personal shopping needs. Again speaking personally, there is one other reason why I have taken the subway to Cuizhu in the past.

Nike has a factory outlet here. For most of the years I have lived in Changzhou, I have done a lot of my shoe shopping at Decathlon. This isn’t because I necessarily like their shoes. I am a man with large feet, and finding footwear that fit me in a retail setting is next to impossible in the end of China. Besides, those shoes were always incredibly cheap, but they tended to last about two to three months before the soles started developing cracks.

Not only are Nike shoes more comfortable than Decathlon’s, the factory store here has competitive prices. Along the back wall, one can find clearance shelves and prices that do not make you feel like you are being gouged over a signature western brand.

If one shifts their attention back to the metro stop, however, one other thing comes to mind. There are currently only two entries and exits. One is obviously on the side of the street Auchan and the Nike store call home. The other is next to a walled-off bit of undeveloped land. While nothing is currently there now, it would be easy to assume the same wouldn’t be true 10 years from now.

New and Greek in Town

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The word around town is that there is a new Greek restaurant called Golden Olives, and after a few friends sent me pictures and firm declarations of “This is awesome,” I felt like I had no choice but to check it out. After all, I have loved Greek food ever since my elder brother forced me to eat a gyro pita in Brussels (near the Grand Platz) such a long time ago. So, did the food live up to the hype and whispers? Here’s what I tried.

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This is halloumi with cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Halloumi is a thickly textured cheese resulting from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. It’s so dense it doesn’t melt, and it’s one of the few cheeses that can be grilled or fried. Like feta, it’s often used in Mediterranean styled salads — which are also available on Golden Olive’s menu. This restaurant quite possibly could be one of the first to ever serve halloumi in Changzhou. Next up, there’s this.

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Tzatziki, pure and simple. This is rather common as both a dip for flat bread and a condiment in wraps. Personally speaking, whenever I try a new-to-me restaurant in China, it’s usually best to start with the most basic menu items. Simply put, if a “Greek” eatery can’t get tzatziki right, then something is seriously wrong and the rest of the menu may not be worth trying. In the case of Golden Olives, this starter more than passed the test.

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Of course, if one is just judging by the basics, starting with a gyro platter seemed apropos. When I first looked at the menu, I was a little disappointed. In my mind, a gyro usually consists beef-lamb hybrid where the meats are ground, mixed, and rotisserie roasted on a spit. But then again, back in the USA, a gyro usually implies a pita wrap. It’s not a startling revelation that America changes things and assumptions when it imports international cuisine by way of immigrants and their resulting children. Regardless of that, the chicken and pork mixed platter was seasoned exceptionally well, and I look forward to having it again someday. In short, Golden Olives lives up to the hype and buzz it has been getting recently. So, yes, it’s actually worth the visit. While it is pricey, one can easily say there is nothing else in Changzhou like it. Istanbul Restaurant comes close, but that’s Turkish food, not Greek.

Currently, there is a downside, though. Golden Olives is currently located in the brand new Wu Yue mall in Tianning.  It’s an inconvenient trek from the city center. The B2 — among other buses — comes out this way, but it’s a lengthy ride. Depending on where one is in Changzhou, a taxi could be a little on the costly side of things.  This is only a temporary problem, however. Tianning Wu Yue is near a future Line 2 subway station. However, that is slated for next year. So, chalk the inconvenient location up as a growing pain. Personally speaking though, it is wort visiting.

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(Mis)translating Zhao Yi

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Jim Cornette is on the left… probably comparing somebody’s physique to that of a “baked potato.”

 

“It’s so old, it’s new again.”

Jim Cornette once said this about the new NWA Internet wrestling show Powerrr. Yes, you read that correctly; the name is spelled with three Rs. I blame the Internet phenomenon of purposefully misspelling things in the name of copyrights: Flickr, Fiverr, and so on. As professional wrestling organizations go, the NWA is one of the oldest there is in America. Then, Vince McMahon ran everybody out of business and had a defacto monopoly on sports entertainment for 20 years.

That has changed with the rising popularity of independent, alternative wrestling. A big part of that was the recent launch of Cody Rhodes and Tony Khan’s AEW on the cable channel TNT. That was to directly confront WWE. There have been other smaller promotions grinding niches for themselves. A few years ago, Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan bought the NWA with the idea of doing something new and different: studio wrestling. He likely paid a minuscule fraction of what it may have been worth 60 years ago — if you adjust for inflation. Only, studio wrestling is not all that new.

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Now.

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GCW, many decades ago.

In the annals of pro wrestling, “studio wrestling” used to be a staple on TV. This was partly due to how cheap it was to produce. Basically, a ring was set up in a television studio, a small audience would be brought in, and matches happened. It was a more intimate setting than the arena shows WWE would later profit off of. There was a long, rich history of this type of TV program, but in  the course of the 1980’s the concept ceased to be. As stated earlier, McMahon killed the territory system and ushered in a new, micro-managed, corporate era. As much as I love professional wrestling, there is something else about Cornette’s words that interests me.

“It’s so old it’s new again.” The 1980’s is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence. You see it with TV shows like GLOW, Stranger Things, and the current season of American Horror Story. Now, it’s popping up again with an Internet wrestling show made to look like it came from the 80’s. Nostalgia cycles are not a new phenomenon by any stretch. Here’s a frightening thought: 40 years from now, somebody will wistfully look back at 2019 and will make an entertainment product about it. While I am currently in my mid 40s, that scares the crap out of me.

This is well and fine, but why am I pontificating on this on a blog about Changzhou? Seriously? I highly doubt Jim Cornette even knows the city of Changzhou exists. Most Americans probably don’t. Well, the connection in my brain is because of this guy.

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This is Zhao Yi, and he was from Changzhou. He was a poet, historian, and literary critic during the Qing Dynasty. His former residence is downtown in the Qianbeihou historic area near the Wenhuagong subway station

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I had always been curious as to who Zhao Yi was, because I have been walking by this place for years. Just because there is a historical preservation marker doesn’t mean that it’s actually open to the public as a museum. The one time I did poke my head through an open door, it looked like people actually live here, still.

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But let me be clear about something. I am not comparing the delightfully foul mouthed, tennis racket wielding, legendary wrestling manager from Kentucky with a Chinese poet of the 18th and 19th Centuries. As a juxtaposition, that’s just too far of a stretch — even though Zhao was considered unconventional by some of his contemporaries. Or am I just doing that?

None of Zhao’s verses has been translated into English. Given that I have an MFA in poetry — and a deep desire to learn Chinese — translating Chinese poetry into English  seemed like something I would eventually try my hand at. Only, I was too afraid to take that leap. I did so anyway. Recently, I realized that I was being too ambitious with disastrous results. Maybe I should start by focusing on really short verses, I thought? So, I settled on this as my first real attempt:

满眼生机转化钧,天工人巧日争新。

预支五百年新意,到了千年又觉陈。

Mǎnyǎn shēngjī zhuǎnhuà jūn, tiān gōngrén qiǎo rì zhēng xīn. Yùzhī wǔbǎi nián xīnyì, dàole qiānnián yòu jué chén.

This comes from a sequence called 论诗. That translates as “On Poetry.” The sequence itself can be classed as “meta poetry“  — poetry about poetry. Or so to speak, using the art of language sound to comment on that exact art. So, my first crack at translating just those two sentences led to this:

 

One’s life and vitality abounds and changes you;

Heaven’s workers daily vie for something new.

 

Advance 500 years into a future of new meanings;

In the end, a thousand years can still feel stale.

 

Before I get back to Jim Cornette, let me reinforce something. This is my first attempt at trying to translate anything into English. I’m hyper aware that I’m missing something or there is a nuance going over my head.

In know this because of three particular characters in the original Chinese: 天工人. If you stuff Zhao Yi’s words into Baidu Translate, you get “workers of the sky.” That’s just fantastical. It’s almost like something you would expect from Tsui Hark’s special effects bonanza “Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain.”

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Google Translate stated that 天工人 meant “day workers.” That’s actually funny because of the proletarian bent of how that just sounds..

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And thus, my first real conundrum of trying to translate from Chinese to English happens. The character  is problematic because it can mean so many different things. There is no true equivalent in English. That character can mean anything from day to heaven and god and more.  Recently, to some of my students, I compared it to how 宅男 and 宅女 are not adequate translations of nerd.The Chinese implies somebody who spends most of their time at home ala “house man” or “house woman.”  In English, both nerd and geek have taken on positive, non-derogatory meanings. Both are words for socially awkward people, but those words also now imply expert. As in: poetry nerd, drama nerd, technology geek, and so on. As far as I can tell in my discussions with my students, the Chinese translation doesn’t have that “specialist” meaning attached to it.

So, allow me to get back to Jim Cornette. Both he and Zhoa Yi are talking about cycles of time. Cornette, whether he realizes it or not, is touching the nature of nostalgia and people who age. Things do get so old that they feel brand new again — and this is after two decades of being force fed Vince McMahon’s vision of what American professional wrestling should be. You also see this with music and how it falls in and out of fashion. At one moment, disco is vogue and at another, it’s abhorrent and kitsch. Zhao Yi is more devastating than Cornette. That nostalgia curve goes away, eventually, and it’s gone for good.

Everything is destined to become antiquated. Things not only age, but they become stale in their age. What was once innovative becomes passe and boring. Don’t believe me? Ask most of the high school students that are forced to perform Romeo and Juliet in front of their peers during their English classes — or the Chinese students who are required to memorize the poems of Li Bai.

There are exceptions, of course. There are people like me who actually enjoy dissecting Shakespeare’s metaphors. Or, who think it’s fun to conjure up a silly line connecting American pro wrestling to Chinese poetry. Either way, I found the challenge of translating Zhao Yi somewhat gratifying and stimulating, even if my version of his verses may not be the best. I look forward to trying it many more times with many more poets.

Revisiting Some Euro Weirdness

Random European-looking statues around Changzhou — and this part of China — hardly isn’t news. In fact, it’s pretty normal, and you can especially see it at housing estates. I don’t have the foggiest idea why, and I’m not going to guesstimate and end up with what’s going to largely a clueless opinion. This stuff just exists. For example, over at the Heping International 和平国际 housing estate over on Zhongwu Avenue 中吴大道 in Tianning, you will find stuff like this…

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Here you have a statue referencing Pandora opening her box. “Pandora’s Box” is now a well worn term for releasing utter and uncontrollable chaos into the world. It’s kind of apropos for the stroll that I took.

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One of the next sculptures I saw was Athena, goddess of wisdom. Doesn’t fit with the Pandora’s Box reference, right? Wait for it.

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I am assuming the figure on the right is Poseidon. The other sculptures had bilingual signs, and this one didn’t. Also thus far, the statues have all been Greek references. Here, we also have a merman wrangling a horse. As such, the  sea god is a perfectly good guess. Previously, we saw Athena. So, what about the Pandora reference? Still doesn’t fit, right? As I said earlier, wait for it.

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Yup, a fountain statue of a little naked boy peeing. This has nothing to do with Greek mythology and more to do with a famous tourist spot in Brussels, Belgium. Trust me, I used to live in that country, and I have seen the original fountain. Also, this was not the first time I have seen Mannekin Pis in Changzhou. I posted about this back in 2016, but that was more to explain the Belgian context and meaning of Mennekin. There is something else to note in my picture from three years ago.

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Look at the base of the pedestal. There is no bilingual sign explaining the European / Belgian context of this. Somebody walking by might just lose their mind at the sight of a naked boy holding his wiener and taking aim before letting loose. That person would be rightly justified in losing their mind. Three years later, there’s now this nearby. . .

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So, at least whoever manages this bit of real estate thought it prudent to explain the Belgian cultural meaning of this very particular peeing child. Still, The fact that they wanted to duplicate Mannekin Pis in the first place, and surround him with Greek mythology, is still utterly bonkers.

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Old Qingguo Postcards

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From time to time, I sometimes buy philatelic products — especially if they have a greater Jiangsu or regional Jiangnan theme. This isn’t so much for myself but for my father. He’s a lifelong stamp collector, and his interest in Chinese stamps mostly comes from me giving them to him since I live here.

So, recently, I happened on a collection of Qingguo Lane themed postcards. These actually already have the postage printed on them. In terms of stamp collecting, this is something that father would term “postal stationary,” which is a smaller niche within stamp collecting.Yes, there is something infinitely more nerdy than stamps: the people who collect pre-postage marked envelopes and post cards. But who am I to judge? I collect Magic: The Gathering cards. The nerd gene is strong in my family!

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While the English name of the set seems to be Elegant Rhyme of Qingguoxiang, these cards really have nothing to do with poetry. The Chinese title of 唐氏八宅  seems more practical. It can be translated as the Eight Houses of the Tang Family.

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The cards themselves are relatively simple — black line drawings on a tan background. However, since Qingguo recently was revamped and reopened to the public, I decided to see if I could actually find the places depicted on these cards.

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A majority of them did correspond with actual locations. Interestingly enough, some didn’t. The locations actually don’t look like the pictures, either. How could that be? There’s an easy answer to that: these postcards were issued ten years ago in 2009.  So, these cards are commemorating the Qingguo that once was. As for the homes that are no longer there, it’s possible that they will be at some point. What was recently opened was just a first step. There are plans to add to Qingguo over the years.

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I took the above photo back in 2014.That was before the area was cordoned off and thoroughly demolished and rebuilt. My guess is the Qingguo of that year also didn’t look like what is on the China Post issued cards. Qingguo of that era was crumbling and nearly derelict. Despite these disparities, the cards themselves can be taken as a celebration of the area in general. Historically influential Changzhou families — like the Tangs — did live here. Still, the disparity of what was and what things are going forward is a typically accurate display of this city’s extremely quick economic development.

 

 

Qingguo Lane Now and Then

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After a couple of years of steady construction and renovation, Qingguo Lane has finally reopened to the public. The city invested a lot of money in this, as the this whole area has been a central part of Changzhou history going back thousands of years. Many wealthy and influential families lived here. The little canal here is likely one reason: it connects to the Grand Beijing-Hangzhou Canal. This tiny artificial waterway was essentially like an on ramp to a mega highway in ancient China. Now, however, this whole area is meant to become one of Changzhou’s signature cultural attractions.

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This idea was not lost on a lot of locals over the Labor Day holidays. The first two days of operation saw massive crowds who came to do a walk through. I was one of those people on a few separate days. The totality of what is actually here, and what is destined to be here years to come, is likely the source of several other blog posts. However, I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate that it’s now open. To do that, I’m going to have to show a few more photos and speak of a famous linguist.

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The above comes from signage that’s located at the west and east entrances of Qingguo.  Note the building with the characters 赵元任故居. The English translation of that would be Zhao Yuanren’s Former Residence. He was a linguistics scholar that eventually became an American citizen. He’s an important figure when you’re studying Chinese, and he’s also important if you are Chinese and studying English. Why? He wrote one of the earliest and most authoritative textbooks on Chinese spoken grammar in English. He’s important for a few other reasons that will make for a separate post at another time. So, recently, I went looking for his house.

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It’s not really there. This is not a complaint; it’s more of an observation. Qingguo Lane has some cool things to look at and some places to shop; however, there are even better things to come. This is just the beginning. The empty spaces will fill in, and more things will be built. However, I also wanted to take a moment to remember what this area used to look like.

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This was not the first time I went looking for Zhao’s Changzhou home.  It looked pretty shabby, abandoned, and crumbling back in 2015.

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Before it closed for renovation, I had often walked through the old Qingguo

It was an easy short cut. However, a lot of the photos I had of the the place were lost when I lost a phone a few years back. Thankfully,I do have one surviving shot. This….

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That was then, and this is now. If you would like to see the current reincarnation of Qingguo, it’s downtown and near Wenhuagong. The east entrance is on Heping Road. The West is on Jinling.

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Funny thing. Map apps still think it’s closed and under reconstruction.

The eBike Market of Old

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More than three years ago, I went shopping for a new eBike. This was before this blog even existed. My desire was simple; I wanted something heavy duty that could go long distances. I wanted to be able to go places most other foreigners couldn’t as an effort to learn all I could about Changzhou. Part of my comparative shopping process brought me to a massive eBike market on Zhongwu Dadao. The above grainy cell phone pic was from that time.

Eventually, I did buy the powerful bike I wanted. Only, I didn’t get it there. I got three solid years out of that vehicle. In the end, it started falling apart. Besides, the city government was also about to change regulations and enforcement. Larger bikes were basically going to become illegal. This shift has likely had a profound impact on businesses that sell what was essentially electric motorcycles. I can only guess, because recently, I returned to that massive market. It’s a ghost of what it once was.

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What used to be a thriving place that sold electric bikes of all shapes and sizes is now desolate and empty. Three years ago, all of these store fronts were open.

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One could argue that regulations and policies could have had a shaping influence, but it’s quite possible that this sort of death of a place didn’t happen overnight. It seems other markets have been shrinking in size. The digital plaza near Jiuzhou New World Mall seems to have gone out of business the last time I went there. The cellphone markets on Youdian Road downtown are half empty. Even Computer City isn’t quite what it was a few years ago. Given the city’s continuing growth at a breakneck speed, one can’t argue that this is a sign of a bad economy. Still, it is an indication of a change in consumer buying habits.

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As for eBikes, the current shift in regulations and enforcement does mean one thing. The demand for super bikes clearly isn’t what it was a few years ago, and this old market is now — as I mentioned earlier — a ghost from the past.

The 8, From Temple to Temple

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Tianning Temple, Downtown Changzhou

As has been stated in previous bus-related posts, most routes have a specific meaning in connecting destinations. The Number 8 city bus is no different. To put it simply, the 8 basically gives people in the former Qishuyan District (now the far eastern part of Wujin) access to Tianning Temple and Hongmei Park. Qishuyan is basically near the city line with Wuxi, and it has historically been linked to Changzhou’s part of the Chinese railroad industry.

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The south entrance of Weidun. The 8 doesn’t actually pass this part. I sued this picture because it was more picturesque the the park admin building the 8 actually stops at.

The 8 does pass near some of the train-related plants and companies, but it also passes one of Qishuyan’s major greenspaces: Weidun Relics Park. There is a prehistorical museum here, but it has be shuttered every time I have been in this part of the city.  About ten more stops past Weidun, and you end up at this line’s terminus.

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So, what is actually out this far? Not much. The area seemed pretty working class and industrial. For instance, there was this ongoing, slow, steady clanking noise from a decrepit factory next to the bus depot. However, there was something out here I wasn’t expecting.

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Yeah, I know this picture looks just like a regular old rough slab concrete road. However, look at the big row building on the left side of the picture. That structure is actually concealing something.  Further into the background, you will see a gap in the buildings. I walked there.

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Turns out, there is a temple out here, tucked away in seclusion. According to Baidu Maps, it’s Guanyin Temple 观音禅寺. It really isn’t open to the public, as all of the unpaved dirt will tell you. This area is not meant for tourism — at least not right now.

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The buildings are basically look like new construction. So, to point out the obvious, here, it looks like a new temple is going up in Qishuyan. I find it interesting though, that the 8’s official terminal points are both temples. That’s likely not an accident, but I’m not going to hazard a guess as to why. For the most part, my estimate would be that this line primarily exists to get people in Qishuyan to Tianning and downtown in general, as stated earlier. Unlike most buses, the fare is 2 RMB on the 8.

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Qianlong in Changzhou

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Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1711 to 1799) has many distinctions in Chinese history. He sat on the throne for sixty or so years, and he had one of the longest reigns. Instead of dying while in power, he gave up the throne out of respect to his grandfather, Kangxi. As a result, Kangxi’s time as Chinese Emperor is longer, but only by one year. Qianlong patronized the arts heavily, and he himself composed a lot of poetry. In world culture, he may actually be the most prolific writer of all time.

Also like his grandfather, Qianlong liked to travel and actually inspect his kingdom first hand. As a result, you end up seeing public references to him all over the Jiangnan region. Changzhou is no different. There are stone markers related to him in Dongpo Park in Tianning. This is basically down the street from Hongmei while on Yanling Road.

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During one visit to the city, Emperor Qianlong actually wrote a few poems mentioning Changzhou. The Emperor greatly admired Su Dongpo as a poet, and Dongpo Park is where the great writer and artist landed after traveling down the Grand Canal. A few hundred years ago, Qianlong actually wanted to visit that very same spot. These verses were carved onto steles — giant stone slabs engraved with calligraphy. That’s where one issue pops up. Chinese calligraphy, even when it’s black ink on white paper, can be hard to read. I showed a couple of pictures to some Chinese friends.

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They had a hard time making out anything. I have tried to see if I could locate these poems online, and I even used Chinese search terms like 乾龙常州市诗, and I still couldn’t locate the poems.Then, I realized my search terms had a Chinese typo. I think “Qianlong” in characters is 乾隆 not 乾龙. I think I might have located them, but it’s going to take a while to see if I can get these poems correctly translated somewhere done the line.

In the meantime, these stele carvings are an interesting little corner in one of Changzhou’s more charming little parks.

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