Category Archives: Travel

How To Get To Pudong International

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Every summer and winter, expats in Changzhou often contemplate how to spend their holidays. Typically, Australians,  New Zealanders, and South Africans prefer going back in January and Febuary — those are the warmest months in the southern hemisphere. Most everybody else rushes to Pudong come June, July, and August. This makes for a commonly asked question. How do you get there? Here are the most common answers.

  1. Task a Chinese Friend to Pick You Up or Drop You Off

Just don’t do this if you can avoid it. Don’t. Driving from Changzhou to Shanghai by itself is time consuming, and that’s just to the city limits. And do not forget that gas and road tolls cost money. Metropolitan traffic jams are nothing new inside Shanghai. If you ask the same friend to do this for you all the time, you are taking advantage of them and wasting their time. They might end up resenting you for this.

2. Private Driver

Out of all options, this is the most expensive option. It’s also the most convenient. This can range anywhere between 700 to 1000+ RMB. If you are on a business or engineering salary, cost may not be an option and this may be a bargain for you.

Health is another reason. Getting from Changzhou to Shanghai’s international travel hub is time consuming and physically taxing. If you have, lets say, issue with your legs, the extra money for the convenience is actually worth it. At the beginning of every summer season, request for driver recommendations become common on Facebook and WeChat forums.

3. The Bus from Shanghai Central Station

Image care of Wikipedia
Image care of Wikipedia

Many people swear by this option as the ultimate convenience. You simple go to the main station, and the bus stop is on the far side of the plaza with the clock tower. The fare, last time I did this, was about 30 RMB. You simply stow your bags, get on the bus, and relax.

Personally, I do not like doing this. If you are worrying about your departure time, you have to calculate how often the bus leaves, and trust me, it wasn’t every half hour last time I tried. Also, the bus has to contend with Shanghai traffic. That can be congested on a summer day. Add rain, and it just gets worse. Maybe, though, it’s better for when you are returning to China, and you don’t have to worry about anything other than getting home.

4. Subway with Optional Maglev Ride

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

I am biased. This is my preferred method. It is easy to manage time, and that is saying a lot, since I am math stupid. It goes like this.

  • Take the high speed train from either the downtown or north Changzhou stations to Shanghai Hongqiao.
  • Go to the subway and get on Line 2. Before Hongqiao, there is only one stop. The subway car will not be crowded. There will, however, be a crowd of people trying to get on with you. There will be a mad dash for seats. Eventually, the crowd will thin out after many stops. You can stay on this line; it terminates at Pudong. However, if you get off at Longyang Station 龙杨战, you can transfer to the high speed Maglev. It’s 50 RMB, but it puts you into Pudong in just eight minutes.

The time calculation goes like this. Budget one hour to get to Shanghai Hongqiao via high speed train. Budget one more hour via subway and maglev. For me, it’s become the most consistently reliable. Sure, it’s not the most comfortabe way, but sometimes you do not know what delays you will face in Pudong itself. This method allows you a consistent “two hours” rule from a Changzhou train station to the airport.

Keep in mind that this is general advice. Each of these options could be broken down into more detailed “how to” explanations.

How To Read A Bus Departure Board

IMG_20160505_111148
The departure board in Tianning’s downtown coach station.

My first year in Changzhou, I never left the city. I really didn’t have the confidence to get up from my computer and just go somewhere. I just drank beer at night and stared at Facebook updates. Trying not to be a shut-in came in steps. First, I just started taking random city buses to places and then turning around and coming back. Six months later, I got my first eBike, but the range wasn’t that far. I could go 30 kilometers, turn around and arrive home with a dead battery. Learning how to take the train came next, and they last thing was intercity coaches. Into my third Changzhou year, I have finally figured out long-distance buses.

It does, however, require a little — but minimal — knowledge of Chinese. For example, you have to know the characters of your destination. Jintan is 金坛. Yangzhou is 扬州. Yangzhong is 扬中,and so on. If you have a translation app on your fine, figuring this out is easy if you have done minimal planning.  Departure times in 24-hour format come next destination names.  One column lists prices, and the last one is important: how many seats are left. This set up is pretty much at most Changzhou terminals. The sole exception I have seen, so far, is in Jintan. No display board at all — that station is fairly old.

My Journey to the West

Marmoset!    Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jintan is not India, and I am not the Monkey King. Although, some people will think of my rampant ADHD and know I possess the attention span of a monkey. On a hot spring day, I might sweat enough to smell like a monkey, baboon, or a gorilla — but definitely not marmosets. They are too small, and they have white skull mullets. I would look absurd with a skull mullet.

But, I digress. I went to Jintan to look for Zapfler’s, a German restaurant which brews its own beer. I had went looking for it once before, but this time I thought I had a solid lead. I had found its website.  However, my blundering around and Chinese map reading errors were epic. (Hence the “Journey to the West” reference. Jintan is Changzhou’s most western district.)

First, I was stupid enough to wear a hoody, and I realized it was a hot spring day. Sweat ran down my face. Eventually, I pulled the hoody off and tied it around my waist, much the same way grunge rockers did in the 1990’s. But they did that with flannel shirts. I cooled down a little, but I continued to sweat. Especially since I ended up walking around for essentially three hours nonstop.

My next error involved not eating breakfast or buying any water. I thought I was going to have a nice, big German lunch with a lager. So, I was incredibly thirsty and sweating, which led to dehydration.

In terms of navigating Jintan, I mistook 金沙园 Jinsha Park for Dongmendajie  东门大街 — which is the shopping center of the district. Think of it as Jintan’s Nandajie. I walked around every floor of every shopping area. Entering the Chinese for “German Restaurant” into Baidu Maps didn’t help. Eventually, I gave up and texted my friend from this area. Given how stubborn I can be in refusing help, that says a lot.

IMG_20160501_210050
A one-armed kung fu master.

He told me I should have been entering the Chinese characters for  “German Beer.” I did the whole facepalm thing, wondering why I didn’t think of that.  Within a minute, he sent me a screen shot from his phone’s map. Now, would this be the end of my blundering? No.

Jintan has a lot of parks clustered together. Instead of simply buying water, I thought, “No, you will find this restaurant in five minutes, and you drink water with lunch.” So, I tried cutting through the parks — only to get distracted by a series of states with missing arms.  Eventually, I walked around Jinsha park for an hour, and I didn’t find Zapfler’s. I was about to give up and return to the coach station, defeated. And, of course, that’s when I finally found it.

Did I get to have yummy German food, lots of cold water, and beer? No, they were closed. The Chinese waitstaff were sitting outside. So, imagine their facial expressions when a six foot two sweaty American — with a hoody tied around his waist — showed up. I hadn’t shaven in two days. Even though I didn’t look like a marmoset with a skullet, I probably smelled like one — contrary to my earlier position on the matter. They were very, very generous to me. I am extremely grateful for that. They let me drink a couple of glasses of water, and they even called a taxi for me. I was in no mood to walk back to the bus station. Most importantly, I left with a business card.

So, learn from my mistakes. If you are looking for Zapfler’s for the first time, either go somebody who knows or just take a cab there.

Zapfler's
Zapfler’s aka the end of my silly quest.

Solving an eBike Issue

At Dalin Temple
At Dalin Temple

I was staring at a statue of a guy ripping off his face, and I was trying not to make a connection to old Clive Barker novels and movies. After all, I was a Dalin Temple in Wujin’s northeastern arm, and the cosmologies of Buddhism and Hellraiser are not exactly the same.  Dalin has a building filled with colorful statues, and I really haven’t figured out what the story is there yet. I just know it was a more playful scene than the bloody recreation of Buddhist purgatory 地狱 I have seen at another temple.

Once I finished my visit, I went outside and got on my eBike. It was time to go home, as I had classes to teach in two hours. I put my key into the ignition, and as I turned the throttle to leave, something snapped. Loudly. My front brake stopped working. When I looked at my wheel, it dangled on a cable.

To say this was a problem would be an understatement. This part of Wujin was 30 kilometers away Hohai University and Xinbei. For a little perspective, Hutang and the parts of Wujin where expats live was even farther. I thought of calling a Chinese friend, but since I am incredibly stubborn and hardheaded, I didn’t want to do that. I could just lock the bike, leave it for another day, and try and find a taxi, but the cheapskate in me would have none of that.  I realized the bike could still be ridden. The back brake still functioned.  So, I rode the thirty kilometers back — but at snail speed. Each time I turned, the flopping brake either smacked against the wheel and dragged against the concrete.

The snapped brake. Took this picture to show a mechanic.
The snapped brake. Took this picture to show a mechanic.

Once home, I tried to figure out replacements. My go-to mechanic works in Wujin, where I bought the bike when I lived the College City area. Obviously, I didn’t want to ride another 30 kilometers and damage the thing even further.  Eventually, I realized that Lippo Plaza had eBike shops. This is the shopping center directly across the street from Wanda. This also means walking distance from my job and apartment.

Unfortunately, NKNY has no presence there. I checked Baidu Maps, and I realized NKNY shops were nowhere around this part of Changzhou. So, I walked from shop to shop, looking to see if any of them sold what were, essentially, heavy electronic motorcycles. Once I did,  I looked at all of their brakes to see if any of them shared the exact same brand and part number as mine. Sure enough, the LVNeng one did.

Thankfully, the guy running the place there offered a lot of help — without knowing a single word in English. Once you have a good translation app, transacting comes easier. Only, that requires both you and the shopkeeper knowing how to use such apps. More recently, I had speed problems and tried using an NKNY shop. That older mechanic didn’t even have a smartphone and communicating bike problems became all the more difficult. So, lesson learned. Next issue, I’m going back to the LVNeng guy first.

LVNeng across from Wanda Plaza
LVNeng across from Wanda Plaza

No Love for Qishuyan Station

Changzhou has three high-speed rail stations. The most commonly used can be found in the city center, in the Tianning District. This station services passengers wanting to to use the line between Shanghai and Nanjing. You can also get to other places like Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Hefei from here.

The other major station is in Xinbei. In English, this is most commonly called “Changzhou North.” It’s a totally different rail line connecting Shanghai to Beijing.  The stops are all different, too. Yes, the trains stop in Nanjing and Wuxi, but they don’t stop at the central stations in those cities. (Respectively, its Nanjing South and Wuxi East). Once you pass Nanjing, the train heads north to places like Xuzhou, Chuzhou, Bengbu, and more with Beijing South Station as its terminal point.

Then, there is Qishuyan Station. It’s provincial at best. It’s tiny. And if you do not live in Qishuyan, this is a very annoying stop on the way to Shanghai or other points east. It’s only on the Shanghai-to-Nanjing line. Once you leave Changzhou’s central station, the train coasts very slowly for like five minutes and then stops.  Two to five people may board or depart.  Thankfully, not all trains stop here, according the schedules you can find on Ctrip.com.

I find the existence of this train station a little troubling. First, Qishuyan is no longer a district in Changzhou city proper. It got folded into Wujin last year —  at the same time when Jintan stopped being a independent and was absorbed into Changzhou’s redefined city limits. It’s almost if if the municipal government bet on Qishuyan being an important financial center, hedged it bets, years later, and then started backing away. So, now there is a high speed rail station nobody really uses. Honestly, check Ctrip.com for how many trains actually stop there.

Besides, in the years I lived in Wujin, I always thought having an honest “Changzhou South” station  made more sense. The Xinbei, Tianning, and Qishuyan stations are highly annoying to get to when you work in Wujin’s many, many factories and industrial parks, or at Changzhou’s southern college town. All three are either long bus rides or expensive taxi fares. They are certainly NOT convenient to get to.

But what do I know? Who am I to question grand scheme of urban planning in China? I’m just a silly laowai 老外, a foolish foreigner, right?

Right.

So, I will now shut up and teach my Oral English classes.

A Journey to Jiangyin

Taking this picture on this side of the sign means I’m still in Changzhou!

Wuxi is closer to Changzhou than what one might think. I know this because I accidentally found myself there, and I hadn’t taken a bus or train. I was on my eBike — yes, my eBike. As I was looking around me, I noticed that “常州“ was dropped from company names. Each time I passed a factory, I saw either “无锡“ or “江阴.”  How is this possible?

Well, let me clarify. I was in Jiangyin, and it’s separate municipal government from Wuxi proper. It’s much the same way that Liyang is a separate city but is still part of Changzhou. Plus, Jiangyin’s eastern city limits touch Xinbei in a way that if you take the B1 bus north, get of at a certain stop, and cross the street, you are no longer in Changzhou. The stop, by the way, is two beyond the Global Harbour shopping mall, right after the route turns towards the Trina International School and Changzhou North Station.

A tediously slow local ride from Xinbei to Jiangyin.

Knowing this, I returned there knowing that an Intercity coach line has a stop there.  Since I had nothing to do today, I thought I’d hop on the bus and see how long it would take to get to downtown Jiangyin.  I also learned that there are two types of Intercity busses that leave Changzhou regularly.

The one I took to Jiangyin was local. It basically stops every two kilometers or so. This bus would be a challenge for some foriegners; some basic knowledge of Chinese is needed. When you board, the driver asks na li?  You tell him, and he tells you the amount of the fare. I misheard and just shoved a 10 RMB note into the slot. Five people who boarded after me then crowded around to pay me back. I had paid their way by accident.

During the ride, there were several times I wanted to get off. Jiangyin has a Wanda Plaza, for example.  Other times, I saw I was passing cultural sites as I monitored the trip on my phone via Baidu Maps. In the end, I mentally marked those places for later trips and decided to just go all the way to the coach station.

Turns out, it looked to be in a rather uninteresting part of town. The station itself looks very strange — as if covered in an alien metallic web. I walked around, bought a map, and looked at the time. I had left a little too late. So, I just bought another bus ticket back.

This is where I learned about the other variety of Intercity bus. Turns out, if you buy a ticket inside the station, it’s for the express, and that takes you to Changzhou’s downtown bus station. It’s a lot quicker, too.

Jiangyin’s weird looking bus terminal.