Tag Archives: 万达广场

Fear the Red Sox

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If you ever want a black eye and a broken nose, go to Boston, walk into any pub, and begin lecturing people on how and why you think the New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team of all time. Some Americans care that much about baseball, and some Bostonians loathe New York City that badly. They would argue how they think that team is run by a bunch of wealthy spoiled brats that suck up all the talent by simply throwing their money around. Yankee fans would likely respond with “Don’t hate us because we are winners!” And that’s how saloon style bar brawls start.

A store in the Xinbei Wanda shopping mall reminded me of this lately. It’s titled MLB, which is short for “Major League Baseball.” At first, I laughed at the sight of it, because Chinese people — at least the ones I know — either do not know baseball or think its a colossally boring American sport. But, then again, I realized it might be doing business more as a fashion boutique than as a sports apparel shop. So, out of curiosity, I peeked inside and realized that 90 to 95% of the products were all Yankee related. There were a few Los Angeles hats, but that was it. And then I remembered how hated the Yankees are outside New York and New Jersey, smiled even further, and walked away.

Not the Number of the Beast

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As far as I know, Xinbei does not have a doorway to hell. I might even go so far that Changzhou as whole doesn’t possess any sulfur-frothing access points to the underworld. Demons will not possess you and force you to projectile vomit split pea soup on people, as one might see in a classic film The Exorcist. Of course I am being a tad bit sarcastic here. But then again, am I? Over at the Xinbei Wanda, there is a convenience store called 666. If you go in there, you will not hear Iron Maiden or Slayer or Cattle Decapitation blaring from loud speakers. Nobody will be headbanging. Nobody will be jamming out on their air guitar. You will just a find a very bored shopkeeper staring at their mobile phone.

So, some Westerners might wonder. Why 666? Why is it okay to put this number all over China? Why do Chinese people use it on QQ? The answer is obvious: China is not a majority Christian country, and automatically assuming the number is evil for everybody around the world is just what the late, great language scholar Edward W. Said would label as a facet of “cultural imperialism.”

In China, a string of sixes is actually considered lucky.This is partly due the number six, by itself, is considered lucky. If you have Chinese friends on Wechat, they may even reply to a “Moments” post by simply typing 666 or 6666 or 666666666666. They are not trying to damn you to hell. They actually liked what you had to say, and that’s the way of showing their approval.

And when it comes to these things, it’s just best not to tell Chinese people that things like this are offensive in your home country. Skip that discussion entirely. You are not in your home country. Your are actually in somebody else’s home country, and asking them to change is a bit rude when you are a guest. And, China is so big, you will be having this conversation nonstop. It’s about as absurd as a Chinese person going to America and laughing at all the men they see wearing green baseball hats — and then asking their new American friends to stop wearing such things. (Wearing a green hat in China means your wife is cheating on you.) So, why bother? And really, there are more important things to worry about.

A Ghost in the Valley of Retail Mountains

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This is an old post reposted from my personal blog. 

A few years ago, Changzhou was accused of being a ghost city by the China Youth Daily. Basically, the logic went this way: there were too many unoccupied residential and commercial construction developments. All of these highrises, one might argue, and not one lighted window at night. And with the breakneck speed of construction in Changzhou, could the local population actually support these new apartment blocks and shopping malls, or would they ultimately remain empty? Was Changzhou on the slippery slope towards becoming a lost metropolis like Ordos Kangbashi? To some Chinese folks and foreigners who live in Changzhou, this ghost city allegation is really a load of nonsense.

Even a veteran travel writer Wade Shepard seemed to think so, once he was researching his book Ghosts Cities of China. Since this allegation was made, many of the construction projects have filled in. For example, the Wujin district is now home to both a prospering Wanda Plaza and an Injoy Shopping mall. People are also slowly moving into the new housing estates, too. It’s hard to call a location a ghost town or city when you see people milling about and cars on the street – something the infamous city of Ordos Kangbashi allegedly doesn’t have. But, even that seems to to be changing.

Simply put, the landscape of Changzhou has vastly changed since 2012 and 2013, and it will continue to change. Construction in Wujin and other Changzhou districts is still seemingly on steroids. It seems like not a week goes by without something new opening or something old getting bulldozed. Yet, for all of this economic progress, this city along the Yangtze still has its share of ghosts. All of urban China does, and it will continue on this way for the foreseeable future. These ghosts are bleak, destitute spaces – once built to great fanfare, and then seemingly abandoned over the years once newer, bigger, shinier structures were erected.

 IMG_20151027_161936Yanghu Plaza阳湖广场 is one of these ghosts. Permit me this analogy. If the skyscrapers of Wanda and Injoy were mountains, Yanghu Plaza is a seemingly desolate valley between them. A person could walk from one mall to the other relatively quickly, but they would have to pass Yanghu. The area is actually vibrant with locally owned shops and snack bars. It’s a decidedly different place than the corporate centers nearby. Yet, once you step onto the plaza itself, activity nearly flatlines.

A huge building stands at the center of Yanghu. It consists of two towers connected by an enclosed walkway. Essentially, it looks like a big capital letter H. Such architecture is not uncommon in Changzhou. Changzhou’s main municipal governmental building also sports an H shape, for example. As for Yanghu Plaza in Hutang/Wujin, the building is empty. Many of the windows are missing. Essentially, it’s a derelict tenement. Nobody lives in this weird structure, nobody works there either. Three floors of open air retail space flank this huge H. About 5% of the shop spaces are used, and the rest is enclosed by metal pull-down gates. Some of the areas even have weeds and vegetation growing on the inside – that’s how long this area has been stripped down and largely abandoned. Yet, some people still individually use some of the interior. From time to time, I saw clothing on drying racks inside the building. Of course, I saw this through dirty, smudged windows. This isn’t an area I would feel remotely interested trespassing into.

IMG_20151027_162825As I walked through the shopping areas, I kept hearing dogs barking loudly. At first, I thought it came from a nearly empty pet shop with pooches in cages. Yet, the barking remained and grew slightly louder as I rounded the back structure. There, I found a canal and a weathered, old gazebo with flaking paint and finishing.  There, an old woman sat and eyeing me suspiciously. An old man had curled up on the bench beside her, snoring loudly. I saw some more open windows into the H-shaped building, and decided to go up for a closer look. Again, nothing. Yet, the sounding of dogs barking seemed louder now. I followed the wall and came to an open window. Open may not be the right word. It was still enclosed by a metal-pull down window and decrepit looking slabs of plywood. The interior of the room was dark and shadowy. The barking grew louder, as did sound of scratching of paws against concrete. A big black canine ran out of the shadows. I instantly took a few steps back. As soon as I had, the dog hit the plywood barrier with such force, it buckled and splintered. Then, the mutt stood on its hind legs and forced its nose and snarling mouth through an opening of pull-down gate. This is when I decided to walk away. I had parked my electric moped at the Injoy Mall. I figured it was time to go back, maybe get some coffee at Starbucks, and then go home.

Later, I poked around online for any clues about Yanghu Plaza. Was place ever once a vibrant shopping center? As per the norm, I didn’t find much. If the Google Translate version Yanghu’s Baidu Encyclopedia entry can be trusted, construction on this plaza started back in 2003. At the time, the H-building would have been an impressive feature in Wujin’s cityscape. Now, it’s easily dwarfed by the new Wanda Realm hotel tower behind it.  So, this plaza is more than ten years old, and now it’s a decrepit ruin. From what I have read on Chinese urban development, this is par for the course. Some construction projects are thrown up with developers knowing full well that it ill not survive a decade or two. Yanghu Plaza seems to fit nicely into this category Plus, more often than not, the bulldozers are owned by the people who built the structure. Actually, when I was there, I did see construction workers ripping up sidewalks. So, does this mean that Yanghu Plaza days are numbered? The Baidu Encyclopedia also mentions that there are already redevelopment plans, but no timeline was actually mentioned. Anyway, it’s old by contemporary Chinese standards. Demolition may not be imminent, but it’s likely going to happen. Could be this year, could be the next. Until then, it will remain a ghost in the shadow of things larger, newer, and brighter at night.

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Xinbei Wanda Plaza

China can easily be divided between what is “developed” and what is “developing.” Let me put it this way. Changzhou is “developed, but still developing” and a plase like Yancheng is “developing.” Sometimes, that economic growth can be measured in what is being built: super malls. These places can be gargantuan — three to five floors. Quite often, you can find towers dedicated to office space or residential apartments.  The highest-end mall tends to be Wanda. Some Chinese people I know gauge the growth of their cities by counting Starbucks. Some simply count how many Wanda Plazas there are in their city. After all, the Wanda Group is one the biggest real estate companies in China.

Changzhou has two.  One is in Wujin, and the other is in Xinbei. The Xinbei one is the older one.  Both have IMAX theaters on the top most floors. (Case in point: I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the Wujin Wanda’s big goddamned screen.) Wanda, even as a corporate group, has bought into American entertainment companies like AMC Theaters.  The stores inside a Wanda are usually the same sort of chains. Think about it. Most American malls have JC Penny and  Sears.

Xinbei Wanda has a Starbucks, a McDonalds, a KFC, and much more. There are the regular mall floors, but there is also a pedestrian walking street with plenty of boutiques and eateries. The Wanda in Xinbei also functions as the defacto dowtown for that district. It’s the commercial / retail hub for northern Changzhou.  If the swanky restaurants are not located here, they are in relative walking distance.