Tag Archives: 天宁区

Cruising Cuihong Road

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I could literally feel heat waves radiating off the streets. Once the breeze shifted, it felt like I was slowly punching through pockets of hot air. Ahead of me, a truck sprayed the hot road down with water, and that just made the air above the concrete humid and slightly hard to breath. You could easily say today was a hot day in a string of hot days, but then again, it’s also July. Changzhou and this part of China sometimes gets uncomfortably hot. I can only take some comfort that parts of the Middle Kingdom are much worse this time of year. However, it has put a bit of damper on my ebike travels as of late. I don’t handle the heat very well; it sucks the energy out of me and just makes me want to sleep all day.

I was not even halfway towards the former Qishuyan district before I just turned around and started heading home. On the way, I did take one detour. I still felt like wandering, and a side street promised a lot of shade. This ended up being Cuihong Road. This small street connects Cuizhu Park with Feilong Road in Tianning. Cuizhu is basically a small green space between Zijing and Hongmei.

One could easily argue that there isn’t much to see on this road. It cuts between two older residential neighborhoods. Many of the shops here look like many of the other shops throughout Changzhou. I even encountered a statue of a woman tucked into a small parking lot. A rope had been attached to her hand, and basically, she was being used in a vast network of clotheslines for drying laundry.

Looking around, I was reminded something I have always told people. I think the local Chinese can handle blazing heat a lot better than many westerners. Here, on this small, seemingly lazy road, shirtless old men sat around smoking cigarettes. A couple of workers with pick axes were tearing up the street, and woman busily organized and categorized fruit in her shop. Another woman and her small son walked by, hand in hand. The mom made sure her sun stayed under her shady parasol.

Me? I was sweating profusely and wearing a wet shirt that already had some white salt stains. So, I just took it as further proof that I really dislike hot summers. I promptly went home to my air conditioning and computer — where instead of writing, I looked up UFO conspiracy theories on YouTube.

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Knocked Off, Knocked Down History

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The fast pace of economic development in China does come with a real cost. It’s not all that hard to find evidence of this online in prominent newspapers like The Guardian. Alarmingly, it’s been reported that the last twenty years of economic expansion has lead to more cultural destruction than that of the Cultural Revolution.  In many ways, this can be seen directly in Changzhou. Simply put, there does not seem to be as much to see here than in an much larger cities like Shanghai and Nanjing. And some of the things that “look” historic have actually recently been built and have nothing to do with antiquity. The Yancheng historical development around the Wujin Museum and the Spring and Autumn Amusement Park fits as a prime example.

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In Changzhou, simply put, a person doesn’t have to go that far to see whole swaths of demolition prepping the way to some new construction project.  For example, you can find a statue of Chairman Mao in a shattered landscape. There is one place, however, that seemed rather telling. Along Laodong Road 劳动路 in Tianning, there is a demolished compound. A textile factory used to be there. But, as I wandered around the rubble, I found a stone historical preservation marker. To use a cliche, it stuck out like a sore thumb in a wasteland. It’s like a strange irony. What the marker denotes as historic has been rendered into rubble. The buildings remaining looked drab, gray, and dreary.

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Once I got off my bike and started walking around, history was hard to locate or find. And, I wasn’t in the mood to literally “dig it up.”  A lot of the remaining buildings looked structurally unsound. I peered into some of the derelict factory spaces, but I had enough sense to not actually enter them. Accidents can and do happen to people who are silly enough to go into construction or demolition zones. With that in mind, I left.

However, later, over a cup of coffee, I searched for the place on Baidu Maps. I even entered the marker’s keywords 大成三厂旧址, and according to my smartphone app, the place doesn’t exist. So, that leaves me with this question: will a replica of the original historical site will thrown up, or will the historical marker also be removed, making way for another shopping center or high rise residential complex?

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Urinating Mystery Man

From time to time, you will find the strangest things on public display in Changzhou. The Jiu Zhou New World shopping mall has one such oddity. Technically, it’s not in the mall, at all, but in the sunken fashion plaza beneath Lanling Road . You can, however, walk from the mall’s basement level to the fashion plaza easily. It’s a wall mural the features the Incredible Hulk standing at a urinal. His hand is on the wall, and he is straining. The wall is crumbling under the might of his grip.  And his pants are falling down, revealing the crack of his buttocks.

Spiderman is standing next to him, and he is looking down. You can easily assume what Spiderman is looking at. Lighting bolts of surprise emphasize his shock. Now, I am not going to speculate what Spiderman is thinking or contemplating. You can look at the picture and figure that out for yourself. The empty space next to Hulk is what I am curious about. There are also concern lightning bolts, but there is nobody standing at that urinal.

So, this leaves me to wonder. What Marvel characters have the power of invisibility? I didn’t know, so I Googled it. As it turns out, the ability to vanish is not a common ability i the Marvel universe. Most of the characters I found were minor and mostly apocryphal. The biggest of all the names seems to be Dr. Stephen Strange — who is currently being played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Or, as Chinese women love to call him, Horse Face. So, my guess is that it’s him, and he’s mystified.

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Zijing Ferris Wheel Working. Or Is It?

It's the largest in the world. I swear! It also looks like something out of Stargate
It’s the largest in the world. I swear! It also looks like something out of Stargate

This _________ (fill in the blank) the biggest in the world!

–Just About Any Chinese Person Who Loves Their City.

This is not meant as a slight against Chinese people, but it’s more of a comment on Chinese urban development. Chinese construction projects sometimes have prideful ambitions behind them. It seems like most developing or developed cities want to have the biggest “something” in the world. People love to brag about their hometown. Changzhou is no different. Tianning Pagoda, for example, is supposed to be the largest wooden pagoda on the planet. Over in Zijing Park 紫荆公园, there is allegedly the biggest Ferris Wheel without internal support spokes. This is why the structure looks like a big letter O.

For years, there was one problem with that last example. Zijing’s Ferris wheel actually didn’t work for the longest time. Each time you would go to the park, the carriage cars always remained stationary. That changed. The last time I went there, the cars were moving. I watched for awhile. Only, I noticed that nobody was actually in the cars. I reasoned that it was the middle of a work day. So, I walked around the thing looking for a place to pay for a ticket and get on.

That proved very difficult. The Ferris wheel is in the middle of a body of water. The boarding station is under the pond itself. Eventually, I found some elevators. They didn’t work. I found a staircase. It was locked. I also noticed a few smiling locals trying to figure the same thing, only to shake their heads when they realized access remained denied. Yet, I take this as a positive sign. If the locals are intrigued, the moving carriage cars must be a recent development. The fact that the cars are moving may indicate this this attraction may one day be open to the public.

 

Jiu Zhou Antique Market

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I am always on the hunt for old photos, and I am especially looking for old pictures of Changzhou and other cities. This means I spend a lot of time looking for antique markets and junk stores. So, far, there five places I know of. Wujin has a place near where Changwu and Renmin intersect. There are two near Hongmei Park, and one stands behind the Christian church at Wenhuagang 文化宫. That one is perhaps the largest. Recently, I found another near the Jiu Zhou New World shopping center near the city center..

It’s across the street and in a very weathered, very dirty looking building. It’s on the second floor of that building, and once you climb the stairs into the place, you notice it is as grimy on the inside as it is on the exterior. The wares are much of the same: ceramics, postage stamps, jewelry, old red Mao quotation books, and few other things. I did see some nice furniture there, too. However, I saw none of the stuff I like to collect. So, no photos, no old postcards, and very few old printed things. There was also a lot of empty space, too. The likelihood I will return to this place is minimal.

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Mannekin Pis Has a Chinese Brother

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A naughty statue in Tianning —  near where Tesco used to be on Zhongwu Da Dao 中吴大道

 

“I once walked into a housing estate and saw fountain statues of little boys peeing.”

A friend of mine once said this to me over dinner. She said she was new to Changzhou at the time, and like me, liked to aimlessly wander as a way to learn about a new city.

“Where is this?”

“Sorry, I forgot.”

“You know,” I said, “I am now going to obsessively look for that housing estate, now.”

She flashed an evil grin. “That’s why I told you about it.”

And, I went looking. I walked onto many housing estates over the course of a week, and I almost never found the weirdness my lady friend described. Eventually, I discovered something close, but it was not the urinating fountains my friend spoke of. It was a small statue of a naked little boy. This was on a housing estate on Zhongwu Avenue 中吴大道 near the bridge to Wujin / Hutang.  As soon as I saw it, I started laughing, hard. It was not the first time I had seen this little boy.

Actually, it was a replica of an infamous fountain in Brussels, Belgium. It looks forged in bronze, and it depicts a little boy urinating into a small pool of water. The statue’s name is Mannekin Pis, and it’s a famous landmark, and souvenir shops make a fortune selling related merchandise to bewildered tourists with WTF on their minds. It’s even to the point where the statue has a dedicated blog.

The fact that there is a replica in Changzhou doesn’t surprise me. There are lots of new construction that actively tries to imitate European architecture and atmosphere. This housing estate, and the mostly empty shopping center next to it, has a decidedly Euro theme. As a reference point, there used to be a Tesco on Zhongwu. It’s that area. At Global Harbour in Xinbei, for example, there is a whole atrium with European style faux paintings. This is at the uppermost level, on the interior of a dome ceiling. As for the housing estate my friend stumbled onto, I largely suspect what she saw there were also Manekin Pis replicas.

Mannekin Pis in Brussels. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Mannekin Pis in Brussels. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Unreadable Corridor of Cognition

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The architecture looks futuristic. You are standing in Tianning’s Zijing Park 紫荆公园, and glass walls flank you. If you look forward, you are have a side-on view of the big spokeless Ferris wheel at its carrier cars.Both of the buildings are locked and unused. You are standing in what a park sign, in English, calls, “The Corridor of Cognition.” Sounds, fancy and literary, right? It did for me. I was wandering around this park, saw the sign, and said, “Ooooh! I want to be in the corridor of cognition! It might enhance my cognitive abilities! It might make me smarter!”

It didn’t. This is a weird place. The glass is frosted so that it displays white pictures and white Chinese descriptions. Both sides of the corridor have timelines from the dawn of history to the present. So, each begins with something prehistorical and ends with a display of wrist watches. I think one side is western themed, and the other is Chinese. I only say this because one time line as ancient Egyptian details. So, what is my problem?

It’s all really hard to look at. The white characters and illustrations are against a light colored background. There is no contrast. I couldn’t use my translation app to decipher anything, and if I had a Chinese friend they would just squint and have a hard time reading their native language. In short, this was really poorly designed. You would think that having a white fonts necessitates a darker background for readability. It’s design 101. Anybody who has tried to ever do a website knows this.

eBikes on Boai Road

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The salesman pounded the chassis with a steel bar. For all his fury, I was surprised that the long, distended ash didn’t drop off his cigarette. He then rattled off a few excited words in Chinese before dropping bar and letting it clang against the floor for dramatic effect. My Chinese friend gave me a broad smile and translated, “He wants you to know the body is very strong. Very resilient.” I took a closer look, and she was right, the body showed no signs of scratching or cracking. This was the very first shop and the first sales pitch while hunting for an eBike. To use a word I hate, I knew the afternoon was about to get interesting. (I hate the word, by the way, because my university students abuse it and use it like a crutch when speaking English.)

This was also two years ago, and it was my first ride I was searching for. I am currently on my second. My Chinese friend had come along for two reasons: argue the price down and ask a very specific question. I wanted an electric scooter that had enough battery life to be able to go from Wujin’s College Town to Metro in the north of Changzhou. I got exactly that. Only, the resulting CenBird had to be charged after each time I made the trip like that. Sure, I outgrew the vehicle, but it served its purpose nicely for awhile.

I mention because, well, there are many places to buy eBikes in Changzhou. Finding the right place requires a little research and a little help. But, there are some places where you can window shopping. 博爱路, downtown, is one such place. There are many shops next to each other from CenBird to NKNY and more. However, these are mostly just show rooms. Many of the brands in the area might not be equipped for maintenance. For example, when I returned to the CenBird shop to get a tire replaced, I was told to follow somebody down the road to a separate location near Hongmei Park. Apparently, that was where all the replacement parts were sold.

The point, however, is this. If you live downtown, and you are thinking of buying your first eBike. The shops on Boai are a good place to look. As for me, I bought my first one there. I had never ridden one before, and I had to ride my new purchase all the way back to Wujin and the College Town. Talk about trial by fire in Changzhou traffic.

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Nevermind The Gorilla

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Construction changes everything in Changzhou very quickly, but nothing has been more of a disruptive change than the ongoing subway / metro / underground construction. For those who don’t know, this project is slated for completion in a couple of years. It’s not going away anytime soon. Last I heard, Line 1 will be done in 2019, and Line 2 will be coming in 2020. Hundreds of expats, business execs, and English teachers will likely have passed through Changzhou by the time this ultimate urban convenience will be finished.

One of the biggest casualties has been Wenhuagong 文化宫 aka “Culture Palace” downtown and near Hongmei Park 红梅公园. Downtown’s Christian Church is nearby, as is a Confucian Temple and the antique / collector’s market. Right now, the the square is surrounded by construction barriers, and during the day, you hear lots of excavators and heavy industrial machines hard at work.

When I first came to Changzhou in 2014, it looked like a largely empty city square. with a few benches, a water fountain that was never really turned on, and a Chinese flag flapping in the breeze. It was a deceptive sight. The bustle of Cultural Palace was completely subterranean. Changzhou has a number of sunken retail spaces. These are underpasses beneath the streets. Downtown has them, Xinbei has them, and to weaker extent, so does Hutang in Wujin.

The one beneath Wenhuagong / Cultural Palace seemed particularly labyrinthine at first. Even during the day, this place seemed dark with splashy neon advertising boutique shopping. There was even in McDonald’s down there. There was also a circular — but sunken one level down — outdoor food court.    And then, everything changed seemingly overnight.

One Saturday morning, I tried going to the McDonald’s for a Sausage Egg McMuffin; the fast food joint was dark with a bicycle D-lock on the door. . But, then again, that wasn’t the only thing that was a little off putting. Not only had all the shops been vacated, but somebody smashed all the windows, and shards of glass littered the floor. Honestly, I wondered if some sort of riot had erupted that led to mass looting. The place looked that destroyed. A week later, access to the underground shopping area had been completely sealed off.

Many months later, I learned this had all been part of the planned subway construction. Wenhuagong / Culture Palace will be the underground’s downtown central station. It will be were Lines 1 and 2 will intersect and where commuters will interchange. When it’s completed, the place will be likely be flashier, modern, and high tech as ever. Still, it will never be what it once was, and that’s not a complaint. It’s just an observation. Nothing will ever be what it once was. I also do not have many photos of what the place used to be. I just have a picture of a pissed off gorilla guarding a door at the bottom of set of stairs. Again, another part of Changzhou has faded into oblivion in the name of urban development. And honestly, like before, that’s not a complaint either. It’s just an observation.

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This is an old photo. Currently, Culture Palace / Wenhuagong / 文化宫 looks even more like an excavated construction pit.

 

Window Shopping at a Tianning eBike Market

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People usually say you always fondly remember your first car. The same could be said for China and your first electronic vehicle. The new sense of freedom is immeasurable — especially when you are no longer sweating to death on a crowded BRT bus during summer. The other thing revolves around not having to buy gas. It’s a big deal if you’re an American and you’re used to having to budget for such things.

My first eBike was a 60 volt scooter. It largely got me where I wanted to go, but it the more I got to know the city, the more limiting this bike became. If I was going slowly, I could get from Wujin’s college town to Xinbei and back. However, the battery would be dead after the return trip. Essentially, I could only go 30 kilometers before I had to turn around.  After awhile, that became really limiting, and I started to pondering getting a new ride.

At first, I thought seriously about getting a motorcycle — even if were to burn a fossil fuel. However, the more I asked around, the more of a pain they sounded. Getting a motorcycle license is not exactly easy, they bikes are not cheap, and they are forbidden in certain parts of the city. A motorcycle can easily get impounded if you are in the wrong part of Changzhou at the wrong time of day.

This became a huge concern, especially since I actively thought about leaving Wujin for a job in Xinbei. Eventually, I gave up on motorcycles completely. I realized that if just bought an electric motorbike and paid for extra batteries, I could go the longer distrances I desperately wanted.  Good decision. I also took a job in Xinbei anyway, and a motorbike would have been out of the question.

Of course, this meant paying a lot of extra money than your standard to-the-store-and-back set of wheels. Such things are never bought on impulse, and usually you should have a Chinese friend in tow. However, I wasn’t sure as to what I actually wanted. I did a lot of window shopping, and I used the experience to practice asking questions in Chinese.

Of course, there are plenty of places to look for these vehicles. One of them is in Tianning, right over the bridge from Wujin’s Injoy Mall. The Auchan supermarket is also nearby. It’s a massive market of intersecting roads, and nearly everything can be bought here from bike models to parts and accessories. They even had plenty of specialty bikes with custom designs and decorations. I was specifically looking for 72 volt rides where extra batteries could easily be added.

In the end, I bought my second eBike for someplace other than here.  I opted for a smaller shop near my old employer in college town. Turns out, they had exactly the thing that I was looking for. However, if you are looking for buy a new ride, this huge market would be a good place to start — especially if you live in Hutang. It’s the same B1 stop as Auchan.

I would love to see a guy justify this purchase to his girlfriend or mother.
I would love to see a guy justify this purchase to his girlfriend or mother.