Tag Archives: 湖塘

Allegedly Metro

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Oh, and you can do all your shopping at Metro! They have a lot of western items!

— An enthusiastic, but misinformed Xinbei expat to a Wujin newbie.

As I have pointed out before, nothing can be more infuriating than living in Wujin and being told that Xinbei is the center of Changzhou. Most of the time, this advice is well meaning, but it doesn’t keep it from being factually wrong. This is so much the case with Metro. When you live in Wujin — especially College Town — Metro is just a far off wonderland that just isn’t practical. Why? Given rain and traffic, it can take up to an hour to get there on the B1 — one way.

Then, there are the rumors that Wujin will eventually get its own Metro. These whispers have been going on for years now, and when I lived down in the College Town, I depressingly chalked up to wishful thinking more than anything else. However, there has been real progress, as of late, towards Wujin expats finally getting something they really want. Now, there is a real location for the new Metro.

The B1 BRT bus route passes it. Its in a new and unfinished shopping development called CoCo City. This is about one stop after / before Wujin’s Injoy mall, depending on whether you are going north or south. The last time I rode by on my eBike, the location was empty and undeveloped. All you could see was the blue and yellow METRO store marquee. I snapped a picture of it and sent it to a friend with lots of Changzhou experience. Even she didn’t know about it.

Later, a separate friend of mine passed it more recently. She currently lives in College Town and was headed north on other business. She, too, was tired of having to take the bus for an hour just to get something simple like bagged salad mix. She told me that she asked around and couldn’t find an answer to when it a grand opening was planned. She even tasked a Chinese friend to call Xinbei’s Metro for further information. Even they didn’t know anything.

So, as of this writing, Wujin is still getting a Metro. You can actually visit and see where it will be, but there seems to be no hard evidence as to when a grand opening will actually come to pass. For a Wujin expat, this is both tantalizing and extremely frustrating. It’s like dangling something nice in front of somebody, but still keeping agonizingly out of easy reach.

Cian Still in Progress

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Most westerners tend to think the elderly are well taken care of in China. This is because the structure of family in the Middle Kingdom is much different than in west. Quite often, you see grandparents taking care of their grandchildren and often live with their children. This is not always the case. For example, what if you do not have children? Who takes care of you then?

China has old folks homes just like America and Europe do. Sometimes, they tend to be in Buddhist temples, however. It’s a growing trend, as China Daily points out — especially since the population of the elderly is growing due to now cancelled one child policy. This could also be why more temples are being built. This could also be why a great many current temples are having new additions being constructed. Most temples I have been to in Changzhou has some building activity going on.

One such ongoing project is Cian Temple on Wunan Road. This would be very close to the College Town area of Wujin. Wunan runs a parallel to Mingxin Road, where the southern gates of three colleges are located.  It’s essentially one street down. I first learned of the construction two years ago. I had just bought my first eBike and I had gone on my first bit of cruising and exploring. Since then, out of curiosity, I have returned there from time to time to see how the construction has progressed.

Screenshot_2016-06-11-21-05-55-04[1]Two friends recently went there, and one of them shared her experiences. As a result, I was intrigued as to whether the temple was finally open. So, I went there myself. The answer is “sort of.” It is semi-open. There is a hall with a giant gold Buddha. There are a few other places to pray. The place where people often burn joss paper to remember their dearly departed has definitely looked used. However, there are still buildings that are unused and empty. One of the main display halls still has active building with construction workers. My two friends didn’t see this, because they were given a tour by a monk. I just walked around, alone and unguided.

Doing that, however, came at the expense of a lot of information. My two friends got to see the old folks home and I didn’t. The rooms and facilities are all new. Even more, there is a vegetarian restaurant there too. However, it’s more like a cafeteria and the dining times are fixed for only half hour servings. Guests of the temple are welcome to eat there for a 5 RMB minimum donation. Essentially, you are eating with the old people who live there, as one of my two friends pointed out. The tables are segregated into male and female only, and there is no talking. One of my friends noted that the food seemed like light and easy vegetarian fare. Things like tofu and vegetables. Easy to eat again, but it comes at the expense of thinking you might be taking food from somebody else. It’s easy to see how somebody might be skeptical about going. It’s not a culinary destination.

As a religious attraction, it would be interesting to visit. The buildings are ornate with red and gold colors. The are a number of five headed dragons and other mythical creatures to be seen. You can also see a small statue of Wei Tuo 韦陀 and his middle finger. But the truth is this, as a cultural site it is not finished the way Baolin, also in Wujin’s Hutang area, almost is. All this means for me, personally, I will be going back in six months time to see how it has changed. It seems to be an ongoing story for me and  Cian Temple for years now.

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Weird Name, Good Salad

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The name “Italian Duck Salad” strikes me as a little odd. Being half Italian-American, it is something I have never, ever heard about growing up. It’s never been mentioned in conversation with Italians, either. Duck is a meat I have seen more of in China than in the USA or Europe in general. When I saw this on a menu in Hutang section of Wujin, I was a bit perplexed. So, I ordered it.

This was at Eco, a new salad specialty place in the Grand Metropolis Mall. This is the part of the Golden Eagle center that didn’t shut down once Golden Eagle exited Wujin. For another point of reference, RT Mart shares the same premises. Eco is on the upper most floor and in the Spade Street thematic area. But enough of that. Was the salad any good?

Apart from the weird name, yes. The only thing remotely Italian here may have been the rotini pasta noodles and the dressing. The rest was a mix of greens, tomatoes, and corn. Oh, and there was the duck meat. It was served tender and cold, which suited the salad nicely. The more important question would be: would I order it again? Yes, I would.

Places like this are important for Hutang. There are not a lot of options in the area beyond Jagerwirt, Kaffa, and others. This is often something that people in Xinbei take for granted. I know this because of having lived in Wujin for two years. So, whenever a new place like this opens, it feels like a major event. Try the place out. The ingredients are fresh and low in sodium. The menu has pictures and is in English. The manager also has excellent English skills.

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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.

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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Jagerwirt’s Lamb Special

American holiday traditions can change from family to family; that’s just part of living in a multicultural society. After all, each family has a unique set of ancestors hailing from multiple countries. While growing up, Easter dinner for me, for example, was a hodgepodge of Italian-American dishes, and curiously enough, roasted lamb.  It was one of the only times of the year my mom ever prepared it.

I don’t know if I was thinking about this or not while eating at Jagerwirt in Wujin, recently. I was out at that German restuarant with a friend to celebrate Easter. I puzzled over the menu for a moment and than for some reason impulsively went for the daily special: lamb chops with mashed potatoes and a few grilled veggies.

It was easily the best lamb I’ve eaten in Changzhou. When cooked wrong, lamb can be greasy and chewy. This was tender and easy to cut with a knife. The sauce went well with the mashed potatoes, but you can say this dish skimped a little on the vegetables.  However, This just another example that I’ve seldom had a lackluster meal at Jagerwirt.

I wish the could say the same for other people. As for my friend’s dinner, I have to say Jagerwirt is not exactly vegetarian friendly. For the price on the menu, their mixed vegetable salad struck me as a bit small and lacking. I love how Jagerwirt is the one of the only places that you can get an actual baked potato, but once you strip off the sour cream and chives they can some times taste a little dry — as if prepared a little too far in advanced.

Hutang’s Historical Musuem

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Changzhou is made up of districts, and those districts are made up of separate towns and districts.  Xuejia, for example, is a part of Xinbei separate from where you might find Wanda Plaza, expat bars, and foreign restaurants. People often say you see a lot of foreign faces in Xinbei, but that’s only in a small part of the district as a whole. Foreign faces in Xuejia is much more rare.

In Wujin, much the same can be said. In reality, Wujin is Changzhou’s largest district.  Hutang Township is the central part — the downtown.  The district governmental buildings are there, as are the colleges and much of the swanky places to shop. While important, there is much more to Wujin than just Hutang.

Still, the township has it’s own, unique history, and it has been preserved. The Hutang Musuem is a small, privately operated, not for profit historical attraction in Changzhou’s Wujin District. It takes it’s name directly from the township it can be found in. The museum displays mostly cultural relics in lit glass cases. This includes both carvings and pieces of jade. Relatively small in size, the facility is divided into two levels. The museum is located within the New Town development that can be found between Wuyi Road and Huayuan Street. The museum as on the second floor of a strip mall development and can be found after climbing an outdoor set of stairs. A nearby BRT station services the north-to-south running B1 and B16 lines.

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Who is Who in Wujin History

Changzhou founding father Ji Zha at Wujin Who's Who Museum
Changzhou founding father Ji Zha at Wujin Who’s Who Museum. Also the guy in Real Changzhou’s Header image!

Sometimes, museums can lack personality. Yes, you can get a sense of history from them, but sometimes it can feel that you’re just looking at a bunch of old stuff that doesn’t have a lot humanity connected to it. If you walk into the Wujin Museum or the Hutang Museum, you certainly get this. Essentially, you’re just looking at old ceramics and bits of sharpened metal. Do not misunderstand me; all historical relics deserve to be not only be protected, but put on public display. This teaches and celebrates history, but as stated earlier, museums can just feel like impersonal spaces filled with lit glass cases.

IMG_20151021_142740The Wujin Who’s Who Museum (武进名人馆) lacks this impersonal atmosphere. Then again, you really can’t call it a museum, either. It’s more of a history-inspired art installation or exhibit. A visitor will not find a lot of relics here. They will, however, see a lot of statues surrounded by colorful displays depicting the nature of an individual life. These displays also feature explanatory text in both Chinese and English. This makes the Wujin Who’s Who Museum extremely foreigner friendly. It mirrors the intent and mission of the place: to convey Wujin’s unique cultural heritage to both visitors and locals. To this end, there is no admission fee.

So, who will a visitor learn about, should they visit? The first display is devoted to Ji Zha, who is the cultural founding father of Changzhou in general. Both a scholar and a warrior, Ji Zha lived during the Spring and Autumn era of Chinese history. That’s roughly 2500 or so years ago. The nation of China had not totally coalesced yet, and the greater Changzhou area was once part of the Wu Kingdom. Ji Zha’s humility is a well remembered part of his legacy. He shunned power rather seeking it out. This exhibit is hardly the only place a visitor will find Ji Zha in Changzhou. He’s mentioned in the Changzhou Museum. There is a statue of him in Renmin Park downtown, as well a commemorative arch in Hongmei Park – also downtown.

Zhao Yuanren aka Yuen Ren Chao at Wujin's Who's Who Musuem
Zhao Yuanren aka Yuen Ren Chao at Wujin’s Who’s Who Musuem

He is not the only historical figure to cross districts in Changzhou. The Wujin’s Who’s Who Museum also celebrates Qu Quibai, an important figure in the early history of the Chinese Communist Party. His former residence is preserved and open to visitors, but that’s in the Zhonglou part of downtown. Another part of the museum showcases a bust of Zhao Yuanren (English name Yuen Ren Chao). He was a famous linguist who immigrated to the America, became a naturalized U.S. citizen, and taught at Harvard University.  Zhao was one of the first Chinese scholars who helped shape an English-reading audience’s understanding of Chinese language, dialects, and culture. He, for example, coined “stir fry” to explain what happens to both meat and vegetable once it enters a hot wok. The museum notes that he was born in Wujin, but his former residence can actually be found in Tianning. Other examples could be cited, but why explain everything?

Though, one interesting thing remains. The late Ming and early Qing Dynasty painter Yun Nantian (aka Yun Shouping) has space devoted to him. Unlike the other cultural figures on display, he does not have a statue dedicated to him. A visitor instead sees examples of his art and calligraphy behind protective glass. This is one of the rare exceptions to the “this is not about relics” rule stated earlier. It’s particularly interesting, to this writer at least, because the two other Wujin sites associated with Yun Nantian are seemingly closed to the public. His former residence is relatively hard to find and delapidated, as is his well-maintained grave – which is actually in the middle of Wujin farmland and can only be traveled to over rough, narrow concrete pathways. As stated, a laundry list of culturally important people could be described here, but that defeats the purpose. Go visit this place and connect the dots for yourself!

The Wujin Who’s Who Museum is located in Yancheng. This is the area also home to the Wujin Museum, a zoo, an amusement park, and much more. Specifically, it’s inside a recreation of on old Chinese barrier wall with a gate.  Once passing through the central arch, a visitor will find the exhibit’s entrance with signage in both English and Chinese. The B1, B15, and B16 share a mid-road stations near  the Yancheng historical sight / amusement park, and there is also a bus hub for several non-BRT lines.

NOTE: This is an older post cross posted from my personal blog.