Tag Archives: China

Strolling Qianguo Lane

红星桥 aka Red Apricot Bridge

Somethings in Changzhou are hidden in plain sight, and this definitely the case for Qianguo Lane 千果巷. It’s right next to Nandajie, which is the busiest area in the city center. Even more so, it runs parallel to the bar street where all the dance clubs are located. A Walmart, a Starbucks, and a McDonald’s are also across the street. I happened upon this because I was at Micky D’s, saw how crowded the place was, and got my Big Mac as take out. I walked across the street thinking I sit on a park bench and eat my lunch.

The hamburger was, of course, unsatisfying, as McDonald’s usually tends to be. Afterwards, I went for a walk. There is a small canal here that’s an offshoot of the famous Grand Canal 京杭大运河 — which runs from Beijing to Hangzhou, and it basically cuts through Changzhou’s downtown.

There are two bridges here in the ancient style. In looking at them, I noticed historical markers. Quickly, I snapped photos of them and sent them to a Chinese friend. Thankfully, he read them, summarized them for me. During the Ming Dynasty, an official named Hu Ying built a house on a wharf. Another bridge inspired a Tang Dynasty era
poem, which is written on the marker itself.

In this small area, there are three walking routes to be had. Two are on both canal sides. Another is a narrow, subtly winding  foot path. This is the one closest to the bar street. that makes up the southern edge of the Landmark Mall in the greater Nandajie area. Here, you can find a few benches like where I ate my lunch. You can also find bamboo and the large, weathered, water-eroded rocks that seem popular in this region as public sculptures.

Nandajie — the road itself —  cuts this area in half. Once you cross the street, this small canal area continues on for a bit. There is large rock here with 千果巷 in the ancient, reversed reading order of 巷果千. The rock itself, my Chinese friend reported, also has a blurb about a cannon crafted during the Ming Dynasty.

Something more curious caught my attention behind this rock. There stones with symbols on them that I couldn’t understand. Since my friend was so generous with his help, I didn’t want to pester him anymore. So, I took to Wechat and posted photos. My thoughts, possibly, were that these were some sort of old, oracle bone Chinese characters. I was dead wrong.

Warring States Era Currency

A host of Chinese friends, via social media, nearly immediately informed me that these are representations of ancient money. Before unifying into one nation, China used to be seven kingdoms. Six of them eventually went down to defeat, as the Qin consolidated everything and everyone into an empire.  Each of these seven states had their own form of currency that cam in irregular shapes. I should have expected this because the more familiar, round ancient coin design were placed in the ground amidst polished and black river stones.

Thousands of years later, and it seems fitting, given its location. Nandajie is the commercial center of the city. There are a lot of shops, boutiques, restaurants, and more here. A lot of money is spent here, and these carvings are a subtle reminder of that.

Jintan’s Genius

In the memorial hall at Yuchi Park.

If humankind ever receives a signal from an alien species, that signal would likely be in something like prime numbers or an equation of some sort. This is something that scientists often argue, especially the ones at SETI.  Math, it has been said, is the only universal language. While true, it’s also one of a many clever ways math nerds can argue the importance of the their academic field. As for me, simple arithmetic can be agonizingly frustrating. I have trouble with numbers when I don’t have a calculator nearby. Even then, I’m still pretty stupid. I realized this because, well, mathematics from a humanities perspective is still fascinating. Recently, I was confronted with this while trying to figure out a prominent figure in Jintan’s history.

Huo Luogeng hailed from Changzhou’s Jintan district. He made significant contributions to number theory, but trying to figure out what “number theory” actually is made my head spin. Eventually, I gave up and just started doing Google searches on SETI’s hunt for aliens, instead. Once I regained courage to look at math theories again, I found myself distracted more by Huo Luogeng’s biography. Again, this would be looking at academic field from a humanities perspective.

The statue in a park named in Hua Luogeng’s honor.

Huo was born in Jintan in 1910. Like most prodigies, he excelled early and was nurtured by a teacher. He then went on to teach himself math and the corresponding advanced theories. The word for this type of person is “autodidact.” Huo was an autodidact. Most of these people, in my reading and studies, have been writers. The famous American playwright Arthur Miller, for example, had no formal training or college education. Same with Huo. He never got a PHD in mathematics, but he went on to make significant contributions.

Think about that. He never got a doctorate. And he ended teaching at Tsinghua University in Bejing. That’s China’s Ivy League. Speaking of that, he also taught at Princeton in the USA. And Cambridge in the UK. Over his career, he was lauded with many honorary degrees, but he never really earned a real one. Eventually, he died from a heart attack after finishing a lecture in Japan.

Jintan remembers this man well. There is a park named after him in the district’s center. There, you can find a statue of him sitting and holding a mug of some hot beverage. This is Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园, and it’s not that far from the district’s intercity coach station. And, by the way, it takes an hour to get there from Changzhou’s downtown station on an express bus.

Much farther away, you can find a memorial hall in his honor. Its in a different place altogether —  Yuchi Park愚池公园. In theory, you can walk there from the bus station, but its a long distance and a taxi would be much easier.

Cruising Daming North

Daming North Road

There are essentially three Changzhous, if you are not considering districts: developed, developing, and undeveloped.  The greater Wanda area of Xinbei could be considered developed; the same could be said for the city center. Parts of Wujin are developing rapidly, as construction continues nearly around the clock. And then, there are parts of the city that would look alien to most foreigners familiar with Changzhou.  These would be the villages and townships far away from the cosmopolitan centers.

Daming North Road 大明北路,is one of those far flung destinations. There really is no reason to go there, unless you are like me and have an unending bit of curiosity and an ebike.  It’s in Wujin’s eastern arm.  In short, it’s far from Hutang and closer to Xinbei and Jiangyin — one of Wuxi’s satellite cites.

A big black dog barked a lot at me while I took this picture. Apparently, it’s a mausoleum.

The road is mainly comprised of rough slabs of concrete that is badly broken up in some places. I went there on a day where I had nothing to do, and my classes were largely at night. Getting there, I passed a Buddhist temple, but not the type tourists would frequent. The door was locked, I also passed something interesting, but couldn’t figure out what it was. So, I posted a picture on Wechat, and my Chinese friends pointed out that it was a mausoleum.

In my time cruising around Changzhou, this fits a certain pattern. Places associated with death are often located in out of the way locales. The cultural attitudes regarding cemeteries are quite different. In America, taking a cemetery walk is quite normal. When I asked a Chinese colleague about this, the response was a bit puzzled. People would think its weird and would ask why you were there if you didn’t know anybody interred there.

Another thing I saw quite often were open spaces filled with concrete tables set in rows. This, I really couldn’t figure out. Part of me thought it was maybe for roadside markets. Or giving the agriculture of the area, a place to process crops after harvesting. If not for farming, then it would be definitely some sort of work site.

Still don’t know what this is.

Bellahaus’ Best and Worst

In the Beidajie Parksons.

Bellahaus, by far, is my favorite western restaurant in downtown Changzhou. It’s in the nearly empty mall Parksons built and then abandoned. This is on Beidajie, which is esentially Nandajie once the street crosses Yanling. So, when you are downtown, it is super easy to walk to. Typically, you might find me here on Saturday having lunch.

That being said, I feel the need to point out the worst thing there that I had. And if the owners or the chefs end up reading this, I am not being mean; this is constructive criticism. I once had a

Too much goat cheese.

terrible goat cheese salad here. By terrible, it was nearly all goat cheese and nearly no vegetables. There was nearly two slices of tomato, some cashews and walnuts, and a lot of sweet goat cheese slightly drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It felt like I was eating a desert, not a health conscious salad. A good friend of mine had this many months ago and recommended it. My guess was her salad was prepared differently and didn’t have goat cheese scooped onto lettuce as if it were ice cream.

Even though I hated that dish, i still standby my firm recommendation of the restaurant as a whole.  For example, the “cordon rouge” is something I eat there all the time. Think of it as a cordon blue dish, but substitute pork for the chicken. Yes, that means you get a breaded pork cutlet stuffed with bacon and cheese. There are usually sliced mushrooms in there too. It’s a simple, filling dish that is worth the money.

Yum!

Cruising in Xinlong Ecological Forest

Once you pass the Global Harbor mall on Tongiang Road, there doesn’t seem much. Sure, you will eventually pass the Trina International School but scenery changes to either construction, factories, or open landscape.  It’s a reminder that the greater Wanda area serves as Xinbei’s downtown, but there is so much else to Xinbei than just bars and restaurants.

Take Xinlong Ecological Forest 新龙生态林, for example. It’s on Tongiang if you are heading north and towards the industrial port on the Yangtze River.  The place is huge, as it straddles both sides of Tongjiang Road, and bridges connect it over a river and an additional road. It’s also filled with a variety of plants from white dandelions to banboo, pine trees, and more. There are plenty of places to sit near the water and soak in the scenery. In a way, this place is the antithesis of Wanda Plaze, honking cars, and pollution belching BRT buses. It’s actually quiet, too.

The park is also filled with winding concrete roads.  It’s an ideal place to go for a bike ride, too — eBike or the traditional pedal-driven variety. These small pathways fork and diverge so many times that you can vary your routes on return visits. There are also small hills and bridges here if you are biking for a workout.The one bad thing, however, is that cars are allowed into the forest and onto these roads, so you still have to be careful and keep an eye out.

Wujin Has Arms!

Wujin looks like an amoeba! It’s getting its psuedopods around Tianning, Zhonglou, and Xinbei! Nobody is safe! It already ate Qishuyan!

It’s actually wrong to think of Wujin as Changzhou’s southern district. True, a good bit of it is in the south of the city, but if you look at a map, district lines have Wujin surrounding much much of the city. For instance, you can stand in Xinbei, drive west, and find yourself in Wujin. The same will happen in you drive east. So, if you’re trying to describe Changzhou to somebody, you have to be specific when you are talking about Wujin. I have devised my own

system for the two northern parts: the “west arm” and the “east

arm.” In the USA, such map irregularities

are called “panhandles.” Because, well, they are shaped like panhandles.  For non-native speakers, the metaphorical use of the word might be difficult — hence my “arm” preference.

For a little added perspective, the blue dot in both Baidu Maps screenshots is me. I am at my computer in my apartment at Hohai University. This is on Hehai Road. Xinbei Wanda Plaza is in walking distance. Dinosaur Park is four kilometers away.  Downtown is about 20 minutes away when I am doing 60 kph on my eBike.

Xinbei’s district lines

Last Resort Breakfast Eggs

When you are travelling, and you don’t know Chinese food all that well, there is one place you can always count on in an emergency: Pizza Hut. To be honest, the place is way over priced, and the quality of the food isn’t all that great. However, here is a scary thought: Pizza Hut in China is actually better than Pizza Hut back in America.  One of the only selling points is the convenience. In this part of China, Pizza Huts are nearly everywhere.

The other thing is breakfast. Pizza Hut is one of the places where you can get western style eggs, including omelettes and bacon.   Sure, diners back in Jersey do this much, much better. But this obviously isn’t New Jersey, and thank the lord for that. If you are in Xinbei, it might be better to check into OK Koala first — especially if it’s a Sunday morning. 

Tianning’s Stations of Guanyin

IMG_7505[1]When you are a Catholic, “The Stations of the Cross” are immensely important. It’s not the same for other Christians — especially American Protestant Evangelicals.  For Roman Catholics, it’s part of the decor of every church. It’s either the art of in all of the stained glass windows, or it’s a series of paintings and bass relief sculptures. So, you may ask, what are these “Stations?” It’s a series pictures of Jesus Christ being put to death and being nailed to planks of wood.  The more exact term is “crucifixion.”
Every Easter, Catholics recreate this scene as a religious drama and watchable spectacle, but the artistic depictions are there in Church throughout the year. The idea is to visit every moment of Christ’s
death for a moment of prayer. For the sake of clarity, let me emphatically say I am not a Christian. My reasoning is intensely personal, and I will not offend people by getting into it here. The subject is also actually a little touchy between me and my father. You see, I was raised in Catholicism. I then walked away from that faith very early in my adulthood.

Yet, prior religions follow you the rest of your life, even when you don’t want them to. I am not being cynical, either. For as much as I am not a Catholic, Roman Catholicism has still shaped the some of the ways I think. It’s just who I am.  I thought about this a lot, IMG_7473[1]recently, when confronted with some Buddhist imagery in Changzhou‘s Tianning Temple.

It’s part of Hongmei Park in a district the bares its name.  The chief attraction there is the pagoda.  One day, however, I visited the temple to just as a way to kill time. It was Easter Sunday, and I was meeting a close friend for dinner in Wujin. Only, she had a lot of grading to do before becoming available.  Tianning Temple has two ticket prices, and since I wasn’t interested in going into the Pagoda, I opted for the cheaper 20 RMB fare.

In one corner of the temple grounds, there is a garden filled with Guanyin Sculptures. Guanyin is a often considered a goddess of
mercy. She’s a Bodhisattva in Buddhism, and as is the case with the Chinese variety of that faith, she’s shared with other religions. In
Taoism and folk religion, she is considered a mercy goddess. Some have even drawn parallels with the Virgin Mary.

And so that brings me to the Stations of the Cross analogy. As I walked around, I stopped at each of the dozens of Guanyin sculptures. Most of them feature her reclining or sitting. Some have her with dragons, and other with birds with ornate plumage.  Incense sticks burn at each statue. At many of the sculptures, people have left coins or other mementos.  It wasn’t the statues themselves that reminded me of the Stations of the Cross. It were the people who came here to pray. Many stopped at each and every statue to be mindful in thought. So, the stories are drastically different, but the method of worship is very similar.IMG_7477[1]

Way To Delicious 味和氏

The store near Changzhou’s Dinosaur Park

“If you can’t find it at Metro, you probably will not find it in Changzhou.”

I used to say these words all the time, but lately I realized how fundamentally I was wrong. On the surface, it seems logical and plausible. Some supermarkets carry items that others do not. For example, I routinely can’t find German pickled red cabbage at Metro, but it’s on the import shelf at the Xinbei Wanda Walmart. Metro basically has most of what a westerner may want an need, but often items show up in other places all the time. Yet, that superstore is only convenient if you live in Xinbei or near the nothern end of Changzhou. Wujin is set to get its own sometime this year, and that will be in the Coco City shopping center near Injoy Mall. Coco City is still under construction.

Snapple!

I recently discovered this at a small import shop / supermarket called Way To Delicious 味和氏. This is likely a chain, as Baidu maps lists several locations when you search using the Chinese name. I have only been to three. There used to be a small one in Hutang, right across the street from Tesco. However, it closed. The two others I have visited were in Xinbei. One is near Changfa Plaza and the Xinbei TV Tower and media center.  The other was closer to Indian Kitchen and Dinosaur Park.

The one thing, however, is that they don’t seem to carry the same products. For example, I found Polish plum juice at one, but no Snapple. The other had Snapple, but none of the Polish beverages. The unpredictable nature of the stocking means, well, you don’t make special trips to them. You just go there because you live or work near one, and its convenient. So, what am I judging Metro on, here? The Polish plum juice.  I know because I check the last time I went to Metro. And by the way, Way To Delicious may be out of plum juice. I bought all five last time I was there.

Tarczyn. The Polish equivalent of Snapple?

Kong Rong and Small Pears

A younger sibling gives a pear to an older sibling.

The Chinese is 孔融让梨, or in Pinyin without the proper tone markers: kong rong rang li. If you translate the characters verbatim, you get “Kong Rong yeild pear.” In the picture, you can barely make out the characters, but I sent the photo to a Chinese friend who is native to Changzhou’s Jintan District.  Turns out, many Chinese people could probably figure this out, due to how famous the expression is.

Kong Rong was both a scholar and a descendant of Confucius. His literary achievements likely outlive his acts as a minor warlord. Once, he spoke ill of Cao Cao, a Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Both Kong Rong and his entire family were executed as a result, and their corpses were left in the street  As ancient Chinese history goes, this was during the Three Kingdoms period.  The killing of the family is strangely a reminder of a different part of Chinese culture.

Family is important in The Middle Kingdom in a way it just isn’t in the west. Honoring your father and following his orders are paramount. That’s filial piety, two English words seldomly used in the USA or UK. But it even gets into sibling hierarchy.  Younger brothers are supposed to respect older brothers — the same with older sisters and younger sisters.

As legend goes, as a boy, Kong Rong would only pick up or pick small pears to eat. This would be from or around the trees near his home. Why? He felt it was his duty to leave the plumper, juicier fruit for his elder brothers. Hence, 孔融让梨, or “Kong Rong yeilds pears.”

As for this sculpture, it’s in Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. It’s one of three statues dedicated to Chinese idioms.  The park itself is in walking distance from the long-distance bus terminal.