Tag Archives: Gardens

Unassuming Qingshan

Typically, when one mentions “half naked woman riding a dragon,” one might either thinking 1980’s heavy metal album covers or fantasy mass market paperback covers. Dungeons and dragons and role playing games might also be involved in that thought process. If you image search “half naked woman riding a dragon” on Google, you might get the following results. I sort of did.

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This is, of course, dragons in a western context.  Turns out, it can be more of cross-cultural idea in art. In Changzhou, there is a stone mural of depicting the same thing.

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In this case, the woman is holding what looks to be a shiny orb. This is likely a flaming pearl, which in some Asian cultures can be associated with spiritual energy. A lot of depictions of Eastern dragons come with some sort of pearl references. All of this is lore and mythology that, quite honestly, I need to learn more about. The above picture had me intrigued partly because it was in an unassuming park that I have passed by for years but never took the time to actually walk around in.

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The public space is Qingshan Zhuang 青山庄. It’s actually part of the ancient canal network that has been part of Changzhou for thousands of years. The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal flows into into the city and splits into what can be described as a series of offshoots, tributaries, and a moat-and-wall complex around what used to be ancient Changzhou. In the above photo, you have the characters 北塘 běi táng. This is the part of that canal network that splits off of the central city canal circular and heads north.

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A good portion of this canal is adjacent to Jinling Road, but it’s at the point where that road forks into two one way roads downtown. This is why, for example, the 302 bus route from Wujin to Xinbei is different from it’s course from Xinbei to Wujin when going south.

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Qingshan Zhuang, as a public green space, is actually split into two. There is part that straddles the Beitang Canal (where the half naked dragon rider can be found), and then there is the other part across the busy street. It’s mostly a small public space with benches.  There are also a few bits of public art here, too.

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Here we have a primate eating something oblong. Mangos are oblong. They are also quite delicious, so my personal interpretation and title would be “Monkey Eating a Mango.”

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I am not going to venture a guess as to the meaning of this.

At anyrate, Qingshan Zhuang is definitely not one of Changzhou’s major or culturally significant spaces. For many of us, it’s just something we have passed by on a bus while going someplace else.
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Chinglish Park

For some, hunting for Chinese translated very badly into English is a sport. Once you find something absurd enough, you snap a picture and post it on social media so that you and your friends can giggle about it. For others, Chinglish is just another weird aspect of day to day life in China and Changzhou specifically. For them, Chinglish just melts into the background. However, if you are the laughing type, the worst abuses of the English language can be found in Xinbei’s Central Park. You can easily kill an hour wandering around and finding WTF moments. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but sometimes I couldn’t resist and added a caption. I saved the best for last.

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I thought paradise was lost? John Milton said so! Wrote a book about it!
I thought paradise was lost? John Milton said so! Wrote a book about it!
Someone felt the need to use correction tape on this one.
Someone felt the need to use correction tape on this one.

 

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Just in case you can't read this. The last line is "You will have the multidimensionai plensure when visiting the park!" Indeed!
Just in case you can’t read this. The last line is “You will have the multidimensionai plensure when visiting the park!” Indeed! Remember, this is an introductory sign. And this is just one example of the weird nonsense this sign contains. For example, a lot of the “e”s are replaced with the letter “c.”

 

Inseminating? Coagulating! Ewwww! Get a room!
Inseminating? Coagulating? Ewwww! Get a room!

Nevermind the Signs

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It was toward the end of July, the equivalent to the ‘san-fu’ period of the lunar calendar — the hottest days of the year. In China the heat was even more oppressive than usual.

–Qian Zhongshu, from Fortress Besieged

Rather ironically, I read these lines for the first time towards the end of July, where it was so hot I didn’t want to go outside. I decided to start reading a book instead of sweating to death while looking for things to blog about. I am sure I could have possibly found something that agreed with the weather, like swimming pools to cool off in. However, I’m not a swimming pool or beach sort of guy. It’s just not in my personality to put on a bathing suit.

I may not be a water person, but I’m still curious at heart. So, I still know where few places to cool off in the summer. Many people know of the man-made beach in Zhonglou’s Qingfeng Park. This is perhaps the most easy to get to when you live in Changzhou. There is another, but it’s either a car or ebike trip. This one is also not in Changzhou, it’s in Jiangyin, which is Wuxi’s northern satellite city. The place is Huangshihu Park 璜石湖公园, and it is not far beyond the city line Jiangyin shares with Xinbei.

Satellite view of where the park should be.
Satellite view of where the park should be. Notice the lake is missing.

Large parts of the park is a work in progress. If you were to visit here, you would see large fields of dirt likely to be further ecologically developed. There are also, however, a lot of bike paths and walkways around a rather large artificial lake with a sandy beach. I say “artificial” because if you look for the place on Baidu’s maps app under “satellite view,” it simply isn’t there. Also, a temple shares the park land, but the doors have never, ever been open to the public each time I have visited.

No swimming!
No swimming!

At the moment, the main draw is the lake’s sandy beach. A lot of Chinese families frequent the place with their children. You also see couples hanging out together, but you never see sunbathers. That is a concept quite alien to most Chinese people. The biggest irony, however, are the the “no swimming” signs. There are plenty of them, and seemingly all the park patrons ignore them. Even more, there is a guy there selling flotation gear that absolutely encourages swimming.

Go swimming!
Go swimming!

For the Love of Lotus Blooms

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Besides peaches, lotuses are perhaps one of the more culturally significant plants in China. It has a particular resonance within Buddhism, and they flower can take on multiple meanings as both a symbol and a metaphor. A lotus, for example, grows out of mud and muck — and that can be taken as a sign of rising purity.

One can ponder all of this significance, or one can just enjoy looking them. Lotuses are fascinating plants, the blooms are lovely, and the seed pods sometimes look downright alien and extraterrestrial when compared to simpler flowers.

In all of Changzhou, there is one park that is especially dedicated to this flower. It’s in the northern end of Zhonglou and near the border with Xinbei. It’s called He Yuan 荷园 — which translates as “Lotus Garden.” It certainly is an appropriate name, because lotus grows very thickly here.

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The park is laid out in such a way to give visitors many different ways to view both white and red blossoms, as well as a few other plants. A large pond lays at the center, and there are many wooden walkways. Around the edges of the place, there are also twisting and secluded stone paths. These seem to be preferable on very hot days, because these walkways afford a lot of shade and benches to sit on. One of these walkways leads to a second story viewing deck that allows a visitor to get a more panoramic vista the water and greenery.

I spent about two hours, in the middle of a hot July day, trying to find the most perfect specimen to snap a picture of. Only, it didn’t take me long to learn that I wasn’t the only one doing that. He Yuan was filled with people with cameras doing exactly the same. Some were just people and their cell phones striking dynamic poses with selfie sticks. However, more serious photographers with expensive zoom lenses were also wandering around, trying to find the most perfect lotus blossom to take extreme closeups.

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It was the first time, however, I also saw this park as crowded as it was. All other times, it seemed empty and largely ignored. But, then, I realized I had first found this place at the wrong time of year. When the lotus flowers are not blooming, there really isn’t much to see except barren stretches of still water.  When winter comes, the only real suggestion as to the park’s purpose is a metallic sculpture of seed pods.

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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.

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.

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.

Yueyuan Garden

IMG_20151018_122819Changzhou is not particularly well known for private gardens. Bigger cities like Suzhou and Shanghai usually get more attention for that, and well they should. This doesn’t mean th

at Changzhou is a wasteland, either. There are some great public parks like Hongmei, Dongpo, and Jingchuan, but they are more recent creations. Many private gardens in Suzhou are also historical sites that have been around for at least two generations or more. I found such a place in downtown Changzhou, recently that dates from the Qing Dynasty. In fact, I have often passed by it since 2014 without even really knowing it was there.

Yueyuan Garden (约园) is practically right on Jinling Road, and the north-bound 302 bus passes it before crossing over Yanling Road. It’s also easy to walk to from Nandajie. If you walk south on Jinling, pass Tartine Bakery, it’s actually one of the immediate turn offs.

The garden itself is encircled by a circular road and some parking spaces and buildings belonging to Changzhou #2 People’s Hospital. The Garden has two pavilions. One sits atop gray and weathered rocks. The other is on an island in the middle of the pond. A concrete walkway with railings provides access. Besides sit – and possibly eat a takeout lunch – in peace and quiet there is not much else to do here. It is a realatively calm space where you hear the burbling of water more than Changzhou traffic.Yueyuan Garden in Tianning District, Changzhou