Tag Archives: Jiangsu

Sylvia Plath and The Daddy Statue

Marble heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

big as a Frisco seal

 

and a head in the freakish Atlantic

— Sylvia Plath

Plath’s work as a poet has always struck me. There is usually a knack for a surreal turn of a phrase. The above lines come from “Daddy,” where a the language — the rhymes and the melody of the words — sounds childish. The content, however, is more a grown woman’s voice contemplating killing her father. Or, in some aspects, wanting to kill the memory of her father.  Brutal themes like this carry mostly all the way through her collection Ariel.

I used to think of this poem, not because I have daddy issues like Plath’s, but more because of a sculpture that used to be in Downtown Changzhou. It used to be the Future City shopping center next door to the Injoy Mall. A year and a half ago, Future City used to be empty, desolate. None of the shops were leased. There were just statues of a fat dude playing golf. Turns out, the area wasn’t a ghostly bit of real estate. The area was still being developed. The shops there have been slowly filling in. As shopkeepers moved in, the statue I used to like to look at vanished.

It was of a nude woman playing a flute.  On her pedestal, she sat semi-cross legged. However, one leg dangled over the side of the pedestal. Surrealistically, the leg became longer and fatter. Her foot always sparked the memories of reading “Daddy.”  Sure, the foot had more than one toe, but it always reminded me of the “Ghastly statue” line.  Overtime, I used to imagine that this was the speaker, the woman in poem. She was playing beautiful sounding music, but she was still deformed. And that’s how I would describe most of Plath’s work. Beautiful, but deformed.

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Lamian Stretched Noodles

IMG_20160217_122347Navigating Chinese food can be difficult at first. There is the whole “picture menu” versus “no picture menu” issue to deal with. But as one learns to read Chinese, things eventually become easier. For instance, mala tang involves no menu at all. There are other food options to consider if you are new to a city.

Lanzhou 兰州 noodle shops are pretty much universal in China and in Changzhou. It’s a form of quick food that is easy to find, partly because it’s very popular with Chinese people. It’s also a type of Halal eating, or what some people call “Chinese Muslim Food.” Simply, Chinese dishes that follows Islamic culinary law. The chief thing, of course, is the religious ban against pork as “unclean.” Lanzhou cuisine also prominently features beef or mutton.

Of the many menu options, Lamian 拉面 is the easiest to find. The noodles involved have been rigorously pulled and stretched. If you see a chef twirling and twirling dough, he or she is likely making this style of noodle. The dish itself is fairly simple: noodles, meat, and broth. It can be a little spicy, but it also depends on the establishment and the cook. Some are spicier than others.

There are two ways to adventure into these noodle shops. First, you can ask a Chinese friend to take you or recommend a place. If you are by yourself, glance into the restaurant and take a head count. If it’s busy, the food is likely well prepared and probably wont give you food poisoning. If the joint seems perpetually empty, then skip it by all means.

Buying a Digital Watch on Youdian Road

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One of many mobile phone markets on Youdian Road 邮电路 downtown.

Sometimes, I have daydreams of being a swaggering space commander. I might be on a planet of rampaging lava monsters with only a squirt gun when what I really need is a firetruck hose.  Or, I can be stranded in a small shuttle; life and life support systems would flicker as I circle the event horizon of a black hole. Seconds could be counting down before the singularity and it’s gravity stretches me into an infinite noodle. At those moments, I would raise my wrist to my lips, press a button on my watch, and say “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Yes, that’s a Star Trek quote, and yes, both my mind and my daydreams can get that silly. That absurdity, though, led me to buying a digital watch six months ago.  I was extremely curious about being able being able to text and make phone calls by having a device attached to my wrist. It all sounded like something you could read about in a vintage sci-fi novel. Turns out, real life is nothing like that.

As for the watch, I found one while browsing the downtown Changzhou’s mobile phone markets. This is Youdian Road 邮电路near Injoy Mall, a BRT stop, and the statue of a woman riding a horse. The road has a number of retail spaces filled with people sitting behind glass cases and kiosks. All three of my Huawei phones were purchased here — with the aid of Chinese friends who could haggle on my behalf. These markets are where people should by their new phones — not at expensive and over-priced foreign department stores like Walmart or Metro.

Digital Watch Pic
Digital Watch Pic

As for the no-brand name digital watch, I got what I paid 200 RMB for. I could make and receive calls from it, but I still had to have my main phone with me at all times. The watch had to linked to the mobile through a Bluetooth. In theory, I could get text and WeChat messages though it, but the interface screen was so small  that epic typos were inevitable. It also had a camera, and that sounds all James Bond and spy-tastic, but the camera was awkward to use. It involved twisting my wrist at odd angles.  Plus, the eventual photos were too grainy and low-res.

In the end, the watch became nothing more than a conversation topic, and the novelty of that wore off rather quickly. As for the black hole, I am not circling it. The rampaging lava monsters are a figment of my imagination, and I am no swaggering space commander.  I am just a college English teacher with a blog. The digital watch is in a drawer, and haven’t worn it in six months.

 

Lost in Luoxi

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An moated park closed to the curious.

Changzhou’s airport is located in a far flung part of western Xinbei. Today, I got it into my head to actually ride there on my bike — I have never been there before.  All of my airline travel has been through Pudong International in Shanghai. Funny thing, though. I never made it to the airport. As always in life, I got sidetracked.

In this case, it was in Luoxi. Once you leave the downtown  / Wanda area of Xinbei going west on Huanghe Road, you pass a number of factories. The first township you will pass through would Xuejia. A colleague of mine lives there.  If you keep going, you will pass more factories and open space. Eventually, the next township would be Luoxi 罗溪镇, and that’s near Changzhou’s airport.

In trying to get there, I had been riding for an hour and half on low speed. Still, I was getting concerned about the state of my battery. I really don’t know my true limitations on this bike, yet. So, I resolved to stop at the first thing that looked interesting.  In this case, “interesting” ended up being a little “desolate.”

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Uprooted trees needing to be replanted.

It was a cluster of places, actually. One of them was called Tibetan Spring Garden 藏春园.  It’s actually hard to figure out whether it’s abandoned or under construction.  I did see construction workers smoothing out concrete as well as other development. But there were facilities here that looked older, and most of them were locked.

For example, there was an island park with a moat around it. These moats also came with gazebos with places to sit and gaze at the — well, frankly — murky water. Some of those gazebos were topped with slightly rusted sculptures of birds. Each bridge to the island remained locked.  There were other places too, like a series of sculptures of important men. A long, winding concrete drainage-ditch looking canal had attracted the attention of one guy and his fishing pole. I had to wonder what he was fishing for. I imagined it had to be carp. They can live in very dirty water, after all.

The desolation carried on with other strange details. Here, I saw dismembered, chainsawed trees that had been uprooted and relocated from other parts of Changzhou. They were just trunks and truncated branches with no hint of  green. I also saw lots of divots in the ground where trees used to be. These were filled with rainwater and floating brown leaves.  Some trees were laying on their sides, with their roots bundled but exposed. They looked placed there for replanting, but nobody had gotten around to it yet.

Yet, you do see people here. Like me, people were riding bikes. Not many, but you did see locals walking around as if this were a public park. My colleague from Xuejia provided a bit of insight. She told me she originally came from this part of Changzhou, from Louxi. “There was a restaurant there. I don’t know if it moved away.” As for me, I didn’t know whether I saw deterioration or rejuvenation. Someday, I will go back and see.

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At least one person thinks this is a good fishing spot.

Cao Zhongzhi and Charitable Wheelchairs

The story of Cao Zhongzhi engraved in stone. You also can see my new conversation buddy’s reflection.

When you are a foriegner in Changzhou, you sometimes get stopped by curious Chinese people who want to practice their English.  Usually, I will oblige for a short and polite conversation.  Depending on what I am doing, I might try to turn this into a “win-win” situation. If I am out looking for things to blog about, I will rather craftily ask them to translate something for me. This was the case a few weeks ago.

I was at Tianning Temple in Hongmei Park. At the time, I was looking at Guanyin “goddess of mercy” statues. A middle schooler stopped me, and after the standard “Do you like Chinese food” questions, I pointed at a nearby gazebo. Inside, a figure of a man pushing a wheelchair “Can you tell me who that is?” He struggled a bit.

“Famous man with big heart,” was all my new friend could manage. “I don’t how else to say in English.”

“Can you write his name for me?” I handed him my phone.  He typed out 曹仲植 Cao Zhongzhi into my dictionary. I saved it for later research.

Turns out, Cao was a famous philanthropist. While originally hailing from Changzhou, he moved to Taiwan. Once, while returning to visit family in 1969, he saw a disabled man and became moved by his situation. So, he set up a charity that donated wheelchairs to the needy.

Once I read the story — badly machine translated from Chinese by Google, of course — the location of the his marker made a lot of sense. In both Buddhism and Taoism, Guanyin is considered a figure of mercy and compassion. To a lot of disabled people in China, Cao Zhongzhi was a humanitarian who embodied those qualities.  It is fitting to to draw this juxtaposition by placing him in a garden dedicated in Guanyin’s honor.

Jintan’s Golden Altar

A man ponders rapeseed.
A man ponders rapeseed.

You know spring has arrived not by the blooms of flowers, but the sight of Chinese people standing on the side of the road. They will either be taking extreme close up shots of flowers or selfies with them. Many times, it will be both.  To say China has a passion for flowers would be an understatement. Each type and color has special meaning. Peach blossoms, a Chinese friend told me, are culturally — much the same way cherry trees and their blossoms are viewed in Japan. In Taoism, a peach is often the symbol of immortality.

The most curious, however, to me is rapeseed. In spring, this plant seems to be everywhere in Changzhou.  If you’re cruising through a rural area, you are bound to see, bright, fragrant expanses of yellow. The importance of this plant seems more economic than cultural.  To put it plainly, rapeseed is a cash crop in China. It’s edible, as  it can be turned into a cooking oil. The Chinese government even had a strategic reserve of it as oil at one point. It can also be converted into a biodiesel fuel. Sometimes, I don’t think the spread of this plant is entirely natural selection. It’s cultivated.

Something about the plant also seems slightly otherworldly. It certainly seems that way in Jintan’s Nanzhou Park 南洲公园. There, you can find many of the amenities available in a standard, big Chinese city park. Amusements and rides for children, for example.  There is also a sea of rapeseed, and the yellowness around you can sometimes be overwhelming. When it comes to flowers, the only time I felt an onslaught of bright color was looking at tulips in Keukenhof, The Netherlands.  As for Jintan, this is more towards the western end of Nanzhou Park. Technically, you could walk there from the express coach station, but it’s a very, very long walk. It’s best to just pay for a taxi. And cabs are cheaper in Jintan then they are in other parts of Changzhou.

Coming here also made me think of Jintan itself — once as a city and now as Changzhou’s most western district. The name in Chinese is 金坛, which is literally “gold” and “altar.”  If you smooth out the translation to make it sound nice, it could be “Golden Altar.” For sometime, I pondered how this area got its name. I figured it was something religious — maybe there was a temple nearby. And maybe it had a big altar made of gold! And it is ornate! With fat, laughing Buddha’s toting cloth sacks! That’s just silly thinking right there.  Of course, when your Chinese reading skills are quite limited, finding an answer on the internet is much harder. So, I took the easy way out. I made up my own answer. Maybe vast fields of rapeseed ARE the golden altar?

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Rapeseed with one of Jintan’s pagoda’s in the distance.

Zhang Tailei and the Guangzhou Uprising

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Detail from a painting inside the Zhang Tailei Memorial Hall

In France, radical socialists and working class activists took over the Parisian government for a few months. They refused to cede the city back to the French government. Brutal suppress followed, and what is often considered the first attempt at a communist government failed. This was The Paris Commune, and it happened back in 1871, These events greatly shaped the direction of Communism as an ideology. Karl Marx even wrote a book about it.

Sometimes there is a parallel drawn between this and event in Chinese history.  In 1927, the Red Guard seized control of the Guangzhou government. Back then, it bore the English moniker

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A bust of Zhang Tailei

Canton.  At the time, both Guangzhou and Hong Kong also had an international presence. The coup didn’t last long. Days after Communists took power on December 11, the Red Guard got militarily routed. The leader, Zhang Tailei, was ambushed and killed. This event went on to spur other uprisings across China. Some have called the events in Guangzhou “The Paris Commune of the East.” In a way, that has a patronizing western-centrist ring to it. Still, one can’t deny the similarities.

That’s well and fine, some might think — but what does any of this have to do with Changzhou? Zhang came from Changzhou. His former home, The Zhang Tailei Memorial Hall 张太雷故居 is now a preserved as a small museum in Tianning. There, you can a few modest rooms that are preserved to look as they would have nearly a 100 years ago. A small display space is next to the modest dwelling. Most of it is in Chinese, but there is a long introductory paragraph in English explaining the Guangzhou uprising and who Zhang was.

This preserved historical space is relatively easy to find.  The Number 2 bus passes it. It is also right across the street from Qingliang Temple. Computer City and Wandu Plaza are also nearby.

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Chocolate’s Cheesy Steak

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When I want German food, I’ll go to Jagerwirt, and when I want a steak, I’ll go to Chocolate’s.

I used to say this all the time when I lived in Wujin. It might seem strange, because both German restaurants are run by the same people. While both share the same high quality of food, there really is a difference between the two places. Jagerwirt has a longer menu with more options. Chocolate’s menu is more concise, and it strikes one more as a general bar and grill. There seems to be less “German” at Chocolates and that is not necessarily a criticism.

I usually ordered the same thing each time I visited. It was called “New Zealand” steak. Whether it’s authentically Kiwi or not is another question.  It is, however, very good.  Essentially, it’s a thick cut covered in cheese and served with gravy and potato wedges.  The beef itself is of high quality and cooked well enough to be tender to the cut, and priced extremely reasonably when compared to steaks in other Changzhou restaurants. This was usually my go-to item on their menu.

Chocolate’s is located near Yancheng historical area, the Wujin Musuem, and the Spring and Autumn amusement park. If going by bus, the B1 is the easiest. It;s basically in the same row of eateries where Wujin’s Monkey King Italian Restaurant can be found.  Getting there requires passing under three metal dragons that arch over the road.

Trina and Xinbei’s Blue Men

IMG_20160415_111913In Changzhou, “Trina” is a name often associated with Xinbei. One of the major schools expats send their children bares this moniker. It’s also at the center of a huge scandal, as the school was allegedly built on toxic and polluted land — as reported by China Daily. The name Trina, however, is not exclusive to the school. You see it in a few places once you are north of Global Harbour Mall on Tongjiang Road. It’s because it’s the name of a major industry in Changzhou and around the world.  Trina Solar is a player in the global international green energy sector. It develops and manufactures solar power components, and it’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s that big of an industrial deal.

The name is also associated with Trina Photovoltaic Industrial Park 天合光伏产业园 on Tongjiang Road. It’s a little south of Xinlong Ecological Forest.  Like that nature preserve, there a plenty of concrete paths to ride bikes. Although, parts of Xinlong are more lovely to look at. Since this is a wide open space, you can see people flying kites here on windy days. The park itself dates back to April, 2008, and it is in a place the municipal government zoned as a “high tech industrial area.”

The strangest thing, however, is the monument here.  It made me think of the Blue Man Group in America. For those who do not know, this is a performance art / musical troupe. They often play outlandish, weird, and alien looking instruments. Oh, and each member is completely painted blue.  It the park’s center, there are a group of unisex blue figures standing in a circle. They are holding up a globe of planet earth. When looking at this, I got to thinking that the association was purely coincidental. However, the outlandishness of both are too hard not to notice.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

Finding Deals at Jiuzhou Digital Plaza

The digital plaza downtown. Do no confuse this with “Computer City.”

When I lived in Wujin’s College Town, I once realized I was paying too much for computer hardware and digital devices. How? I would always buy stuff like external hard drives at Hutang’s RT Mart.  Sure, buying stuff there is convenient, but that convenience comes with a mark up. Other places in Changzhou stock tech devices for a lower price tag.  I am talking about the computer city and the digital plaza.

成龙 aka Jackie Chan shills for Canon at my go-to kiosk.

The two are close to each other. One mostly just sells computer and their internal parts. This would be a four story shopping center near the new Wandu Mall on Heping Road. It’s easy to spot, because it has a big black orb prominent in its ground-floor architecture. I have bought  two laptops and an Asus tablet here. The other is a big, orange building. This also has like three to four floors.

The only difference is that computer city features shops and storefronts, and the Jiuzhou Digital Plaza 九洲数码城 has open-space floors with vendors behind glass display cases. Typically, I have come here for SD cards, memory cards for a high-end Canon camera, and external hard drives. I have also bought camera filters and a zoom lens here.

As for any market situation in Changzhou, if you are buying something extremely expensive, you should always bring a good Chinese friend with you. They have a talent for haggling  and verbal combat westerners and just don’t. But, for smaller things, like SD Cards, the prices are still cheaper here than RT Mart even when you don’t try to argue the cost down.

Coming here is extremely easy. The 302 bus runs from Wujin’s College Town to Xinbei’s Dinosaur Park. This stop is in the middle of that route, right before a bridge that crosses into the city center.

Open floor market space.