Tag Archives: Jiangsu

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.

My Introduction to Indian Kitchen

Located on Hanjiang Road aka 汉江路

For a year and a half, I went without Indian food. I had always heard Xinbei had a great Indian restaurant, but I lived in Wujin and I was in no mood to do hour long B1 bus rides to do anything. Then, Kaffe opened near Xintiandi Park and the Wujin TV Tower.  Kaffe sported a streamlined menu, but everything thing they offered from Tandoori chicken to paneer and more all tasted great. In truth, I never really had a bad meal there. And if you live in Wujin, you need to support this restaurant.

Times change, and now I am in Xinbei. Kaffe is now an hour away, and I live only a few blocks from Indian Kitchen.  I was wondering if the place lived up to the hype, or if it was been given a pass because it was the only Indian place in Xinbei. I can say now that the place lives up to its reputation.

Indian Potato Salad.

The time I went there, I had two dishes: mutton masala and potato salad. Mutton and lamb are easy to do do wrong; if overcooked, both can be tough and chewy — like if you were trying to eat shoe leather.  The mutton in the dish was cooked perfectly. It was very tender, and the masala sauce didn’t seem overly spicy.

The potato salad, on the otherhand, was a bit of a surprise. When I ordered it, I was sort of expecting the potato dish at Kaffe. I little bit spicy with chickpeas and veggies. This so wasn’t that. It was like eating a mayonnaise-rich American potato salad. It wasn’t a sort of taste I was expecting from Indian food. Then again, my experience with Indian food comes from eateries in New Jersey and West Virginia. It was very good, but it is something I likely will not order again. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Indian Kitchen’s menu is fairly long. The vegetarian section takes up two pages, for example. Some dishes are bound to be more exciting than others.

Indian Kitchen is located on Hanjiang Road 汉江路 near Dinosaur Park 常州恐龙园. The B12 passes it. Getting there from Wujin might be a little more difficult. That likely entails taking the 302 to Dinosaur Park and either walking a couple of blocks or taking a taxi. However way you get there, the food is worth the trip.

Mutton Masala

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.