The Changzhou Cultural Plaza has been an architectural project that has been under construction ever since I moved to Xinbei, and it was likely being built before that . Since 2016, this large piece of real estate has been under development, and it has been touted as a signature bit of architecture. Now that it is complete, it’s Changzhou’s way of saying, “Hey, architectural nerds? Look at this!”
Architecture is an art unto itself. It is, after all, the graphic design of buildings and skyscrapers. Lines and angles are of paramount importance. So, that being said, allow me to revel in how the building lights up at night. Walking through it is such a visual experience.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The area is still relatively new, and some of the storefronts are still empty. The ground level so far has cultural attractions by way of a library and an art gallery. The lower level has a few restaurants and higher end bars. Obviously, a lot of money was invested into the Changzhou Cultural Plaza, so it will be interesting to see how this area evolves in the coming years.
This _________ (fill in the blank) the biggest in the world!
–Just About Any Chinese Person Who Loves Their City.
This is not meant as a slight against Chinese people, but it’s more of a comment on Chinese urban development. Chinese construction projects sometimes have prideful ambitions behind them. It seems like most developing or developed cities want to have the biggest “something” in the world. People love to brag about their hometown. Changzhou is no different. Tianning Pagoda, for example, is supposed to be the largest wooden pagoda on the planet. Over in Zijing Park 紫荆公园, there is allegedly the biggest Ferris Wheel without internal support spokes. This is why the structure looks like a big letter O.
For years, there was one problem with that last example. Zijing’s Ferris wheel actually didn’t work for the longest time. Each time you would go to the park, the carriage cars always remained stationary. That changed. The last time I went there, the cars were moving. I watched for awhile. Only, I noticed that nobody was actually in the cars. I reasoned that it was the middle of a work day. So, I walked around the thing looking for a place to pay for a ticket and get on.
That proved very difficult. The Ferris wheel is in the middle of a body of water. The boarding station is under the pond itself. Eventually, I found some elevators. They didn’t work. I found a staircase. It was locked. I also noticed a few smiling locals trying to figure the same thing, only to shake their heads when they realized access remained denied. Yet, I take this as a positive sign. If the locals are intrigued, the moving carriage cars must be a recent development. The fact that the cars are moving may indicate this this attraction may one day be open to the public.
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.
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.
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.