Tag Archives: Public Art

Waiting for Rabbits in Wujin

Wisdom proverbs and idioms are huge part of Chinese culture. Parents often quote them to children as a way of motivation, and sometimes people say these expressions under their breath to reassure themselves before taking action. Inevitably, when a person is trying to learn to understand and appreciate Chinese culture, coming to know these expressions is also important. These idioms don’t just show up in conversation or in books, but they are often the subject matter of public art — especially sculpture in public parks.

A person can easily find this in Wujin. The Yancheng area is not only home to an amusement park, a zoo, and a bunch of buildings made to look like the China of old, but there is also a very big parking lot there.  Near that part of Yancheng, there are a few statues depicting some famous Chinese expressions. So, here is one of them.

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守株待兔

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This means to “wait by a stump for rabbits.” Basically, a lazy farmer one day watches a blind bunny run into a tree stump and break its neck. The farmer considers himself lucky, and he takes the dead animal home turns it to a very filling dinner. Instead of going back to work the next day and plowing his field, he decides to wait for another rabbit to come by and run into the stump. For some reason, he think that just sitting and waiting will bring him free and easy dietary protein. In the meantime, his field is not plowed, and it eventually does not grow any crops. This idiom can be taken as a chide against think people can get by without doing any hard work.

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This particular idiom is thousands of years old and goes back to the Warring States period of Chinese history. Han Fei 韓非 wrote an essay entitled “The Five Vermin.”

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In this polemic, he spoke out against the things that he thought led to bad governance.  Han Fei’s writing belongs to a “legalist” tradition. His work has been said to influence Qin Shihuang as the first emperor of a unified China as well as several more rulers throughout Chinese history.

Alleged Aliens, Cats, or Ghosts in Xinbei?

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If there is one things many Americans love to watch on TV, it’s documentaries about UFO sightings and conspiracy theories about alien visitation. The History Channel even has that and gets all Erich Von Daniken in probing ancient history and art for alleged ET references. The show is called Ancient Aliens and it has the habit of saying the most outlandish and absurd things by phrasing them as questions. For example: “Were the ancient Hindu gods actually astronauts from another world?” That’s not an actual quote, but something I made up that channels the spirit of the show. And trust me, that TV program has likely said something very similar.

One of the show’s frequent contributors has a hair style so bad, it rivals the current American president as the worst ever in human history. This contributor is also the subject of rampant social media memes in American social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  I will admit that watching this stuff about UFO’s is a guilty pleasure that I actually share with my dad. I don’t believe any of it, but I find the far-fetched “possibility” entertaining to consider. Then again, my dad and I are science fiction nerds. Of course we like looking at strange things. But, I found myself pondering extra terrestrials in Xinbei, and I let my brain wander into Ancient Aliens question mode.  This is why.

One night recently, I left my ebike at a bar that will not be named. At the time, it was raining and didn’t want to ride back and get drenched. The next morning, I walked to retrieve it and I noticed some strange art on the back of some of the buildings. This is on a backstreet that runs north-to-south parallel to Tongjiang Road in Xinbei. I saw some weird-but-simplistic artwork painted dark grey on light grey brick. While the front of the building has shop fronts and none of this, back the structure is largely derelict and empty. Parts of the building look like they are being currently gutted.

I couldn’t decide whether I was looking at aliens, cats, or ghosts. For the rest of my stroll, I gleefully puzzled out this nonsense and what it meant. Give me some leeway; it was a fun distraction from walking in cold and drizzle. I also developed my own theory. But, allow me to mimic the intellectual slight of hand Ancient Aliens uses. Could it be that these weird images are actually related to an after-school arts education center in the building? 

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Should You Visit Dinosaur Park’s Spring Festival Display During the Day or at Night?

It is that time of year again. Spring Festival is rapidly approaching, and most of the colorful displays are already up, or will be going up very quickly. The best of the lantern displays, however, is usually at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei. Yes, Yancheng in Wujin has some lights, but this year it is a few roosters and lot of colorful eggs. It really doesn’t compare as of this writing. Dinosaur Park usually has very large, very detailed lights. This year is no different. As always, it’s usually a fun, family friendly thing to do. However, there is one question. Should one look visit Dino Park during the day or during the evening this year? Look at the following pictures and draw your own conclusion. This is just a quick sampling of what has been put up at Dinosaur Park this year.

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The Children and the Faceless

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Lanyuan Park is located next to the Changzhou Women and Children Activity Center. If you were to walk away from downtown, go over a bridge, you would pass this building. The street name changes from Nandajie to others several times, but it is the same road. This is a building maintained by the municipal government, and it works as an educational resource center. There, families have access to discounted educational programs that cover everything from English lessons to art and more. So, it is fitting to find statues of children in the adjoining park.

One is a group of kids craved from white stone. It depicts two boys and two girls holding on to each other in what looks like a conga line. Their expressions are mostly of mischief. One boy, at the end, is falling down, but he has his hands on the belt line of a girl’s trousers, suggesting he is about to accidentally pull her pants down. The other statue is worked into fountain. A boy and a girls are laying down and watching the water splash into the pool below. IMG_20160731_204742

Again, because there is a family oriented governmental building nearby, this makes sense. There is an odd juxtaposition, though, in Lanyuan. It is strange, surreal, and oddly beautiful. A series of concrete planters showcases bamboo thatches. There is a bronze-looking metal sculpture of two people sitting on a bench. They have no faces and the are huddled together, wrapped in a single blanket. Are they refugees? Old people? It’s hard to tell when the front of their heads are smooth and featureless.

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If I was had to guess, I would have to go with the elderly. That’s just a snap judgement based on my experiences in Changzhou’s public parks. Often, you will see the elderly sleeping and exercising in most public parks. Lanyuan is no different. Even during hot and humid days, you can see somebody’s grandfather swinging and flailing is arms while walking in circles.  I once saw a guy doing the “raise the roof” gesture with his upturned palms in the air. It’s not just the weird excercise. My favorite was an old guy who used to wear a white tanktop and a red sweatband around his head. In one hand, he held a portable radio. At the top of his lungs, he belted out Chinese opera. No matter where you went in Lanyuan, you could hear him. IMG_20160731_212751

Random Weirdness at Global Harbour

The Global Harbour shopping mall is a new, few-months-old addition to Xinbei and Changzhou as a whole. This place is freakishly massive, and it’s a relative gold mine for a city blogger. There is one part where I just can’t figure out what the story, rhyme or reason is. It’s closer to where the Yuexing International Furniture mall is — and that has been incorporated into the Global Harbour complex. It’s a little park area at the intersection of Tongjiang 通江路 and Huanghe 黄河路 roads.

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The Light Thief

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Chinese culture is filled with wisdom proverbs that refer to specific behaviors deemed socially and personally desirable. One of them (凿壁偷光) stresses the importance of studying hard under tough conditions. The Chinese characters roughly translates into “to cut a hole in the wall to steal light.” Of course, there is a longer story behind that.

Kuang Heng came from the Western Han dynasty. He was born into a poor family, but he had dreams and aspirations beyond poverty. He loved books, wanted to learn, and he wanted to study hard. His family, however, could not afford candles. This meant he couldn’t read at night. So, Kuang Heng cut a hole in his wall. Light from his neighbor’s home streamed in. And with this solitary beam, he was able to study. Many, many nights and texts later, he was able to do very well on the exams aspiring civil servants must take in Imperial China. Eventually, he grew in rank and significance. This story, this proverb, is often used now by Chinese parents when encouraging students to work harder in school and at their students.

As for the statue, it’s one of three with idioms in Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. It literally depicts a boy reading next to a hole in the wall. Another nearby stresses the importance of filial piety. This is practically Jintan’s small central park, and one of the entrances is on Dongmendajie 东门大街. The park itself is walking distance between the bus station and area’s fashionable shopping district.

Laozi in Luoxi

IMG_20160520_181014Laozi 老子 — also known as Lao-Tze or Lao-Tzu — is one of the most central and venerated writers in Daoism. He penned the Dao De Jing, which is a foundation text in Chinese and Asian thought. If you walk into a Daoist / Taoist temple, you are bound to find a statue of this guy somewhere. He is usually smiling. You also sometimes just find statues of him in seemingly random places.

Like some figures also found in Buddhism, he can be taken in two roles. Some look up on as a philosophical figure and appreciate his thinking; others view him as a religious figure in Taoism that can be worshiped and prayed to. Laozi is often considered a contemporary of Confucius, and the two belief systems contrast. Confucius tends to be a realist, and Laozi tends to be more ideal. Confucius writes about how to fit into the social world around you, and Laozi does not. He was more interested in the greater world within. Even though he seems to be speaking of internalizing things, his statues usually have him smiling. You also sometimes just find statues of him in seemingly random places.

I found him once in a semi-abandoned Tibetan Spring Garden 藏春园 in Louxi. This is a township out towards Changzhou’s airport in Xinbei Somebody who used to live in the area once told me a restaurant used to be a main attraction, but it packed up and moved. As for the statue itself, Laozi is sitting with a young student and expounding his considerable wisdom. It was hard to get a good picture since the statue was slightly overgrown.

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Xinbei’s Never-Ending Kiss

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

It was first published in Life Magazine in 1945, and it has gone on to become an iconic image of victory at the end of World War Two. In a picture, a sailor holds a nurse in his hands, dips her, and gives her a deep, long kiss. It must have been a good one, too. The woman looks like she’s practically melting in his arms. This took place in Times Square in New York City, right after announcements that Japan had officially surrendered, the and bloodiest war in human history was now something for the history books.

For a long time, the identities of the two smoochers remained unknown. The sailor was a guy named George Mendonsa. He was on a first date with his future wife-to-be. Only, his girlfriend isn’t the one he kissed in the picture. She actually watched. Her date, George, after hearing the news, rush up the first nurse he saw and planted the now iconic kiss. Was his date angry? Oddly enough, no. George was swept with the memory of nurses and acted impulsively. The woman in the picture actually didn’t want to be kissed in the first place. However, the real story doesn’t live up to people’s imaginations.

This photo has lived on as part of “Americana.” Just like Marilyn Monroe’s fluttering skirt, it has turned up in Changzhou. Xinbei’s new Risesun Manhattan Plaza has a statue of the sailor and the nurse. Marilyn is clearly visible from the street, but the kissing couple takes a bit of walking to find. It’s located on the side of shopping center where storefronts still remain empty. There is also still a construction barricade on the other side. IMG_20160511_132108

 

Our Lady of Pollution

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People have different ways to measure pollution and how bad it is. The most obvious is to wake up in the morning, look out the window, and see how thick, thin, or not there smog is for the day. Other people tend to be more scientific and follow the Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers for Changzhou. For the longest time, I had a more arcane and most nonsensical approach, and it involved a statue.

It looks classically European, and I don’t know the story of why it is where its. It depicts a woman holding a basket of flowers, her garments are draped in a way you see in Italian sculpture, and her breasts are exposed — and so is a long bit of leg! However, the implied sexiness is muted by the “I must look askance and away” modesty thing you often see in art.

I used to pass this statue all the time when I lived in the south of the city. It’s on Heping Road 和平路, right after you cross the bridge from Wujin to Tianning. I would zip by it while on my way downtown on my eBike. This all sounds well and nice, but how did I link this weird girl to air quality?

It came down to how dirty this woman would look. At her worst, she would have black streaks across her face, and yellow smears across her breasts. Then, apparently, somebody would come scrub her and wash her. Then, she would be pristine and white again. Six months would pass, and the yellow smears on her legs and bosom would reappear — and somebody would eventually hose her down again.

As an air quality indicator, this is stupid beyond measure. I know that. Plus, I think the people responsible for the sculpture  have caught on to how nasty this gal can look. Over the last year, the smudges and smears have never returned. And really, if I actually cared about pollution, I should be looking at AQI numbers and not a statue of a woman with her tits exposed.

Tianning’s Freakish Chef

These little statues are somewhat common in Downtown Changzhou. Usually, I have seen them near Nandajie or near Culture Square / 文化宫 — where they are building the large downtown subway station.

My guess is that these are characteristic of French or Italian chefs. According to stereotypes, they both tend to be fat, and they both tend to have silly little mustaches. That’s odd, because because these statues are never near European or Western or Anything foreign. Usually, they are near your average Chinese fare.

As for this odd fellow, he’s near a semi deserted dining area of little shops. It’s across the street from the subway construction. Looks like he had his head ripped off, and then somebody put the head upside down back into the hollow opening. You know, for safe keeping. Wouldn’t want to lose a head, wouldn’t you? These statues always looked a bit bug-eyed and creepy to begin with. Now, this one is just downright surreal.