Tag Archives: Changzhou

A Stationary Hoss Fight in Liyang

Undertaker V. Kane

HOSS FIGHT (Noun): 1. A very violent confrontation between two very large, beefy slabs of manhood, usually in a professional wrestling ring. See Undertaker V. Kane.

Godzilla v. Kong

2. When two giant science fiction monsters, aka kaiju, collide with massive urban destruction as collateral damage. See Godzilla v. Kong or mostly anything involving the Godzilla.

Of course, I got to thinking about this in one of the most random of rural places.

Liyang #1 Road is a scenic drive through the country side. Sometimes, this route is also referred to as “The Rainbow Road” because of the red, yellow, and blue center stripes. About six months ago, I passed the Chinese driving test, and I now possess a license. A friend of mine figured out how to rent cars, and we decided to get as far outside of Changzhou proper without actually leaving the prefecture — because of COVID travel restrictions and not wanting to quarantine upon reentry. While driving, I religiously avoided toll roads for the same reason.

One way, the distance was about 72 kilometers. Along the way, we passed by Xitaihu Lake in Wujin and through the district of Jintan. The destination was the Bieqiao Scenic Spot 别桥原景区. Liyang’s signature tourist destinations has always been Tianmuhu Lake and the Bamboo Forest, but Bieqiao has always had some mentions online. I actually spotted this destination using Baidu Maps, and something in particular intrigued me.

Among other things, Bieqiao is made up of rice fields. The area is home to a sculpture park called Dao Meng Kongjian 稻梦空间. The statuary here is entirely made from twisting, knotting, and fusing straw stalks together. The effect is a bit surreal. The translation of the Chinese name reinforces that: Rice Dream Space.

Don’t know who this is supposed to be. A farmer?
This is obviously a Chinese caligrapher.

If human figures can seem unworldly, the park can get bizarre rather quickly. We will skip pieces depicting airplanes and just jump straight into it.

There are two giant spiders here as well.

So, did spiders make me think of hoss fights? No.

Well, I must refer back to the second entry of my above definition of hoss fight. In this corner, we have a giant gorilla. Notice the Chinese dude on the right for sizing scale.

And, of course I had to snap a butt pic.

And in this corner, we have a dinosaur. The stubby arms suggest a T-Rex. It’s possibly a female, if one considers the cluster of egg-shaped stones clustered around this giant lizard. Again, for size perspective, notice the guy behind the left leg.

If you consider the eggs, the ape here is likely the aggressor. However, since this a sculpture park, this particular hoss fight is still in pre-fight theatrics and stand offs. The gorilla has yet to stand up and beat his chest. This is a fight stuck in time, and it always will be. Your imagination has to do the rest

As much as I enjoyed visiting this part of Bieqiao and Liyang, coming here made realize how easy it is to miss a lot of things while traveling China without having access to a car you can drive yourself. There is no public transportation access to Bieqiao and this particular park.

So, it made me extremely grateful to have a license and access to car rentals. Consider these DiDi prices as they are only one way and only point-to-point travel. Renting is way much cheaper. Because of that, I look forward to renting and driving out to much more places like this.

BRICKS AND MARBLE

This was originally published in 2016.

I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.

–Augustus Caesar

Historians can argue wither Augustus Caesar was accurate or not with this claim. However, casual history buffs do know he rose to power after a period of war, instability, and political intrigue. Some people know this because they were forced to read Shakespeare in high school and college. Julius Caesar, Augustus’ uncle, had high political ambitions and got stabbed to death for it in the Roman senate. If you put the context of the above quote to one side for the moment, Augustus’ words makes me think Chinese urban planning, sometimes.This isn’t a case of random associations, either. I actually ran into a statue of Augustus in Xinbei.

At first, this seemed a bit random. This is inside a small housing complex very close to Hohai University and on Jinling Road.

Other than maybe the architecture, there is nothing remotely European about the place. Augustus is the only statue here. It seems like a non-sequitur if you zero in on the sculpture itself. If one steps back, however, there is a wider context. Changzhou and China in general seem to build things with non-Chinese themes all the time. Many expensive Chinese residential complexes sport European tropes in an attempt to look wealthy and suggest sophistication. Examples of this can be found all over the city — and also not that far from where I found Augustus.

Sometimes I wonder about Changzhou and the above Augustus Caesar quote. Changzhou, like many other cities across China, is a city of bricks. You see this in poorer neighborhoods here and places that has met the wrecking ball and are now temporary fields of rubble. Literally, piles of bricks waiting to be taken away so the land can be redeveloped into something more “modern” and “contemporary.”  That is part of the “Chinese dream” I guess. Knock it all you want as over zealous urban planning, but deep down, this city wants to be one of marble.

BRIGHTLY COLORED MOTHER’S LOVE

This was originally published in 2017.

Who says my heart of a grass seedling

Can ever repay her warm spring sun?

–Meng Jiao, from Traveler’s Song

Meng Jiao 孟郊 clearly loved and cared for his mother. The above lines — taken from this translation of “A Traveler’s Song” — convey that as do the rest of the poem. For a large part of his life, he refused to take the imperial exams, but he eventually relented once he reached middle age. A civil service job, he reasoned, would allow him to financially support her as she grew older.  This eventually led him to a ministerial position in Liyang — a city to the south that is part of Changzhou’s prefecture. There, he dithered around among streams and forests while composing poems.

“A Traveler’s Song” (遊子吟) was one of those poems he wrote while living in Liyang. It’s a short bit of a verse. It speaks of a son about to set off to travel, and his mom is sewing his clothing for him before he leaves. The poem doesn’t mention where the son is going or how long he will be gone. It’s just the departure is impending, and that both the son and the mother will miss each other.

Generality can be a blessing and a curse in poetry. It largely depends on the linguistic skill of the poet in conveying emotion. This poem, in the variety of English language translations I have read, uses generality and vagueness rather well. It gives a reader just enough information while allowing them to read their own life into the lines.

For example, Meng Jiao’s poem remind me of my own mom. While I was in college in West Virginia, my parents still lived overseas — The Netherlands for a year, and then the UK until my father retired from the US Department of Defense. I came to visit for a few weeks every Christmas and New Years. Eventually, I would have to get back on the airplane and fly across the Atlantic. I wouldn’t see them again until summer, when they would come to the US to see my brother, sister, and myself. There was always talk of time and distance every time my Mom and I parted ways.  Of course, plenty of other readers around China and the rest of the world have had no problem understanding this poem. It is one of Meng Jiao’s most famous works.

It is always interesting to see how a famous piece of literature transcends written text and takes on a life out in the world. “A Traveler’s Tale” is actually part of the decorative lanterns at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei. A large chunk of the colorful art on display have more generalized holiday themes. However, there is a portion close to Hehai Road that recreates Changzhou history.

I found this recently because a friend and I went on a stroll specifically to look at the lanterns and laugh at their gaudy silliness. We both sort of stopped and lingered at the Meng Jiao display, because, well, part of it looked a little creepy.

At the time, we both didn’t know what we were looking at. The reddish marks on her face look a little like bruises. I didn’t quite know what to make about the black smudges around the both eyes. Now that I have had time to think about it, it’s the limitations of the medium when it comes to this sort of public art. Spring Festival lanterns easily look childish. The vibrant, bright colors have something to do with that. However, if you look at Meng Jiao’s mom, and the nearby recreation of Su Dongpo, they have a difficulty in conveying age.

Of course, I am nit picking. The point Spring Festival lantern displays is to do exactly what my friend and I did — walk around and smile at them. There is plenty of time to do just that. While the western holiday season is coming to an end, the run up to Spring Festival is just beginning.

PHOTOS OF CHANGZHOU STATION’S PRIOR LIVES

This was originally published in 2017.

Changzhou’s central station is not what it once was in bygone eras. I discovered this, recently, through a series of photos on display near the station, but in an easy to miss location if you are not hunting for them specifically.

This is something I found while doing legwork on a different writing project. I had become intrigued with the city’s network of canals, as it is one of the oldest surviving landmarks still around from the city’s antiquity of more than a thousand years. During this bit of fieldwork, I found a threesome of small memorials dedicated to the train station itself. This is across the street from the south plaza.

On wooden walkway next to the canal, there are three photos in glass cases. The appear to be laser etchings on sheets of brass-colored metal. These display windows are set into the staircases that lead down to the canal’s walkway. As one can see from the above photo, they do not photograph very well.

The only way to get discernible details was to get my phone close to the glass to cut out as much glare and reflection as possible. Of course, it’s hard to reproduce the entire photo this way.  The above photo seems to be from circa 1907. Besides the crowds, the station itself seems rather modest and is only a building or two.

The next shot shows the second incarnation from the late 1950’s and 1960’s. I do have to say, it is really hard to fact check these photos online. I had trouble finding the real photos these metal sheets are based off of.

The third and final plaque suggests something more modern and geometric in its architecture. This would be in the 1990’s. However, as most of us who have traveled through Changzhou’s downtown station, it most certainly doesn’t look like this anymore.

Who knows what the train station will look like in the future. The south plaza — where some would get tickets to board the slow trains — is currently under renovation. Parts of the south plaza has been absolutely gutted to make way for something new. Who knows, maybe is 20 to 50 years, there will be a fourth installment into this pictorial history showing our current station as a relic of the past?

LIYANG’S GAME OF THRONES STYLED STORY

This was originally Published 2017

Ancient Chinese history is filled with brutal court intrigues among generals, politicians, heads of state, fox spirits, and more. This is particularly true when you consider that, over the course of time, China has been splintered into several countries. That means, basically, that the Game of Thrones tales of double, triple, and quadruple crossing people, allies, and enemies can become easy to find. More regal courts means more opportunities for people betraying each other. Just look at the history of Chinese poets; the whole “I am in exile, drunk, and miss my home” is a common literary trope. Why? A lot of poets were also government officials that ran afoul of somebody and had to leave. It’s the story of Li Bai, and it’s the story of Su Dongpo, for example. 

The more somebody travels through China, the more they can see this if they start paying attention to local lore and legend. I realized this once in Liyang. While this place is not a district of Changzhou as a municipality, it is considered part of Changzhou as a prefecture. In short, it’s its own city, but it’s technically still part of CZ.

Over in Phoenix Park 凤凰公园 near Liyang’s urban center,a statue commemorates something called “The Gauze Washing Virgin.” The stone sculpture stands in the middle of a pond, and four large stone panels — with etched illustrations — serves as a backdrop. The story, according to a bilingual sign, can be paraphrased this way.

A young woman is washing textiles in the river. Eventually, a man wanders into her life. He’s weak, he’s starving, and she saves him. She feeds him and shows him some hospitality. While doing so, she recognizes him as Wu Zixu 伍子胥.

This was a figure from the Chu Kingdom’s court during the Spring and Autumn Period. Chu was a larger country to the west of Liyang and Changzhou. On the run, Wu Zixu fled Chu and ended up in the Wu Kingdom. (To be noted: the Wu family name 伍 and the Wu kingdom 吳 are different WU characters in Pinyin. Also, by the way, unintended rhyming is hard to avoid when you are using Chinese names.) The state of Wu was comprised of areas that are currently associated with Suzhou, Wuxi, and Changzhou.

Anyhow, this young woman saves this guy’s life. Yet, she realizes that she now possesses a deadly secret. She knows who he is. More importantly, she likely realizes somebody is after him. According to the sign at Liyang’s Phoenix park, she picks up a big rock, throws herself into the river, and drowns to protect his identity.  If she dies, his secret dies with her.

Wu Zixu, now in exile, goes to become an official in the Wu Kingdom’s court. He eventually prophesied the end of the Wu Kingdom due to treachery, but he still lost his life in the same type of Game of Thrones type of intrigue that caused him to flee the Chu kingdom in the first place. According to Wikipedia, he was asked to commit suicide, and before he did so, he told the then-king to gouge out his own eyes.

All of this story is just a small detail in a small park — in a town more known for eco tourism around Tianmu Lake and the Nanshan Bamboo Forest. However, it’s lore like this that actually gives town like Liyang true character.

SILVER VALLEY OF MINGXIN

This was originally published in 2016.

Living in Wujin is not bad. You just happened to live in one of the most boring parts of Wujin.

— A friend and a very long term Changzhou expat.

Everytime I return to Wujin, I am reminded of how it is constantly changing and is actually beginning to look profoundly different from when I moved there. After two years, I decided to pack up and move to Xinbei. So, every time I go down there, I’m reminded of the above quote. I will not mention her name, but let’s just say it rhymes with Mikki Spaff. This is especially true when I go to my old stomping grounds of College Town.

When I moved there, a lot of storefronts around my vocational college were empty and devoid of life. Now, most of those shops have filled in. However, one big thing reminded me of how the area has been changing. This was a few days ago, before I sprained some ligaments in my foot (again). Consider this…

I normally would not be celebrating the opening of yet another shopping center in Changzhou. Good lord, the city has enough already. Some of them have been abandoned and have laid mostly empty for years now. However, this one makes sense.

It’s at the intersection of Mingxin and Wuyi Roads in the College Town. This is where the B1 and B16 turn north and head towards down town. The name seems to be Silver Valley in English, and it had a bit of a soft opening. Besides a Pizza Hut, a supermarket, a cinema, and a few other shops, a lot of the stores here are empty. However, if the rest of the area is any indication, those shops will eventually fill in over time. Why? Think about this area for a moment.

There are six institutions of higher learning here. There’s my former employer, Changzhou University, and four others. When spring or fall semester is in swing, this place is crammed with thousands upon thousands of college students. You figure there would be more here to cater to them and their money. I have always argued that College Town has been under served in terms of development. Remember, I partly left out of boredom and needing a new challenge.

When I first moved to Changzhou, this shopping mall was a huge hole in the ground surrounded by a construction barricade. Three and a half years later, it seems to have undergone a soft opening after the construction has finished. However, there is something more particular to day to day living that this shopping mall brings to Mingxin.

It’s the supermarket. Now, anybody who has lived along Mingxin knows this sounds like a dumb statement. Before Silver Valley, the area already had four. What’s the difference of having a fifth?

Easy answer. It carries things that the other four didn’t when I lived in the area. A bottle of western booze used to require a trip to RT Mart or Tesco. The same could be said for cheese, butter, cat food and a few other foreign items. Yeah, I know Wujin has Metro now, too. However, College Town is really the southern most part of the city before you start getting into all the industrial parks and the more rural areas of Wujin. Yeah, Metro has a lot of what somebody needs, but sometimes having the convenience of just going down the street and saving some time on some very basic items is nice comfort, too. That’s why having a shopping center here makes perfect sense.

DISEMBODIED BUDDHAS

This was originally published in May of 2016

If you have been to enough Taoist or Buddhist Temples around Changzhou and other cities, you would see a lot of sculptures, carvings, and artwork displaying Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, lohans, Taoist gods, and much more. Temples are particularly ornate in the their decor.  In most cases, no two temples are alike either.

Crafting the works of art must be an industry unto itself. I only just realized this by accident. I was riding my ebike along the S232 highway in western Wujin. This is the part of the district that borders on Jiangyin. Dalin Temple and Qingming Mountain are also nearby. Out of the corner of my vision, I saw something like a Buddha sitting in an alley. So, I backed up and pulled into the alley. There, I saw something I have never, ever seen in Changzhou before. These were half finished, almost cast aside religious statues. For instance, a Buddha without a head. There was a fat Milefo laughing Buddha covered with splintered wood.

The varying degrees of incompleteness was also a bit interesting. Sometimes, when you see a statue in a temple, you may mistakenly think that they were carved or cast in a forge. Not the case with this lot. Much of what I saw consisted of smaller pieces that were numbered and riveted together almost like three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles.

This had me intrigued. It wasn’t the least bit unnerving to look it. Logically, it made sense if these was a religious sculpture workshop nearby. After all, not only is Dalin Temple nearby, but so is the Taoist Bailong Monastery — both seem to have ongoing construction for additions, too. But, quickly scanned the area. I took a picture of one factory’s name, but a Chinese friend quickly informed me, via WeChat, it was a business involving water treatment equipment. Maybe I saw it but didn’t see it. In the end, I gave up and left it what it should be, a bizarre mystery. Sometimes, that’s more fun than actually having a real answer.

ALGAE PARK AND THREE GOATS

This was originally published in July of 2017

You can say about 95% percent of the Changzhou’s public parks have a unique identity. Xianhu Park 仙湖公园 is no different, but this one has a subtly strange and schizophrenic vibe to it.  This place is located in Yaoguan Township 遥观镇 in Wujin, in what used to Changzhou’s eastern Qishuyan district. This is nowhere near Hutang and the parts of Wujin most expats know. Yaoguan is definitely small town China within Changzhou’s city boundaries. I am sometimes out around these parts because of corporate trainings Hohai University organizes with some of the railway companies like CRRC out here. The park itself is split into two by Jianshe Road 建设路.

One half of the park has a lot of brick and stone work, giving the water a canal-like feel without actually feeding into any canals. In this regard, it looks a lot like a man made urban pond.

There are two sets of statues here suggesting industrial themes. Unlike other parks, there are no explanatory plaques or Chinese wisdom idioms attached to give a greater meaning. Perhaps the biggest “this is not urban Changzhou” indicator was this …

There were three goats roaming around and eating everything from the grass and the bushes. Some of these animals had collars and leashes, so it is safe to assume that these are not feral, marauding goats. These were domesticated. Nearby, there was a woman washing something in the “canal-pond” water. I didn’t feel like being nosy about what she was actually washing. So, I didn’t take a picture of her. It is likely safe to assume the goats were hers. If you were to cross Jianshe Road to the park’s other half, you would see this.

There are a lot of walkways, but notice the surface of the oibd. There is a thick, very green algae skin to the water here. By the way, the person with net is not fishing. Typically, a very big algae population like this makes water low in oxygen an not habitable. This person was not fishing out garbage, either.

This person was actually harvesting the algae itself. While that may sound weird to some, algae has a lot of uses like as a farmland fertilizer. There are also chemical compounds that can be extracted and multi-purposed in food production, wastewater treatment, and much more.

Essentially, this is a profoundly local park. Changzhou has places like Qingfeng, Hongmei, and others that are meant for mass public and tourist use, and Xianhu Park is not one of them. I found this place because I was already in Qishuyan on a teaching assignment and just wandering around my ebike.

However, this place is also a positive reminder that what I like to call Real Changzhou; this city is vast and more storied than what some foreigners might think. There is life beyond Xinbei, the city center, and Hutang. I don’t mean that as, “Ooh, this is quaint.” I mean that in this exists, it is here, and it is part of Changzhou.

SILVER THREAD NOODLES 银丝面红汤

When I lived in Wujin, I used to ask my college students for recommendations about what was truly “local” Changzhou food. Most of them didn’t know what to say because 1) their English levels were so low and 2) most of them didn’t come from Changzhou. So, I used to get some silly answers like “Go to the top floor of Injoy.” One day, a friend brought me to Yinsi Noodles. Eventually, I was handed a bowl of noodles, and that became my first exposure to Changzhou’s food.

That was more than a couple of years ago, now. Recently, I returned to Yinsi and tried the same dish. Only, I went to a different location. This cafeteria style restaurant is a prolific chain with locations all over the city. It serves a variety of non-local dishes that can be easily found elsewhere.

So, if that is the case, what is so special about this place? A very cheap 5 RMB bowl of noodles.

The dish’s name is actually shared with the eatery. Yinsi Noodles in Chinese is 常州银丝面 chángzhōu yín sī miàn. The actual above noodle soup is 银丝面红汤  yín sī miànhóng tāng. The literal translation would be “silver thread noodles red soup.” The characters 银丝 refers to the actual noodles themselves. According to Baidu’s version of Wikipedia, the name comes from how the ingredients in the dough results in very white noodles.  The “red soup” comes from the broth base, which is made with soy sauce. The result is a slightly salty taste that never becomes too much.

You can also add a few things to the soup to customize the flavor a little more. If you look closely at the above, you’ll notice I chopped up a meatball and mixed it in. So, what else can I say?

This dish has been part of Changzhou culture for nearly 100 years. However, one should clarify one thing: only the recipe is that old. The current chain of Yinsi cafeterias doesn’t date back that far. The original shop, from all those decades ago, is also gone and lost to history. It used to be in what would become the Nandajie area of downtown.

CRUISING AROUND LIJIA

I sometimes forget how large Wujin actually is. Most people know the area typically as Hutang and the College Town, but there is more to it than just that. Recently, I took an bike ride to Lijia 礼嘉镇 which is roughly about 12 kilometers from Changzhou University if you are going south and east. The 320 bus swings out this way. So, what is out here? Keep in mind this was an unplanned trip. This was the “point my bike in that direction and see what’s there“ sort of thing.

This can be easily described as small town China. Still, the central shopping area was quite busy. While stopping here, I checked Baidu Maps if there was anything historical nearby. That lead me here.

I got chased by a dog, twice. Eventually, I found what I was looking for, and I survived without getting bitten. What I was looking for was behind the above buildings.

This is 王氏宗祠,or The Wang Family Ancestral Hall. Most time, when I find these places, they are closed to the public. I ran into another up the road a few kilometers …

This one was 何氏大宗祠,or The He Family Great Ancestral Hall. Like it’s counterpart, seemed closed to the public. However, this building had large tomb nearby.

Because I wasn’t careful in conserving battery power, my bike clunked out when I hit downtown, on my way back to Xinbei. In trying to figure a few things out, I ended up consulting the town’s Baike encyclopedia page once I finally got home. Turns out, I might have missed something. That just means instead of going there on a whim next time, I should do something new and different and actually make more of a concrete plan.