Tag Archives: jiangsu

ALAS, POOR PINOCCHIO

This was originally published in 2017.

Apparently, the word for killing or murdering kangaroos is macropocide. When they were living, if you were to take a hatchet to Ezra Pound, William Carlos William, Wallace Stevens, or any other modernist, you would be committing modernicide. Poultry? Poultrycide. I didn’t make any of these up. I ran into them while looking for an appropriate –cide word for when somebody kills a cartoon character. Toonicide? Animanicide? Those two I did make up just now, as they weren’t on the list of words I was just looking at. Why would I even care if such a word existed? Well, it would be to describe something slightly surreal I saw at Xinbei Wanda.  But, first, consider this picture.

To be fair, there was always something a little creepy about Pinocchio over on Xinbei Wanda’s pedestrian street. I think it was the eyes. Yes, definitely the eyes when paired with that smile of his. Still, if this statue looked a little creepy, that still doesn’t compare to this in terms of creepiness ….

WHERE DOMINO’S PIZZA IS NOT

This post was originally published back in 2017.

Sometimes, Baidu and other map apps are not to be trusted in China. They will say something exists when it actually doesn’t. Consider the above screenshot. It’s giving a Changzhou location for 达美乐比萨,or, as it is better known in English, Domino’s Pizza. According to the picture, it can be found in the relatively new and empty Rise Sun Manhattan Plaza in Xinbei. The above is what I like to term as a “map ghost.” If you actually go there, you will not find the American pizza chain. Nothing is there.

Sure, the marquee says “pizza” and has the 达美乐 characters, but the place is absolutely empty and devoid of life with a bare concrete floor. So, maybe Domino’s is still in Changzhou, and maybe it’s a a different location? Map apps are quite often wrong right? I say this because two friends of mine were very hopeful, and they heard rumors of a Changzhou Domino’s from Chinese people. However, if you go by Domino’s actual Chinese website, the chances are bleak. Their store locator only lists locations in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. Not to point out the obvious, but if their website does not acknowledge a presence in Changzhou, than Domino’s Pizza is more than likely not in Changzhou.

THE TASTE FOR ASS

This was originally posted back in 2017, and this restaurant has long since dissappeared,

“I love the taste of ass,” my student said. She was short, mousy, and wearing glasses with wide lenses that seemed to cover a quarter of her face. “For me, ass is hard to find in Changzhou. So, I am always looking for ass because I want to eat ass all the time.” Her smile was wide, warm, and sincere. She was also wearing a modest blue fuzzy sweater. What she was saying and how she looked was a total non sequitur to me.

This was during a recent presentation in one of my university classes. The water I was drinking almost came out of my nose. It’s not the first time a student has said this, and it will not be the last time I desperately try to remain composed and not descend into fits of hysterical laughter.

“Um,” I said, “in the future, you may want to refer to that type of meat as donkey. Some native English speakers might misunderstand what exactly you are trying to say to them — especially if they are weird, perverted men.” My student was standing in front of the class, and her PowerPoint showcased a picture of rectangular sandwich stuffed with a very dark red chopped meat.

In Chinese cuisine, it’s called 驴肉火烧 or Lǘ ròu huǒshāo in Pinyin. I have heard Chinese people call it donkey burger, in English. Thank God I have not heard ass burger, yet. It is further evidence that the Chinese actually created the concept of a “sandwich” a very, very long time ago. Long before the British or the Germans. Recently, I spent a day looking all over Changzhou for donkey flesh. My reason for doing so was simple.  If i am going to spend my EFL teaching career always telling Chinese students to say “donkey” and not “ass” in reference to eating something, I should at least try the actual sandwich.

Turns out, donkey sandwiches are not as easy to find in Changzhou as I originally thought. I entered 驴肉火烧 into Baidu Maps. I went to four of the red dots that popped up, and only one seemed to actually exist. It was in Xinbei on Jinling Road — just up the road from Kingsport and Hohai University’s east gate. It looked a little dumpy, and most of the menu consisted of soups, hot pot, and more where donkey meat was the central ingredient. There was even a picture of the beloved Shrek character Donkey on the wall. I am not kidding.

So, lets get down to the nitty gritty. How was the sandwich? Eating locally in China is sometimes embracing that you might, in fact, try things that sounds weird to you. I have a few lines I will not cross, but I am willing to try not to be a western snob. Meat is meat, and I don’t think people who eat cows, chickens, lamb, turkeys, pigs, and fish have to moral clarity scream at Chinese people who eat donkeys or Belgians who eat horse. Some Indian Hindus think Americans are barbaric for eating steak and ground beef that’s formed into hamburger patties. Cows are a sacred animal to them. Either way, if you are eating meat, something had to die before it was served to you. And this is coming from a former vegetarian. I know the arguments of both worlds.

Okay, enough about the politics of eating. What was the sandwich like? Honestly, it tasted a lot like corned beef. I had the same experience when I tried camel a few years ago. The texture of the meat itself is very lean, and it tastes like it has been through a curing process. That makes sense if you consider that a donkey is a very muscular animal, and lean, muscular meat tends to be tough and hard to eat when not prepared right. Something has to be chemically done to it just soften it up. And, but the way, corned beef is also cured — as is pastrami. All pastrami is a corned beef that’s been rolled in black pepper. And donkey can taste like pastrami that has not been rolled in black pepper.

Also, as any sandwich lover can tell you, meat is one thing and bread is another. You could have most delicious filling in the word, but if the bread is bad, the sandwich will still be a dismal failure. The donkey burger 驴肉火烧 uses a bread unlike other Chinese sandwiches. It’s very crispy and flaky. It has the crunch of non-sweetened pastry dough. So, would I eat this again?

Yes, and I already have. Please forgive the double entendres I am about to employ. As jokes go, these are easily picked, low-hanging fruit that are hard to pass by. I cannot stop myself.  Do I like eating ass? Yes. Have I hit the streets looking for ass? Yes.  Do I like getting my hands around more ass? Yes. Do I wish I had more ass in my life? Yes.

AN ELEGY FOR A BUILDING

This was originally posted back in 2017.

Memory, with the hand of a giantess
You lead life like a horse by the reins,
You will tell me about those who lived
In this body before it was mine.

–Nikolay Gumilyov

Downtown Changzhou has one less building now. Currently, subway construction has long been underway where Wenhuagong / Culture Square used to be. The demolished place was a huge, unsightly yellow building that housed a few shops, a Pujing Hotel, a Spa Massage Place, Global Kids International English, and a few other things. There was a massive food court behind the building. All of it is gone now. While it is always poignant to lose a place you had a personal connection to, stuff like this is normal when a city is growing. So, this is not criticism, per se. It’s just an opportunity to remember the past. Plus, instead of explicating the poetic lines from Gumilyov and extrapolating it onto Changzhou, I thought it just be best to let those four lines and a few pictures do all the talking right now. All of these images are mine, with the exception of three screen captures I took from videos that went viral on Wechat.

GRINDING NEEDLES IN JINTAN

This was originally published in 2016.

Wisdom proverbs are a big part of a Chinese culture. So are poets and their writings. Sometimes, the two converge and overlap. For example, there is this idiom: 磨杵成针, or Mó chǔ chéng zhēn in Pinyin. If you translate it almost literally its “Grind pestle into needle.” More commonly, it means “To grind an iron bar into a needle.” This saying is often used to say persevering at a hard task is worthwhile.

This proverb is often attributed to Li Bai, who is often considered one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. The story goes like this. Li Bai, at a young age, came upon on an old woman who literally was trying to grind a thick iron bar into a thin needle. The poet-to-be took the iron bar and tried to do it for the old lady, but he eventually gave up quickly. Li told the woman she was being foolish — that it would take forever to do such a thing.  The old woman chided the young Li and reminded him that hard work can lead to good results. The young boy took that to heart and grew up to be one of China’s greatest poets. Eventually, “grinding an iron bar” also became a metaphor for succeeding at something hard.

As for the statue pictured above, it can be found in Jintan — Changzhou’s most westward district. It’s one of three idiom statues that can be found at Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. The district’s central shopping area, Dongmendajie 东门大街is nearby. The bus terminal, and the express bus back to downtown Changzhou, is also in walking distance.

A TIME FOR ROSES IN TIANNING

This was originally posted back in 2017.

Some places in Changzhou are time sensitive. By that, I mean it’s best to visit them only certain times of the year due to climate and more. This is definitely true of Tianning’s Zijing Park. This is the place with the massive metal Farris wheel that doesn’t work. Yet, that can be seen all year. So, what is the other attraction here?

It’s June, and we are at the beginning of summer, still. The flowers in Zijing Park are beginning to bloom. While they are spread liberally through the park, the best place for a stroll might be the International Rose Garden. This place goes above and beyond the typical Chinese passion for flowers. Actually, the World Federation of Rose Societies singled out this area of the park with their Award of Garden Excellence in 2012.

As of this writing, the roses are just starting to bloom, so this garden my be more beautiful in a few weeks. It should also be noted that this area is dubbed as “international”  as based on where the species of each rose comes from. Walking through here affords a visitor to see a variety of shapes and colors.

Oh, and this goes without saying. Don’t be a D-bag or an A-hole while walking around here.

Zijing Park is in the part of Tianning that is close to Xinbei. Actually, it’s just a few kilometers south of Dinosaur Park.

UNASSUMING QINGSHAN

This post was originally published in 2018.

Typically, when one mentions “half naked woman riding a dragon,” one might either thinking 1980’s heavy metal album covers or fantasy mass market paperback covers. Dungeons and dragons and role playing games might also be involved in that thought process. If you image search “half naked woman riding a dragon” on Google, you might get the following results. I sort of did.

This is, of course, dragons in a western context.  Turns out, it can be more of cross-cultural idea in art. In Changzhou, there is a stone mural of depicting the same thing.

In this case, the woman is holding what looks to be a shiny orb. This is likely a flaming pearl, which in some Asian cultures can be associated with spiritual energy. A lot of depictions of Eastern dragons come with some sort of pearl references. All of this is lore and mythology that, quite honestly, I need to learn more about. The above picture had me intrigued partly because it was in an unassuming park that I have passed by for years but never took the time to actually walk around in.

The public space is Qingshan Zhuang 青山庄. It’s actually part of the ancient canal network that has been part of Changzhou for thousands of years. The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal flows into into the city and splits into what can be described as a series of offshoots, tributaries, and a moat-and-wall complex around what used to be ancient Changzhou. In the above photo, you have the characters 北塘 běi táng. This is the part of that canal network that splits off of the central city canal circular and heads north.

A good portion of this canal is adjacent to Jinling Road, but it’s at the point where that road forks into two one way roads downtown. This is why, for example, the 302 bus route from Wujin to Xinbei is different from it’s course from Xinbei to Wujin when going south.

Qingshan Zhuang, as a public green space, is actually split into two. There is part that straddles the Beitang Canal (where the half naked dragon rider can be found), and then there is the other part across the busy street. It’s mostly a small public space with benches.  There are also a few bits of public art here, too.

Here we have a primate eating something oblong. Mangos are oblong. They are also quite delicious, so my personal interpretation and title would be “Monkey Eating a Mango.”

I am not going to venture a guess as to the meaning of this.

At anyrate, Qingshan Zhuang is definitely not one of Changzhou’s major or culturally significant spaces. For many of us, it’s just something we have passed by on a bus while going someplace else.

ZHANG QUANHAI AND MICROSCOPIC MASTERPIECES

This was originally published in 2016. This was a temporary art exhibit at the Changzhou Museum in Xinbei.

Could the Mona Lisa have been painted on a single kernel of rice? Yes, it sounds like a fundamentally absurd question, but then again, the Changzhou Museum currently has a mind blowing temporary exhibit that led me to ask myself the question in the first place. Zhang Quanhai specializes in making colorful art so small, you need a magnifying glass just to look at it. He uses tiny, polished stones. While many are bigger than a rice kernel, the amount of precision and skill it takes create such small pictures is a bit breath taking. The exhibit is divided into two sections. One has the stones in ornate display boxes, and the other has Zhang’s work with magnifying glasses positioned over them. Out of the two options, the magnifying glasses were a better viewing experience. It allowed me, at least, to fully appreciate talent it takes to produce such tiny works of art. Time is running out on this exhibit, however. I cannot read Chinese, but the sign said it was supposed to end a few days ago. If it is still there, it’s on the third floor.

WHERE XUEJIA HONORS SU DONGPO

This was originally pusblished in 2017.

Dare to pray benevolence, less thanks to mercy. Chen see one side to go to Nanjing since, waiting for the purpose of the DPRK. Do not take the day.

— Definitely Not Su Dongpo

Su Dongpo 苏东坡, often considered one of the greatest poets of the Chinese language, did not write the above quote. It would be beyond absurd to suggest that a noted writer and artist of the Song Dynasty could foretell of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), aka North Korea. No, this is something that became garbled into English once I copy and pasted the Chinese characters of his article 乞常州居住表 Qǐ chángzhōu jūzhù biǎo into Google Translate. Since it was beyond incomprehensible and impossible to Google in English, I showed this short text to a Chinese colleague and asked him for a general summary. Even he, a university professor and native Chinese speaker, had a hard time reading it. Ancient versions of Chinese doesn’t use compound characters the way the modern language does. A lot of Su’s pictograph choices are simply not used anymore. Put it this way: Su Dongpo’s Chinese is very antiquated, much the same way Geofrey Chaucer’s Middle English is impossible to fully comprehend by a modern speaker.

Su’s text, whose title could be loosely translated as “Request to Live in Changzhou,” captured my curiosity recently because of a monument in Xinbei. Specifically, it’s in town of Xuejia 薛家镇. This is a town out west of the greater Wanda area most expats know and associate with the name “Xinbei.” It is a stone wall shaped to look like an old bamboo scroll with vertical lines of text meant to be read from up to down and from right to left.

The wall itself seems to be part of a greater cultural plaza dedicated to the memory of this great writer and artist. But there seems to be another thing, and this seems common to Changzhou, sometimes.

The place doesn’t seem hardly used at all for it’s originally stated purpose, and some if it actually seems empty. Curious, I texted a friend that actually lives in Xuejia and asked her about it. She also give me the gist of the article, but she also noted that it seems to be a weird thing to have, here. Xuejia didn’t even exist when Su Dongpo was alive. She noted that the history of the town, much like that of Xinbei in general, is relatively short when compared to the rest of the city.

So, what was the article actually about? From what friends have told me, it was actually more of a written request sent to the emperor. He was asking for permission to live in Changzhou. I was told that this original request went ignored, and Su had to resort to writing a second request to live in this city. At times in his life, Su was an exiled imperial official — like most Chinese poets of antiquity were — and spent the most of his life traveling. Of course, he did end up living here. He eventually died here, too. So, it would make sense that even relatively new places in the city would erect some sort of cultural recognition that Changzhou people, to this day still, still consider him one of their own, even if he wasn’t born here.

Here is the original text …

乞 常 州 居 住 表

臣 軾 言 。 臣 聞 聖 人 之 行 法 也 , 如 雷 霆 之 震 草 木 , 威 怒 雖 甚 , 而 歸 於 欲 其 生 ; 人 主 之 罪 人 也 , 如 父 母 之 譴 子 孫 , 鞭 撻 雖 嚴 , 而 不 忍 致 之 死 。 臣 漂 流 棄 物 , 枯 槁 餘 生 〔 一 〕 。 泣 血 書 詞 , 呼 天 請 命 。 願 回 日 月 之 照 , 一 明 葵 藿 之 心 。 此 言 朝 聞 , 夕 死 無 憾 。 臣 軾 誠 惶 誠 恐 , 頓 首 頓 首 。 臣 昔 者 嘗 對 便 殿 , 親 聞 德 音 。 似 蒙 聖 知 , 不 在 人 後 。 而 狂 狷 妄 發 , 上 負 恩 私 。 既 有 司 皆 以 為 可 誅 , 雖 明 主 不 得 而 獨 赦 。 一 從 吏 議 , 坐 廢 五 年 。 積 憂 薰 心 , 驚 齒 髮 之 先 變 ; 抱 恨 刻 骨 , 傷 皮 肉 之 僅 存 。 近 者 蒙 恩 量 移 汝 州 , 伏 讀 訓 詞 , 有 「 人 材 實 難 , 弗 忍 終 棄 」 之 語 。 豈 獨 知 免 於 縲 絏 , 亦 將 有 望 於 桑 榆 。 但 未 死 亡 , 終 見 天 日 。 豈 敢 復 以 遲 暮 為 歎 , 更 生 僥 覬 之 心 。 但 以 祿 廩 久 空 , 衣 食 不 繼 。 累 重 道 遠 , 不 免 舟 行 。 自 離 黃 州 , 風 濤 驚 恐 , 舉 家 重 病 , 一 子 喪 亡 。 今 雖 已 至 泗 州 , 而 資 用 罄 竭 , 去 汝 尚 遠 , 難 於 陸 行 。 無 屋 可 居 , 無 田 可 食 , 二 十 餘 口 , 不 知 所 歸 , 飢 寒 之 憂 , 近 在 朝 夕 。 與 其 強 顏 忍 恥 , 干 求 於 眾 人 ; 不 若 歸 命 投 誠 , 控 告 於 君 父 。 臣 有 薄 田 在 常 州 宜 興 縣 , 粗 給 饘 粥 , 欲 望 聖 慈 , 許 於 常 州 居 住 。 又 恐 罪 戾 至 重 , 未 可 聽 從 便 安 , 輒 敘 微 勞 , 庶 蒙 恩 貸 。 臣 先 任 徐 州 日 , 以 河 水 浸 城 , 幾 至 淪 陷 。 臣 日 夜 守 捍 , 偶 獲 安 全 , 曾 蒙 朝 廷 降 敕 獎 諭 。 又 嘗 選 用 沂 州 百 姓 程 棐 , 令 購 捕 凶 黨 , 致 獲 謀 反 妖 賊 李 鐸 、 郭 進 等 一 十 七 人 , 亦 蒙 聖 恩 保 明 放 罪 。 皆 臣 子 之 常 分 , 無 涓 埃 之 可 言 。 冒 昧 自 陳 , 出 於 窮 迫 。 庶 幾 因 緣 僥 倖 , 功 過 相 除 。 稍 出 羈 囚 , 得 從 所 便 。 重 念 臣 受 性 剛 褊 〔 二 〕 , 賦 命 奇 窮 。 既 獲 罪 於 天 , 天 無 助 於 下 。 怨 仇 交 積 , 罪 惡 橫 生 。 群 言 或 起 於 愛 憎 , 孤 忠 遂 陷 於 疑 似 。 中 雖 無 愧 , 不 敢 自 明 。 向 非 人 主 獨 賜 保 全 , 則 臣 之 微 生 豈 有 今 日 。 伏 惟 皇 帝 陛 下 , 聖 神 天 縱 , 文 武 生 知 。 得 天 下 之 英 才 , 已 全 三 樂 ; 躋 斯 民 於 仁 壽 , 不 棄 一 夫 。 勃 然 中 興 , 可 謂 盡 善 。 而 臣 抱 百 年 之 永 嘆 , 悼 一 飽 之 無 時 。 貧 病 交 攻 , 死 生 莫 保 。 雖 鳧 鴈 飛 集 , 何 足 計 於 江 湖 〔 三 〕 ; 而 犬 馬 蓋 帷 , 猶 有 求 於 君 父 〔 四 〕 。 敢 祈 仁 聖 , 少 賜 矜 憐 。 臣 見 一 面 前 去 , 至 南 京 以 來 , 聽 候 朝 旨 。 干 冒 天 威 , 臣 無 任 。

FOLLOWING A GRAND CANAL TRIBUTARY

This was originally published back in 2017.

The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal 京杭大运河 Běi háng dà yùnhé is the longest artificial waterway in the world, and it has retained that title for thousands of years. This canal is rich with history, and it passes through Changzhou. Like natural rivers, it has many off shoots and “tributaries.” One of these passes through the city center. As far as I can tell, this section is called 城河 Chéng hé, but I have seen that name used only once and in Chinese on a sign downtown. It literally means “City River,” so I am going to assume that is its name in English. I thought it might be interesting to follow this narrow canal from where it begins to where it ends.

We start at Yanling Road on the edge of downtown. There is a point where it looks like the canal forks at Dongpo Park. This is deceiving. This part of the park is actually an island and the canal flows around it.

The fork happens behind the “mainland” part of Dongpo Park. Truth be told, this part is not as picturesque. To the right in the above photo, you can see the curved roof corner of the gatehouse. This, essentially, blocks off City River from the main canal. So, presently, people cannot get boats onto this narrow waterway.

For a good bit, City River parallels Yanling Road. It passes under this bridge and pavilion — which features a statue of two guys playing Chinese chess.

It continues on as it passes in front of Hongmei Park and the entrance to Tianning Temple. Then, right before Wenhuagong — where they are building the downtown subway station — it veers away of Yanling.

To maintain eye contact with the water, I had to leave Yanling and follow Chungui Road. This is basically a street that runs in front of a residential buildings, so there isn’t much to see here.

City River eventually flows under Heping Road near a big Agricultural Bank of China branch office. I used to wonder why this bridge was here. Basically, it’s much, much older than Heping itself, and the street had to be built over the canal. This bridge faces Qingguo Lane, but that alley is shut off due to it being renovated into a historical district.

You can tell Qingguo is undergoing massive restoration because, simply put, the houses on the right do not look as run down and dilapidated as they did years ago. It was from this point on I realized why this tiny waterway was dug in the first place.

The renovation bit can’t be said for the other part of Qingguo that is more residential, but the thought I had remained unchanged. China has a lot of canals. If you think about it, they were a necessity a thousand years ago. Since these are artificial rivers, there really are no tides or currents when compared to something like the Yangtze. It makes traveling by boat in between cities easier than using horses and traveling over land. This is especially important if you are trying to transport cargo from one city to the next. This is why you still see barges using the canals to this very day. Not only are these canals ancient, but they still have a practical use.

Okay, that explains the practicality of The Grand Canal, but why does City River exist? Qingguo Lane is where a many, many historical figures in Changzhou once lived. The above photo is the part of the canal that runs past Nandajie, Laimeng, and Bar Street. This canal, and the other small ones like it, allowed the citizens of ancient Changzhou easy access to the main body of water. So, eons ago, if you were wealthy and influential, you likely wanted to live near the canal. You would have had quick and easy access to what was, back then, the mass transit system.

City River ends at what is called, in English, the West Gate. This is near the city boundary wall dating back to the Ming Dynasty. It’s also near the west entrance to Laimeng — the area where there is a lot of restaurants on the second floor. It’s also not that far from Injoy Plaza. This gatehouse also blocks access to this canal. So, in that way, its preserved, and you will likely never actually see a private boat traveling this waterway.

If this were a bygone era, this is where you would see vessals from City River getting onto the canal proper. If you head west, you would end up in Zhenjiang. East would take you to Wuxi, which like Changzhou, has it’s own network of small canals branching off the main one in its city center. What I have learned, recently, is that if you want to understand the ancient history of a town — whether it’s Zhenjiang, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, or even Changzhou, you have to understand why the canals were excavated in the first place. I also realized that if you’re going to go aimlessly wandering looking history and culture, one way is to just follow the path of the canal.