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?