Xitaihu is currently one of of the more underdeveloped areas of Changzhou‘s southern Wuin district. It’s out by a lake with two names: Lake Ge and West Tai Lake. For years, both the municipal and Wujin district government has been trying to entice international business to relocate out here. So, I decided to take a walk around one of the signature science and technology industrial parks.
During the Chinese Civil War, the Battle of Pingjin was a pivotal moment. The People’s Liberation Army had forced the Nationalist Guomingdang Forces to begin to retreat in certain parts of Northern China — Hebei province in particular. The nationalists would eventually, according to history, lose the war. However, let us not wax poetic on that. Let us delve into something more trivial. As in America, historic warfare is rife for picking as cinematic content in China.
The movie I am screenshotting bares the English moniker Liberation and it tells the story set during the Battle of Pingjin. While I have not seen the movie, the trailer promises Michael Bay styled action where explosives go boom and guns go bang many, many times. I must admit, this is on my to-buy list the next time I visit one of Changzhou’s sole remaining DVD stores. Liberation had a highly limited release schedule in American theaters, but saying that it made it’s way off the Chinese mainland actually says a lot. So, count me as curious.
While the story is set in the greater area around Beijing and Tianjin, it was filmed nowhere near either city. It was actually filmed in Changzhou. The West Tai Lake / Xitaihu region of Wujin is home to a movie lot, and this film was made using those facilities.
This movie lot is a stop on the B15 bus route, and it costs 30 RMB to enter the place and go for a stroll. Doing so feels a little otherworldly. You can actually see external sets that look like they would absolutely fit in with a movie like Liberation. However, this gets more into the nature of Xitaihu. West Tai Lake is currently an underdeveloped region of the city, but a lot of investment is going on here. What is currently here does not equate with the urban planning that suggests what this place may be 10 to 15 years from now. However, if you are thinking of present day Xitaihu — imagine this crammed urban-looking movie lot surrounded by a lot of rural, lakeside, open spaces. It’s like a non-sequitur. Then again, that contrast is what gives this part of Wujin it’s unique character.
There area is not just dedicated to 1940s and Chinese Civil War era exteriors. Other film and TV projects have been filmed out this way.
And these projects do relate to other periods within Chinese history. While a lot of the varied scenery are external sets, there are studio sound stages here as well, and they are likely not open to the public.
The West Tai Lake Yingshi Film and Television Base actually has two entrances: one for tourists and one for professionals actually using the site to produce content. The western tourist entrance is actually closer to the B15 bus stop.
As far as I know, nobody has woken wide-eyed from a dream and stammered, “I need to find a place that sells plant sculptures in the shape of cartoon animals!” Then again in the 1990s, I have had a number of university dormitory roommates complain that I talk loudly while slumbering after a night of drinking. Apparently, I once blurted “My name ain’t Big Dick De La Rocka!” And, that was between heavy, throat-ripping snores. So, who knows？We can safely assume I wasn’t a very good college roommate.
As for the aforementioned plant sculptures shaped like cute animals, I actually have found a place that might sell those in Changzhou. You can also buy fruit-baring orange trees there. Bonsai? Yes, those too. My is guess if you needed to find a tree, a type of plant, or seeds to plant and cultivate something, you’d find it there.
I am speaking of the Xiaxi Flower and Tree Market in Wujin. This is not the part of Wujin that most Changzhou expats know. That would be either Hutang or the College Town. This is more in the Xitaihu region down by the lake; yet, it is also not exactly the stomping grounds that Wycombe Abbey teachers work at and call home. This whole area dates back to the 1990s — incidentally, the same time I lived in West Virginia and blurted nonsensical, surreal word salad while sleeping off a drinking bender.
Getting here wasn’t actually easy. I took the B15 bus to Jiazezhen — the community near the Flower Expo park and Ge Lake / West Tai Lake (same body of water, two different public names) and walked like three kilometers. Jiazezhen is actually the terminus of the B15 route. There is likely a bus combination to get out to the Xiaxi Flower and Tree Market, but saying this area is in a remote part of Changzhou is not putting it lightly. And, I actually haven’t found that route. The public transport infrastructure in this part of the city is fundamentally lacking, which is odd since the market itself is an AAA-rated tourist spot by Chinese government. However, I digress. Let us run a battery of questions!
Can you actually buy orange trees here?
Yes, you can!
Can you see fork lifts moving trees around with some dude standing in a very precarious, very dangerous position?
Yes, you can!
Can you find a bonsai to enhance the nature vibe of your urban living space?
Yes, you can！
Well, how about those plant sculptures that look like cute cartoon animals? You know, the super adorable chia pets that just happen to be very large?
Those look actually like rejected props from horror movies that involve zombie animals. I remember the Resident Evil franchise and their undead dogs rather well. Consider this horse trying to give you the evil eye.
Kidding aside, people who like to garden and cultivate plants might find the Xiaxi Flower and Tree Market a wonderland. If you are one of those people, here’s the address. It’s likely going to be a super expensive Didi trip, a very long walk after getting off a bus with multiple interchanges, or a piece of cake if you can con a Chinese best friend into driving you there after promising to put gas into their car’s tank.
Late July and early August tend to be Changzhou’s hottest times of the year. Sometimes, it can get so bad, some may not want to venture out of their homes at all and will opt to hang out in front of an air conditioner on full blast. On the other hand, some locals and some expats from hot climate countries may actually like this time of year and may want to get out and about — and to that, I say to each their own. If one does want to get out, Gehu / West Tai Lake may be a possible destination. While not much has changed in this part of Wujin over the years, there is something interesting to consider.
The lakefront around Gehu / West Tai has been undergoing a slow drip-drip pace of development. However, the first time I ever came out here a few years ago, access to the above tower was blocked off. It seemed like a project still under construction.
Now, it’s open to the public. A visitor can pay up to 20 RMB to go to up to two different floors. The above photo depicts the uppermost cafe. The floor directly beneath is more of a viewing platform with telescopes. Here, one can get a good look not only at the lake itself, but the surrounding development.
As has been noted elsewhere on this blog, Gehu / West Tai is still not the tourist destination and resort the city likely has in its long term plans. Still, there are a few things to see out here, and this tower is one of them. The best way to get to the lakefront involves taking the B15 BRT bus in Wujin, near the Yancheng zoo and amusement park area.
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.
–Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale
Welcome to Night Vale is a current podcast obsession of mine. It delivers fictitious radio news broadcasts from a small, dusty, and utterly insane American desert town. It’s a place where all conspiracy theories are true, and the fabric of reality unravels all the time. The laws of physics and objective reality just don’t work in Night Vale. For example, the above quote is actually a variation on this well known maxim:
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck … it’s probably a duck.
That’s just pure logic. Only, Welcome to Night Vale gleeful turns stuff like that upside down. Just because something looks and sounds like a duck, Cecil is suggesting, doesn’t mean it really is a duck. You could be hallucinating. Your brain could be confused. You might be possessed by a ghost, and it’s distorting everything you see. So, you might not be seeing the creature’s true nature — it could actually be, for example, not a duck but a psychotic octopus with a penchant for expensive silk neckties and large top hats. I made the well dressed octopus up myself, but it’s a fairly good example of the mind-bending silliness Welcome to Night Vale offers on a regular basis.
What does this have to do with Changzhou? Sometimes, I have recalled the above Cecil Palmer quote while wandering around the city. When you are a foreigner living in China, not everything is exactly what it seems. So, again, If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions. There is a perfect example of this at Gehu Lake in Wujin.
This looks like a Christian church, right? Well, it actually isn’t if you go by what a Christian church actually is. I first found this place back in 2014 or 2015, I think. That was a long time before this blog existed. I wrote a lengthy essay about it for T-Guide, which was the precursor of the SupCZ Wechat channel and print magazine. So, if it’s not a church, then what exactly is it? It’s was built as a wedding hall. So, it’s a venue that can be rented. A potential visitor will not find regular Catholic masses or Protestant services here, because it’s not a place of worship. There aren’t resident clergy here to privide spiritual advice or direction. To riff on Cecil Palmer: If it looks like a church, quacks like a church … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.
Well, that was several years ago. I recently returned to Gehu / West Tai Lake (two names for the same body of water). It wanted to see if anything had changed since I left Wujin for Xinbei. The answer is …
No, not really. In 2018, the half built construction site next to the “Not a Church” looks exactly the same as it did in 2015. This was supposed to a themed plaza dedicated to the wedding industry. I don’t know the full story behind it, but it seems the funding dried up. But then again, what exactly do I know? Not a lot. there really isn’t a lot of information about this place online. I did find this part a little funny.
Notice the English part of the sign. I had been walking around this thing trying to peer into its windows for like fifteen minutes. I did the same back in 2015. The only difference, all these years later, is the sign and a bored security guard sitting by an open door to the building. I said, Ni Hao to the guard. He didn’t care. I noticed the “keep out” sign only while l was leaving.