Tag Archives: Jiangsu

Changzhou Part 6

Part 6: Wang Leehom Autographs Albums in Changzhou

Have I mentioned that Changzhou, with its population of 3 million, is considered a small city?  (Yes, I know the sentiment that a city of population 3 million can’t be possibly be that small, but consider that Shanghai has a population of over 14 million and reframe things in that perspective.)  Despite Changzhou’s efforts to promote tourism, people are unlikely to view Changzhou as a destination hotspot over Shanghai.  So it was a complete surprise when Wang Leehom decided to drop by for an autograph session as part of his album promotion tour that included Beijing, Nanjing, Changzhou, and Hong Kong.  I’ve tried to explain Leehom to non-Chinese people and get asked, “If he’s really world famous, why haven’t I heard of him?”  For the same reason why no Asians got nominated for any Oscars this year…

For those who know me, I’m a dedicated fan.  So, at 8:30 on the morning of, I hailed a taxi to drive me to Wandu Furniture Store, which was the largest empty furniture store in the middle of nowhere that I had ever seen.  Unfortunately, my Chinese co-worker who was also a big fan was sick, and I spent 5 hours with a mask and without 3G in the growing heat, humidity, and pollution, outside this furniture store in the middle of nowhere by myself.  (The month prior, I traveled 11 hours on 6 different modes of public transportation to attend his concert and autograph session, so you understand how many elements (pun intended) I’m willing to brave for a Leehom sighting.)  I had not much to do but take in my surroundings and wait to be let inside.

When I saw him in Taipei, people were allowed to buy his CD from any store and bring it to the stage.  During this event, people had to buy the 99 kuai album from the tents outside which had the sticker that marked that it was for Changzhou.  I believe they sold out.  Things were pretty quiet sitting in line until about 1 pm, when a lot more people started showing up.  Security arrived, marching.  A lot of people who looked like villagers arrived and were crowding the area near the entrance.  At this point, I felt like there was going to be a lot of pushing and shoving.  Thankfully, endurance paid off and I was finally let inside.  The whole experience was pretty short for me, as Leehom signs albums really quickly.  I stayed a while to watch other people creating spectacles by yelling his name repeatedly until he addressed the crowd.  In hindsight, what I should have done was bring along someone non-Asian, as this would have created a bigger spectacle.  I watched two of my other coworkers wave shaking their palms left and right in rapid motion until he acknowledged them.

When I left I saw that the line had snaked around the whole otherwise empty furniture store in the middle of nowhere in the small city of Changzhou.

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Changzhou Part 5

Part 5: Wujin District

In new mainland China, it takes forever to cross a main intersection.  On this particular crossing in Wujin district, you must cross an ebike lane, a bus lane, two car lines, and a BRT lane to get to the middle, and then the same plus one more car lane to get to the opposite sidewalk.  (I don’t have a picture, so see Baidu maps.)  The construction of these streets are reminiscent of the Haussmann boulevards that began to cut across Paris in the mid 1800s and divide up old quartiers where residents knew their butcher, their baker, and candlestick maker.

Nestled in a corner by this intersection is 萬福石村 (Wanfushi Cun = 10000 Blessings Rock Village), which appears to be a village that has never or rarely sees DSLRs.   I saw the words 湖唐橋 (Hutang Bridge) out the window on the BRT ride to Decathalon and decided that it was worth a visit one day.  I was surprised to see the sign 東風陶瓷店 (Eastern Wind Ceramics Shop) in traditional Chinese characters.  With the paint job on the sign I could believe that the shop predates the Cultural Revolution.  This must be another area where residents can get everything, from food to porcelain to unspecified adult products, condoms, and dried corn kernels

Continuing on the BRT, you eventually end up at Yancheng Village, which is an important site in Changzhou history as it was a village surrounded by moats 3000 years ago.  I went there on a school field trip, co-supervising 9-14 year olds who were supposed to learn about the history of Changzhou.  As with Tianning Temple and the Qing dynasty city walls in Part 3, it was impossible to tell that any buildings there were older than 10 years.  There were no ruins of any sort.  The museum that housed artifacts including weapons, jewelry, and pottery was the only site with any real history.  The rest of the village housed a 4D animated movie theater, bumper cars, roller coasters, and other rides.  On one particular “ride,” you can get a bird’s eye view of the surroundings.  I didn’t capture the following video with intent to publish it anywhere, so excuse the quality of the shaky iPhone 4 unedited video with student commentary.

Stay tuned for Part 6, which will be on the fanfare surrounding Leehom Wang’s visit to Changzhou.

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Changzhou Part 4

Part 4: Along the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal

The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal lies south of the southern curve of the old city wall.  In ancient times, this canal was used as a transport route for grain to Beijing.  Beginning in the Spring and Autumn period, humans overcame nature to dig the longest canal in the world, and more recently they overcame nature again to build city structures on either side of the canal.  Travelling on the BRT and in coworkers’ cars, I never stopped to think if a bridge was built so cars could escape ground level traffic on the ring roads or if they were built to cross the canals.  Only now looking on Baidu maps have I considered how the photographs are connected geographically.

The scenes continue from where Part 2 ended, by the old city wall south of Injoy Mall in Zhonglou district. I came here one last time during the floods of late June 2015 and finally figured out that was famous canal. The canal waters split here.  Some of it flows south of Qingguo Alley described in Part 3 and the majority of it curves even further south, forming a crescent when joined with the other canal. The first bridge pictured is 廣化橋 Guanghua Bridge and from here you can see high rise apartments along a wide canal.  Get off the foot of the bridge, and you see a half demolished building with a half demolished armchair in front.

Heading west on the Grand Canal, you reach another old looking bridge* and can get off at 西直街 (West Straight Street), which looks like it came straight out of 1960.  I’ve seen children wash their hair with buckets outside of their houses here.  A lot of elderly people also sit around, not appearing to do anything.  There’s a sign in front of a teahouse that says 禁止停車 (parking not allowed) with cars that have entirely ignored the sign.  There’s also a cardboard and Styrofoam recycling area here.  Leaving this enclave to head back to what was once home, you can see the BRT station and Hanting Hotel, which is part of a huge chain in China.  Suddenly it’s 2014 city life again.

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Changzhou Part 3

Part 3: Modern City Center

In the city center there is an area called 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang), a place of deep historical significance.  Now, “deep” describes how the tofu and potatoes are fried at the street food stands there.  I once tried their Changzhou style xiao long bao, having been unaware that more than one kind of xiao long bao exists.  The area surrounding 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang) is filled with shopping malls. It’s also next to a long pedestrian shopping street called 南大街 (Nan Da Jie).  There are rows and rows of ebikes parked wherever people think it’s safe to leave ebikes.  It’s easy to succumb to information overload.

One day, a coworker took me to 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley), formerly 千果巷 (Qian Guo Alley), which is another location of deep historical significance some 400 meters from 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang).  I had no idea this was on the itinerary, so the only camera I had with me at the time was my iPhone.  I was so fascinated by this place that I went back another day alone with my DSLR.  Not having had company the first time, I would have stopped short of the unlit narrow urine scented passages that connected the alley to the cluttered courtyard in the pictures.

Partially abandoned places in China are different than those in North America.  If I stumble upon an accessible abandoned house in Canada, I expect to encounter one of three scenarios: 1) squatters, 2) people who think it’s a good place to get high, 3) a trespassing charge.  In China, people don’t care.  It turned out that someone was residing in the house attached to the cluttered courtyard.  You can see her in the picture washing something in the sink.  She took no notice of me.

The local government wanted people to vacate the homes in 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley) so they could develop the area, but the plan was scrapped after the new mayor rose to power.  Many people have vacated, and I don’t blame them for wanting to live somewhere with more advanced housing features, but some have, for whatever reason, stayed.  I’m intensely curious about the scenes that went on in these now abandoned living spaces.  Who lived here?  Why did they leave?  Those calendar characters that are still hanging on the walls, what have they seen?  Not ever knowing only adds to the mystique surrounding the place.

Emerging from 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley), you end up on 公園路 (Gongyuan Road), the road connecting 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang) and 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley). On one side of the intersection is a hotel with a clock tower.  On the other side lies the memory of 1581.

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Changzhou Part 2

Part 2: Along Ancient City Walls

“Changzhou,” or 常州 in Chinese characters, translates to “Ordinary Prefecture.”  So, I was surprised to read 龍城通 (Dragon City Transit) on my transit card.  How did an ordinary prefecture get paired with this fearsome alter ego?

Changzhou has a 2300 year history, which meant that there must be something worth exploring.  In my first couple of weeks, my Changzhounese coworker took me to three of the city’s main attractions: Tianning Temple, Hongmei Park, and a restored version of the west gate of the city wall.

Tianning Temple v1.0 was built just outside the ancient east gate over 1000 years ago.  According to this website, the temple that I visited was the sixth version restored in 1990 , as v1.0-5.0 were destroyed by war or nature.  The pagoda, which appears to be v1.0, was completed in 2007 and boasts the title of the tallest Buddhist pagoda in the world.  And so, all the structures in the pictures look very new.  I used the pagoda as a landmark.

Attached to Tianning Temple is Hongmei Park, which is a National AAAA Tourist Attraction as decided by the China National Tourism Administration.  It is very well designed and manicured.  Young and old use it for leisure.  It houses the Hongmei Pavilion which was built 1000+ years ago but rebuilt by the Qing dynasty. I talk about this as if I’m parroting facts from wikipedia because that’s exactly what I’m doing.

The west gate of the city wall is smooth.  Complete.  Rebuilt.

From my introduction to Changzhou, it was difficult to tell that the city had anything even built before 1990.  All three attractions were meant to celebrate Changzhou history and culture, but at each turn I felt that the X factor had been erased.  I thought the dragon was sleeping.

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Changzhou Part 1

I lived in Changzhou for the better part of two years as an outsider who blends in visually with the locals.  Through this series, you will see that Changzhou is progressive urbanization superimposed upon existing villages, and these two opposing forces, at the time of photographing, exist side by side.  With this city layout there are two kinds of residents in Changzhou: those who source most, if not all of what they need from their village or one block radius, and those who source the same things more from malls and supermarkets.  The second class of people may choose to go to a smaller shop frequented by the first class of people, but probably not the other way around.  At every turn, you can see the interplay between these two classes of people.  Visually, I tended to gravitate more towards the villages, because they made me believe that it was 1960, and without a doubt distance travelling plus time travelling trumps solely distance travelling.  It’s clear which force is more dominant and which direction Changzhou and other Chinese cities are headed, which is why I believe that the older parts of the city ought to be documented, and not with a cell phone camera.  One day, when the last village area becomes demolished or restored, proof will exist that at this time and in this place, things looked like this.

Part 1: My Old Neighbourhood

This is 富都小區 (Fudu Little Area) in the 新北區 (Xinbei District) of north west Changzhou.  It’s the alley by my apartment complex, and 富都市場 (Fudu Market) in one of the pictures is where I bought most of my groceries towards the end of my stay.  In fact, you don’t need to leave this alley to have almost everything for your daily life taken care of, if you can live like a Chinese.  There are banks, cell phone shops, barbers, an e-bike repair shop, an electronics repair shop, fruit shops, a cake shop, a bread shop, a couple daily use items shops, convenience stores, drugstores, daily breakfast stands, many restaurants, a couple bubble tea shops, a liquor and cigarette shop, shops selling suitcases, handbags, makeup, and hair accessories.  富都市場 (Fudu Market) sells everything from vegetables to ready-to-eat food, noodles, Chinese mattresses (which is a giant rolled up bamboo mat), kitchen utensils, custom order leather shoes, and clothing.  This is something that I wish I had realized sooner.  Why would I have wanted to pay more for forks and plates from Tesco when I could have gotten them cheaper at that 24 hour store that sells everything?

Less than one kilometer downstream my backyard canal is 新北區公園 (Xinbei Park), which is quite cleaned up in appearance compared with 富都小區 (Fudu Little Area).  People take their grandkids here to play, young families take out one of those multicoloured plastic boats and couples go on a leisurely afternoon stroll.  Instead of drinking milk tea or coffee from a smaller company like Super Daddy, people drink coffee from Starbucks or its copycats.

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