Pudong’s Way Station

When you are an expat living in places like Changzhou, Wuxi, Zhenjiang, and some of the smaller satellite cities around those prefectures, getting to Pudong International can be a bit of a drama sometimes. This is more the case when you are on a university teacher’s salary and need to travel on budget. You don’t have the deep pockets of an engineer or a business man, and there is no hiring a private driver; you basically have to take a combination of train, subway, and coaches just to get to the airport — and that is just the beginning of a longer journey back to the west. And, sometimes, even logical plans and preparations can go awry.

I know this because I am writing this in New Jersey. It’s that time of year when I go back to America to see my family. Part of my plan involved going to Pudong a night early and staying at the hotel there. Only, no rooms were available once I arrived, and when that happens, one of the airport employees / ushers points you at an booking office that will help you find lodging elsewhere. 

I eventually ended up in a shuttle bus to a nearby hotel. By close, I mean 7 kilometers and in a village near a highway’s on and off ramps.  If you are not careful, you could end up in a “super bargain” of a hotel. Of course, “super bargain” could be a euphemism for something like this…

I ended up here because I thought a representative standing near the Korea Air help desk was some how affiliated with that airline. He wasn’t. This bit of lodging was located on a back street next to a decrepit canal.

Because of a flight scheduling mishap, I ended up staying here for two days. Before anybody suspects that this is the beginning of a horror story, let me just say it isn’t. I have very low standards for hotels — all I need is a clean room, a clean bathroom, a functional shower, wifi, and a desk. If I have that and a cheap lodging price, I am extremely happy. Pools? A weight room? A swanky bar? A fancy restaurant? All that is pretty much useless to me. I am also a guy that doesn’t mind wandering places unfamiliar to me, and I certainly spent a lot time doing that.

At first, Jiangzhen — the town I was in — seemed like a dusty little backwater of Shaghai’s Pudong New District. The major industry here are solely hotels serving overflow passengers needing a temporary accommodation.  I chose to try hard to not look at it that way, and I tried to wander to get a sense of the landscape. I felt watched, quite frankly. Especially by this guy …

Clearly, one of the most epic mustaches in Shanghai.

This all sounds bad, but the entire area has some basic amenities for international travelers that may end up here a night or two.

Starbucks, a Burger King, a KFC, and a few other things. Those are not reasons to come here. Most international travelers do not choose to visit a place like Jiangzhen. None-the-less, they end up here, and time seems to slow down as if you have no other place to go.

Either way, the Jiangzhen area was better than a similar area I stayed in last year while traveling to the USA. That was Hongqiao — their hotel overflow area had nothing, the ATMs were all out of money, and the whole area was a construction site with people staying in it. To that end, Jiangzhen seems a bit cozy.

Xu Zhimo Romantically in Changzhou

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Image of Mr. Handsome Courtesy of Wikipedia

A snowflake falls from a winter cloud, but it seems intent. It’s consumed with desire. As it flutters its way to earth; it works hard to avoid forests, mountains, and valleys. It does not want to land on something or somebody meaningless. It knows what it wants its destiny to be: it has to seek out a garden and fall onto a beautiful woman so that it could melt and “dissolve into the cordial waves of her heart.”

This is the gist of 徐志摩 Xu Zhimo’s famous poem, “A Snowflake’s Happiness” — 雪花的快樂. My summation is a bit crude, because there is more at work here. The whole poem is a complicated metaphor about love, and that gets into the mechanics of how it was written. The first line goes like this:

If I were a snowflake

The voice of the poem is not declaring, “I am a snow flake.“ The operative word here, if we are trusting the translator, is if.  That means its a metaphor and not a description of real life or something following a more narrative context. Much like other effective poems, the middle is there to build tension and led to the emotional payoff of the end. Of course, I’m not basing this off the Chinese original, but a translation I found on a blog. This version reads like a few of the others that I have found

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This is well and fine, one might say. But what does this have to do with Changzhou? Xu, after all, was born in Zhejiang and spent a lot of time studying in the US and the UK. Living in England is the subject his most anthologized poem, “Taking Leave of Cambridge Again.” As it turns out, Xu had a few links to Changzhou. The first comes by way of his romantic relationship with Lu Xiaoman.陆小曼. She spent sometime growing up in the Dragon City and had a definite connection to it. By default, that gave Xu an connection, too.

During his writing career, Xu also wrote a poem about Tianning Temple. The temple’s website even acknowledges this. This has been translated into English, but its only available in print. It isn’t online, and the collection of verse does not have an eBook version. I would have bought a copy if it had. One can shove the Chinese version into an online translator, but that really does a bunch of indignities to poetry. Verse is a medium where the choice of language is mostly exact and precise. It’s all about the subtleties of nuance.  Translating something like this with Google is like taking a beautiful, delicate, and exquisite piece of porcelain and dropping it into a blender.

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Despite these literary and historical connections to Changzhou, there is something real that somebody can go see. It’s in Tianning, near a northern exit of Hongmei Park and just down the street from the downtown train station. There is a statue depicting a romantic couple, and the are standing next carved metal baring the title of Xu’s snowflake poem.

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It would be easy to pass this by and think it’s the only thing referencing Xu Zhimo in the area. However, if a person were to descend a nearby staircase and stand along the canal, they would see this.

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These are inscribed tablets reproducing pages from Xu Zhimo’s diaries. This, in particular comes from 爱眉小札日记. This diary has been published in Chinese as a book, but like a lot of Xu’s prose, it has not been translated into English. If one were to look at some of what has been reproduced on this wall, it’s a emblematic of Xu and the writer he was.

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Of course, Xu was a hopeless romantic. He not only had a relationship with Lu Xiaoman, but he had conducted affairs with lots of other women. If you take the content and context of his writing and put that to one side, there is something more stylistic. The passages on display near Hongmei are bilingual. English sentences like

Oh May! Love me; give me all your love. Let us become one…

are interspersed into Chinese. This is no accident. Xu also worked as a translator, and he was proficient enough in English to study both in the UK and the USA. This also gets into the type of writer he was.

In some ways, Xu Zhimo can be compared to Ezra Pound in America. Pound looked at traditional forms in English language prosody and wanted to throw them out, start over, and bring in something new. He had translated Chinese poets like Li Bai and felt their influence. Pound also translated Japanese verse, and his famous “In The Station of the Metro” poem reads like a haiku. On the other hand, Xu Zhimo  returned from study abroad. and did the same thing. Only, he loved western poets like Keats and Shelley. He wanted to throw out traditional Chinese poetic standards and write something more influenced by the west.  In short: Xu was not immune to experimenting and playing around with language.

Whether it is by way of his Tianning Temple poem or his relationship with Lu Xiaoman, Xu had some connection with Changzhou. This city has had a long reputation for helping cultivate scholars and and people of intellect. Xu Zhimo definitely didn’t come from here, but as evidenced by sculpture and canal-side engraved passages, Changzhou will still celebrate its link to him.

This was crossposted from Real Changzhou. 

China’s First Steamship in Wuxi

Steam technology came to China during the Qing Dynasty, and there is an interesting dynamic to think about there. In Ancient history, the Chinese were essentially global leaders of innovation. Gun powder, for example, came into being during the 9th century, and the Chinese followed that up with the “fire lance” a hundred or so years later. This was basically a tube at the end of a spear the could belch out fire and sometimes, if one had some really nasty intent, flaming hot shrapnel. The fire lance was the precursor to all firearms and guns to follow.

Fire lances don’t allegedly kill people; people allegedly kill alleged people!

Ask yourself how something like that didn’t change the world? Then, somehow, China lost its edge. During the Ming and early Qing Dynasties, The Middle Kingdom shut itself off from the rest of the world. In isolation, the culture slowed its technological growth and the west caught up and surpassed China.  Once the later Qing reopened to western trade, China had a lot of catching up to do.  What good is a ancient Chinese fire lance in battle when Americans invented the first rapid-fire machine gun? (The Gatlin Gun)

Gatlin Guns don’t kill people, people kill …. um, wait, who am I kidding? This things mowed down a lot of soldiers during the American Civil War.

Guns or otherwise, the Chinese had fallen behind. So, back to my original point. The British first demonstrated a steam powered locomotive to imperial court in 1864, and the trend from there indicates that most of the innovations like this came from foreign sources at high cost. Most people and nation states dream and aspire towards self reliance. So, you can imagine how some Chinese people would actively want to make their own steam engines and not have to pay top sums of money for a foreigner to manufacture one for them.

Here is where an interesting — but almost forgettable — little display in present day Wuxi comes into play. It’s along the Liangxi Touring Recreational Greenway. This is a part of the greater Grand Canal network of artificial waterways that can be found in cities from Hangzhou to Beijing. This particular stretch of water is walking distance from Wuxi’s central train station and is near a thick cluster of dance clubs.

So, what exactly am I talking about? There is a replica of a steamship permanently moored to the side of the canal here. Next to this boat, three statues of Chinese men stand. In all likelihood, they are Xu Shou with his son, Xu Jiangyan, and a family friend, Hua Hengfang. These three conceived, designed, built, and test drove the first steam-powered boat ever locally produced in China. This endeavor was funded by Zeng Guofan. He is perhaps more well known for his efforts in helping to put down the the extremely bloody and destructive Taiping Rebellion. So, this little boat thing in Wuxi is more of a minor footnote on his career as an imperial official.

In some respects, China is still playing “catch up” with the west when it comes to technology. In other areas, like the building  infrastructure like roads, rail systems, subway networks, and much more, China is already leading and has left the USA far, far behind. But, in history, a lot of things are interconnected in subtle ways. So, Wuxi’s claim to have been the home of the first domestically created steamship engine may not sound like a big deal. It may still sound like a footnote in history, but even footnotes have context and greater meanings.

Great Pastrami at Tock’s Montreal Deli

When I raised the sandwich to my mouth,  it fell apart into a disgusting pile of steak, mayonnaise, corn kernels, and more. I glared at the mess on my plate.  I tried to quell my mounting rage, because — well — sane people don’t lose their minds over hoagies. Also, I shouldn’t have gotten so excited that a new sandwich place opened at Xinbei Wanda Plaza. I set myself up for disappointment.  In the end, I told myself that this is normal for a Chinese city like Changzhou.  The Dragon City is not Manhattan, Brooklyn, or New Jersey. Jewish delis do not exist here.

One does, however, exist in Shanghai, and to say it’s awesome is an understatement. They smoke their own meat and make their own pastrami. In Canada, this would be called “Montreal smoked meat,” but it’s essentially the same thing as pastrami. Montreal does have a legacy of Jewish immigration that also brought kosher deli traditions, and that’s what gives Tock’s — on the other side of the world in China — unique character.

Obviously, the pastrami is the signature menu item, here. It’s featured a few different sandwiches and platters. There are three versions of this cured and brined beef, too, and the differences depend on how much fat you are willing to consume. So, there is a lean, a medium, and a fatty version that you can specify. The times I have eaten there, the waitstaff have always recommended “medium” as the most popular among regular customers. That’s what I had, and it was just perfect, and pastrami really is my favorite lunch meat of all time.  It’s one of the few thing I actually miss about living in New Jersey. I guess you can say that’s also why this deli really was “love at first bite” for me.

As for the two other specialties available, there is smoked duck and smoked chicken. The smoked duck is just glorious. The resulting sandwich was just meat and bread, but the flavor of the meat, piled high and served warm, could give Tock’s pastrami a run for it’s money. While very good, the duck here will always come in second, however.

The smoked chicken is in a distant third. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good, but it just does not have the strong, distinctive flavor of pastrami or duck. Tock’s has a menu option where you can have two different meats within one sandwich. It would be best to pair the chicken with the pastrami or the duck. Pairing the duck and the pastrami would be a bad idea, since you would have two unique, complex flavors clashing with each other.

Tock’s also has poutine. This is a food nearly all my Canadian friends are passionate about. In other English languages cultures, we would call these “wet fries” — fried potatoes smothered with a topping. In that regard, I guess you could argue that “chili fries” would be an American version of poutine. In Canada, this delicious bit of junk food has gravy and cheese curds as basic toppings that could be built upon. Tock’s provides this, but they also have versions that include chopped smoked meat. You can either order a large portion of whatever poutine preference, or you can pay extra and have your side of fries jazzed up beside your sandwich.

I have always left Tock’s stuffed and satisfied. Every time I go there, or some of the other great food places in Shanghai, it gives me the patience to persevere through some of the more blundering attempts you might find in Changzhou start-up sandwich places. That’s not to say Changzhou is bad; I live here and it’s my point of reference. You can find similar experiences in other smaller-sized Chinese cities. In short, Tock’s is absolutely worth a stop while you are visiting  Shanghai and conducting other business.

Tock’s Montreal Deli can be found in The Bund. It is walking distance from the East Nanjing Road subway station, which services Line 2 and Line 11.  It can be found on Henan Road.

The 36 to Hell and Back

Hell, and the doorway to it, can be found in Xinbei. Somebody could accuse me of being facetious, and they would be absolutely, 100% correct! I am not talking about a mythological nether region where the souls of the damned are tormented. Actually, I’m talking about a statuary recreation of an underworld that is part of Chinese Buddhism. The torture meted out in this version of hell can be particularly brutal, but the saving grace is that the damned can pay their karmic debt and eventually be reincarnated. In Buddhism, people are not meant to rot in such a place for eternity.

This display can be found at Wanfo Temple. There was a previous Real Changzhou post about this place more than a year ago, but  that was more of explaining what the place was and what it culturally meant. Back then, I found it while riding my ebike in Northern Xinbei. Recently, I figured out how to get there on the public bus.

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Going north, I boarded the 36 at a stop in front of Xinbei Wanda Plaza. However, there are stops at points south of here. The 36 originates at the downtown train station and terminates in a part of Xinbei that’s just a couple of kilometers from the city line with Yangzhong. For a large section of the journey, this bus travels north on Tongjiang Road before turning.

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Eventually, I found myself in a small town called Weitang 圩塘镇. Instead of giving the street name, I would just say if you see the chimney from the industrial port along the Yangtze River, it’s time to get off the bus.

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Walk in a straight line towards that smoke stack. Sometimes, it will be hidden behind a building, but you can still see evidence of it on a clear day.

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The walkway might become a bit narrow, as you will end up walking through a working class neighborhood of desolate concrete. However, if you keep walking straight, you will not get lost. And trust me, I have been lost in this neighborhood before; it’s labyrinthine and it’s easy to make a wrong turn. So, I can’t stress how you only have to walk a straight line from the previously mentioned bus stop.

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A ticket runs about 10 RMB. Also, there are old ladies nearby that will want to sell you ceremonial incense. I skipped it this time, but a prior time I came here, a packet ran me about 10 additional RMB.

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As soon as you see something that looks like Guanyin dispensing mercy to troubled souls, you have almost found Hell.In the background of the above picture, you can see the entrance to the hall.

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The above picture doesn’t really do justice the gruesome detail on display here. So, consider this as an advisory. Graphic depictions of violence shall follow.

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The above three photos are just a minuscule sampling of what is here. A potential visitor should know that this a real religious site and not a wax museum like Madame Tussaud’s in London. The amount of carnage and brutality on display here may seem outlandish, but this is a place where I have always heard monks chanting in the background — every time I have been here. Christian cathedrals in Europe have been treated like tourist attractions, but visitors are still expected to treat the place with some sense of solemnity. The same could be said for Buddhist temples in Changzhou, China, and elsewhere in Asia.

This post originally appeared on Real Changzhou.

Unwinding at Gilly’s in Xianlin

Language is unstable, some postmodern and contemporary poets might warn us. Some of this comes from the interplay of  text and meaning, and some of it is comes from the meaning a reader assigns to what they read. No two readers read the same text the same way. Trust me, I know this sounds confusing. Bare with me. All of this partially originates from the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who drew from the linguist Ferdinand De Saussure. Some people might be reading this paragraph and go, “What the bloody hell is he talking about? Has he been drinking baijiu 白酒 and has been smashing his forehead on his keyboard, AGAIN?” So, I’m not going to unpack any deconstructionist literary critical theories at the moment. It made my head spin in graduate school, and over the past weekend, it made my head spin again.

Although, deconstructionism  befuddled me in a new and different way. Recently, I attended a translation-terminology conference at Nanjing University’s Xianlin Campus. Literature and writing studies has it’s own academic jargon. Wading into translation studies, or any other professional field,  for the first time would be like walking into a wind tunnel of highly technical words– you look for just about anything to grab onto before being swept away and flung painfully against a brick wall. For me, that meant relying on the literary critical theory I know and smidgen of linguistics I actually remember from a long time ago to find parallels. Basically, I was trying to find a way to “translate” from type of specialized, technical English to another. I would talk about the irony of that being at a translation-terminology conference, but only language nerds might get the joke.

Needless to say, after the first day, I went looking for a bar because I really needed to decompress my head.  Thankfully, I found Gilly’s and after a couple of beers, I found myself mingling with some of the local expats and a fellow teacher from Changzhou I accidentally ran into.

 

 

Gilly’s is walking distance from the Xueze Road 学则路 xué zé lù subway station on Nanjing’s Line 3. It’s at 108 Wenfan Road. This would be in the Xianlin neighborhood of Nanjing. There are a lot of schools down this way, and a lot of expats who work in some industrial sectors live here. In short, it’s a large foreign community (teachers, engineers, business people, and so on) in Nanjing.  However, the ambiance of this area is a marked difference that Xinjiekou and the bustle of Nanjing’s city center. Life seems to have a slower, more relaxed pace around Xianlin.

Gilly’s seemed to have that same vibe. However, do bare in mind I have only been there once. Good expat bars feel like they have a sense of community, and this place seemed no different. You could even see it in the food specials. The place was taking reservations for an upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, and Saturdays offered American styled breakfast specials until 4pm.

 

Well, that sounds super YUM!

 

They have Asahi, Carlsberg, and Ming IPA on draft, and seeing how I wanted to drink local, I opted for the Ming IPA. It’s brewed in Nanjing.

 

A very good Chinese IPA!

 

Gilly’s also has Master Gao’s  Baby Jasmine Lager for a bargain of 25 RMB per can.

 

Note the blackboard behind the yummy Nanjing beer. Thanksgiving turkey can be had here.

 

Unfortunately, since I had stuffed myself silly at NJU’s Convention Center buffet restaurant, I didn’t try any of the food on their menu. Many of the locals suggested the pizza for next time I am in town.

Truth be told, I don’t know when I will back in that part of Nanjing again. For a Nanjing out-of-towner, Xianlin is like a 50 to 60 minute ride from the central station. That includes an interchange at Daxinggong or Xinjiekou if you are riding Line 1 or Line 2.  It’s hard to build an easy day trip around that. However, the more relaxed feel of Xianlin as a whole is a welcome change if all you know is the more cosmopolitan parts of Nanjing.  In short, I feel sort of drawn back here to see more of this area of the city.

Cheese Enchiladas at Peter’s

In one of his many videos, professional skateboarder and all around legend Tony Hawk once pointed out how Mexican food lowers in quality as distance from the Mexican boarder increases.However, I noticed that same could be said for the state of Tex Mex cuisine and finding it outside North America in general. It seems like a gamble in if you are traveling through China. I thought about this recently while in Wuxi.  Currently, I know of only two restaurants in that city offering anything that remotely looks like it comes from Mexico or Texas. I have only been to one of those two.

Peter’s Tex-Mex Grill can be found in Wuxi’s southern Binhu District. It’s in a shopping mall overlooking Linhu Lake and the large Wuxi Grand Theater stands right next door. This is on the southern end of the city’s subway’s Line 1, and is in the greater vicinity of Jiangnan University 江南大学. Actually, it’s a bit of a hike from the nearest metro station, Cultural Palace 文化宫.  I found the restaurant by sheer accident. I had come to this part of Wuxi because I had never been here before and was up for a bit of aimless wandering.

So, how was the food? Since I hadn’t really had anything vegetarian in a while, I opted for the rather simple cheese enchiladas.  Honestly, it was a bit of a gloopy mess. To be fair, this dish can be a bit of a gloopy mess in America, too.  It’s basically just queso cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla smothered in a mild sauce. Small ramekins of refried  beans, rice, and sour cream came with the dish. All in all, just average, and that can be just okay in China, sometimes. It actually tasted like enchiladas!  It’s certainly better than anything in Changzhou that is currently calling itself “Mexican.” There was a chain called Tacos that was just, well, not very good.  It was Mexican in name only.

I would return to Peter’s, but it’s just not in a good location for an out of town guy like me. Wuxi, however, looks to be building a subway line out here, and with the Grand Theater as a cultural attraction, that is probably a very good idea.

 

Behind Zhouzhuang’s Fame

Image Courtesy of China Daily

 

Imagine a famous painter is cruising through an ancient water town. He takes in the picturesque village around him, and then, all of a sudden, he is swept up in memory and is daydreaming about his hometown — it looks similar. However, the imagery of the rural town and it’s artificial waterways lingers in his memory, and he feels inspired to paint. It’s nostalgia, and it happens all the time with artists. The taste and smell, for example, of a madeleine cookie begins Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which is the longest novel in history.

The above situation happened, though, to Chen Yifei 陈逸飞 in Zhouzhuang. He went on to recreate oil paint renditions of the watery hamlet, and these works went on to become internationally famous. They hung in New York City, and a very famous collector and arts patron, Armand Hammer, paid a very large sum of money to buy the painting Memory of my Hometown and give it as a friendly gift to Deng Xiaoping. The image of that painting even went on to become a first day cover for United Nations postage stamps. All of a sudden, Zhouzhuang went from a sleepy set of traditional homes and canals to being famous worldwide. It’s also a very famous tourist destination in China.

Much of the town consists of tight corridors. There are two large, sprawling homes preserved to look how the would have centuries ago, but some of the old shop fronts have been tasked for more modern purposes. For example, Zhouzhuang’s Starbucks is such a building in one of the narrow streets. McDonalds, on the other hand, is outside the attraction. There are picturesque boat tours that could be had, here. And the boats are recreations of what one might have seen in ancient China.

These boat trips cost extra, and entry into the water town proper goes for 100 RMB. As a destination, this is not a convenient trip for a solo traveler outside Kunshan. Essentially, a visitor must take the high speed rail to Kunshan South Station. That’s between Suzhou and Shanghai.  From the South Station, one has to take Kunshan’s public 133 bus to its terminal station. One added convenience, though, is that this route passes Jinxi Ancient Watertown. So, it is possible that a visitor to Kunshan can easily see both attractions in one day. The other option would be to get on a chartered tour.

Liyang’s Game of Thrones Styled Story

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.

Cross Posted from Real Changzhou. 

Yixing’s Dragon Slayer

It takes a true hero to admit when he or she is wrong. This not only shows a level of self awareness, but a fundamental sense of humanity. We are not always as great as we secretly — or not so secretly!! — think we are. If we were talking professional wrestling, this would be termed as a “face turn“ — when bad man (called a “heel”) ditches his dastardly ways and becomes beloved for it. In the art of telling stories, it’s much more basic than that; it’s straight up character development. And characters who grow as people are always much more interesting than the ones that don’t.

There is an example of this to be found in Yixing’s local lore. Yixing is one of Wuxi’s two satellite cities. The other, Jiangyin, can be found to the north of Wuxi and along the banks of the Yangtze River. Yixing is to the south and is situated near Lake Tai. At one point, this city actually used to be part of Changzhou, eons ago. It was even referenced by Su Dongpo in an request filed with the emperor. The poet landed in Yixing, and was asking permission to live in Changzhou. There is a monument to this written request in the Xuejia part of Changzhou’s northern Xinbei district.

That’s all well and interesting, but what does that have to do with slaying dragons? After all, the title of this post promises that a dragon gets killed, at some point, right? Yixing was once home to a man named Zhou Chu  周處. In his youth, he was considered a hothead who liked to push other people around — a bully, if you will. He was a man so full of himself, his fellow villagers named him one of the three local scourges.  The other two were a tiger and an evil water dragon. Zhou decided to kill the tiger, and for three days, he battled the dragon on Lake Tai.

Upon returning to what would become Yixing with a severed dragon’s head, he learned that his own character flaws were the third and final monster his neighbor’s feared. So, he mended his ways. He went on to become a valiant general who died in battle. Actually, he was sent into battle without enough troops. When asked if he wanted to retreat and flee after his archers ran out of arrows, he responded with something to the effect of, and to paraphrase, “I would rather die serving my country.”

Sure, this is a folk tale that is more the 1000 years old, but it’s still remembered in Yixing. The city’s downtown area has a network of parks built up around a body of water called Tuanjiu 团氿. It is here where a visitor can find a stone statue commemorating this story. It depicts Zhou Chu wielding a story while wrestling and subduing a dragon.