Chángshú 常熟

Changshu is a small city some 100 km northwest of Shanghai and some 60 km north of Suzhou. "Small city" means that it has just 1·5 million inhabitants, which is tiny compared to the more than 30 million people in its vicinity, such as its neighbours Suzhou (about 4·5 million) and Shanghai (26 million).

On the outskirts, Changshu looks like any modern Chinese city with its soulless high-rises and wide roads. Changshu lies in the alluvial plain of the Yangtze River, so the landscape around it is rather flat and uninspiring. However, the area is very fertile (the name of the city can be translated as "eternal harvest") and features many canals and smaller waterways.

The old town of Changshu is almost completely surrounded by a canal, except for the northwest, where the Yúshān Mountain 虞山 cuts into the circle, where the canal is replaced by what looks like a small version of the great wall. Inside this circle, there are no buildings higher than four or five floors, and in the very centre there are still some old alleys next to small canals.

Changshu has several nice parks, the most famous one is the Fangta Park which is named after the Fāngtǎ 方塔 (lit. "square tower") pagoda in its centre. Another nice park with a small lake and hidden gardens is at the foot of the Yushan Mountain.

While I was living in Changshu a few years ago, the easiest way to get there from Shanghai was to take a bus from the bus station next to the Shanghai Railway Station (look for 长途汽车站 - chángtú qìchē zhàn - long-distance bus station), the ride was about 90 minutes, the buses ran every half hour or so. Since then Changshu has gotten a highspeed railway station, so things will have changed

I lived in Changshu for almost 1½ years, and I have explored almost every old street and alley on foot or by bicycle. Like any other Chinese city, there are public bicycle stations everywhere. All you need is a card, and as long as the bicycle is returned to any station within an hour, it is free (may have changed, too... it's been a few years).

Below I show some impressions from the inner city:

Changshu Here you can easily see the layout of the ancient city centre, which is surrounded by a circular canal, except for the portion where the Yushan mountain cuts into the circle. On the mountain, the circle is completed by a city wall which looks like a miniature version of the Great Wall.
Inside the circle, next to the easternmost section of the canal, you can see a rectangular green space, that is the Fangta park around the pagoda.
Fangta A landmark of Changshu is the Fangta 方塔 which simply translates to "Square Tower". It was built in 1130 during the Southern Song Dynasty.
Fangta Park More impressions of the Fangta Park. If one circles it outside, it doesn't seem very big, but if you enter it, after every corner you will discover a new sight: A pond, a building, a small garden, a stele, a bridge - it takes more time than expected to discover all that there is to see.

Inside the park there is also a tea house where you can sit down and relax. I often used to have a tea and do my Chinese homework there.
Fangta Park More impressions inside the Fangta Park.
Fangta Park More impressions inside the Fangta Park.
Yushan Park in Autumn This is the Yushan park in autumn. Yushan park is at the foot of the Yushan mountain right next to the ancient inner city.
Yushan Tea Houses Also at the foot of Yushan there are a number of tea houses.
Little Wall Looking south from the southern end of the city wall. Behind the West Gate (西门 Xīmén) there is the continuation of the circular canal protecting the ancient inner city.
Qinchuan canal On Hédōng Jiē 河东街 looking north along the canal running from near Fangta Park to near the North Gate.
Qinchuan canal Same canal a little to the south.
Ring Canal Bridge crossing the eastern part of the circular canal.
Canal Another small canal in the south of the ancient centre. As Changshu lies in the alluvial plain of the Yangtze, there are wetlands and canals everywhere.
small alley Alleys in the centre, not far from the place where I lived.
roadside BBQ Just south of the eastern end of the Fangta pedestrian zone (Fāngtǎ bùxíngjiē 方塔步行街) there is a small square with many small eateries and roadside BBQs.
roadside BBQ-Dishes I often went to this one for dinner. As you can have a look and smell of the food before it is cooked, and also this one doesn't use cooking oil (you never know what kind of oil they use). I never had any problems and the food was always delicious. I miss that place.
Café by the canal Again a view of the small canal along Hedong Street: This café doesn't only have good coffee but also nice cake.
Pedestrian Zone A view of the pedestrian zone (Fāngtǎ bùxíngjiē 方塔步行街).
Police Station Whenever I returned to the Mainland, I had to get a proof of residence from my landlord and then re-register at the police station.
That sounds more cumbersome than it actually was: The registration itself took some five minutes, but then I always ran into the guard, who was a proud Changshunese. As soon as he had found out that I love his hometown, he never let me go without some longer chat.
outside Changshu Fertile wetlands just outside of the city limits. The name of the city 常熟 Chángshú can be translated to something like "frequent harvest".
Square Dance In China, 广场舞 Guǎngchǎng Wǔ "square dancing" means just that: dancing on a square. It is a pastime which in the evening you can see everywhere in China, it is mainly middle-aged and older women, but also younger people and men dance, and it is not only Chinese dances.
Several years ago in 哈尔滨 Hā'ěrbīn (Harbin, a city in the northeast of China) I have seen hundreds of couples waltzing.
3rd Ring Road This is the 三环快速路 Sānhuán Kuàisù Lù (3rd ring expressway) around Changshu. Construction began just before I left, and has been completed about two years later I believe. In the meantime, Changshu also has received a new highspeed railway station.

As comparison to how we do things in Germany, construction of the new capital airport of Berlin began in 2006, the opening was planned for October 2011. The final opening was then in 2020...