Yesterday, my friend Jim and I began a mini vacation to Taierzhuang. When I have internet service, I will try to remember to add a history about this place. A major battle occurred here during the fight with the Japanese in 1938. It was the first victory over the Japanese and showed the Chinese military that the Japanese were not invincible. But, the town was laid to waster through the bombs and the Japanese setting fire to the town. Not much was left.
We began the trip, leaving the bus station in Ganyu at 8:30 AM. We arrived in a major transportation hub of our area called Xuzhou about 4 hours later. We thought that there was a direct bus from Xuzhou to Taierzhuang. But, we could not find it. So, we had to catch a bus to make the connecting bus to our destination. This bus traveled on the back roads in the country. It was a bumpy ride nearly 75% of the way. It took much longer than we anticipated. We get to the town to make out connection. I had it in my mind that we were only about 20 minutes from our destination. It was more like 45-50 minutes. We finally arrived in Taierzhuang at 3:30 PM. Two hours later than what was expected.
We did not make reservations for a hotel. So, we just walked through the small city until we found a hotel we liked. We entered the hotel and discovered that the cost of the room was 188 RMB a night. About $30.00 USD. Typical of what we expected. Jim knows Chinese better than I do, but it is barely good enough to do deep conversations. Jim tells the desk agent that we want 2 beds for two nights. When the agent is finished, he hands us two keys. It turns out that he gave us two keys for two separate rooms. We thought that maybe they only had single bed rooms available, so we accepted this. We get to our rooms and each room has two beds in them. I go back downstairs and through my very limited English, I get him to delete one of the rooms. The rooms are nice enough for what they are. Nearly every hotel room I have been in has dirty, cigarette burned carpets. Workmanship in the rooms are always below par for what I would expect. Broken tiles, wallpaper not hung properly. And, other such things. Our TV was not working, but that was easily remedied by the staff. And, although there is an internet cable in the room, there is no internet. You have to go to the lobby to get internet service. I tell you these things, not because of my disappointment. But, it is to give you an idea of what we deal with when we stay in hotel rooms in China. I just take it all in stride now.
After checking into the hotel, we had time to explore some. We found the new “ancient” city that we wanted to experience. Let be first tell you a bit about the history of Taierzhuang during the war.
The Battle of Tai’erzhuang was a battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, between armies of Chinese Kuomintang and Japan, and is sometimes considered as a part of Battle of Xuzhou.
Tai’erzhuang is located on the eastern bank of the Grand Canal of China and was a frontier garrison northeast of Xuzhou. It was also the terminus of a local branch railway from Lincheng. Xuzhou itself was the junction of the Jinpu Railway (Tianjin-Pukou) and the Longhai Railway (Lanzhou-Lianyungang) and the headquarters of the KMT’s 5th War Zone.
The battle involved a Japanese plan to conquer Xuzhou, a major city in the East. However, the Japanese failed to consider the plans of generals Li Zongren and Bai Chongxi, who planned to encircle the Japanese in the town of Tai’erzhuang. The Japanese operation started on 24 March. Overconfidence led the Japanese commanders to overlook the thousands of inconspicuous “farmers” in the area, who were affiliated with the Communists and cut communication lines and supplies, diverted streams, and ruined rail lines. By late March, supplies and fuels were being dropped from airplanes to Japanese troops, but the quantities were insufficient. (This was funny to me. The farmers in the field were actually Chinese soldiers in disguise).
On March 29, 1938, a small band of Japanese soldiers tunneled under Tai’erzhuang’s walls in an attempt to take the city from within. They were caught by the Chinese defenders and killed. Over the next week, both sides claimed to hold parts of the city and surrounding area, and many were killed in small arms battles.
Finally, the Japanese attacked frontally, failing to consider the greater Chinese numbers. A major encirclement on April 6, with Chinese reinforcements, preceded a major Japanese retreat, which the Chinese failed to capitalize upon through pursuit due to a lack of mobility.
Amid the celebrations in Hankow and other Chinese cities, Japan denied and ridiculed the reports of the battle for days. It was reported in the world’s newspapers, however, and by mid-April had provoked a Cabinet crisis in Tokyo.
The Chinese scored a major victory, the first of the Nationalist alliance in the war. The battle broke the myth of Japanese military invincibility and resulted in an incalculable benefit to Chinese morale.
The city was laid in waste from the battle. Fire burned most of the wooden structures and bombs destroyed other buildings. There was not much left. So, in 2008, China decided to rebuild the city of one of their most famous battle sites. It was built to resemble the city as it once was. But, as you read this journal entry, you will see that they only succeeded, perhaps, in architecture.
So….. Jim and I walk to the ticket booth. Lines of kids were there. And, as it was late in the afternoon, we decided to just get some information. The cost is 160 RMB a person. About $25.00 USD. This is a little steep of a price for many Chinese. But, it seemed like it was worth the price by looking at the size of the place on the map. We got our information and went strolling along the main canal in the city. We found the war memorial museum. It was only open for about another 45 minutes. I am not sure if the museum is usually free, but it was for us at that time of day. They had some interesting military products in the front. Some planes and tanks. Inside the museum, they did a good job of showing and discussing the battle. Of course it was on the view of a Chinese win over the dogs of Japan. Ha Ha. I love China propaganda. And, much of the museum had English subtitles. One of the more interesting displays was an old Time magazine from the USA with an article about the battle in it. On the cover was Errol Flynn.
We were tired from our multi-bus journey to the city, so we went back to the hotel to relax. We found a movie on TV in English. It was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And, after that movie, we watched a movie called The Boathouse. Then it was time for bed. Mosquitos are a problem in China. Especially at night. And even more so in a city that is made around many canals. Hotels have these devices you put into a wall socket to help keep the mosquitos at bay. I plugged ours into the socket. But, I forgot to put the mosquito repellent into the device. Well, I got bit several times during the night. Not a good night’s sleep.
Since I woke up early scratching and did not want to disturb Jim, I decided to go down to the lobby and use their Wi-Fi. I spoke to mom on Skype for a while. And, I just looked out onto the busy town’s street at the people as they made their way to work and school. It was very nice.
When we checked into the hotel, Jim realized that he had left his passport at home. It is seldom a problem. Most hotel clerks do not know what to look for. So, it is easy to show your driver’s license and tell them that the number on there is your passport number. They usually accept it. Hotels must report all foreigners that check into a hotel to the police within a certain period of time. So, you should have a passport at all times. I mention all this because Jim left his passport in Ganyu. Well, when we arrived at the ticket window of the “Ancient” city attraction, they asked for it. When he could not give them one, they were going to turn us away without admission. I am not sure why. Well, I did not travel all this way on several busses and on a horrible road to be turned away. I demanded to speak to the boss. They kept trying to say there was no boss. I was not moving from the window teller until I spoke to a boss. They finally reluctantly allowed us to pay and gave us our tickets. You just have to be forceful sometimes.
With that mess behind us, we enter the attraction. It really is beautiful artictecture with small canals mixing with narrow alley ways that produce a maze that you can get lost in time for a while. It is a large area to explore. But, after the first hour or so of wandering around the buildings and seeing the tourist shops and restaurants, you realize that this is just about all there is. There are some small museums that are of interest. One was of an old brothel. Another was an old distillery, a post office, a bank, and other things of ancient times. The signage would say So and So’s mansion, You go to find it and it is a restaurant or a store. So, we could not rely on the signage. We just had to stumble upon these places of interest. And, we found some places where they would have various performances. But, none were happening this day. The attraction was not very busy as we were there on a work day. So, maybe that is why nothing was really happening. We did have the place to ourselves it felt like many times.
Although the attraction was beautiful and interesting to walk around, there were two major disappointments to me. One was that there was very little history of the war depicted in the exhibits. It was more about the cultural life of the era. For a city’s whose claim to fame was an important battle, one would think that they would have more museums and exhibits showcasing this. It is kind of like going to Gettysburg and not seeing anything about the war there. Just an open field and exhibits how people lived in that time.
The other major disappointment for me was that the further back you went into the attraction, the more you felt that this was all still a work in progress. And, it actually is. So many of the buildings are completed with facades of the era on the outside, but when you peek in the buildings, you only see concrete emptiness. Nothing is completed inside the buildings. I am not just saying one or two buildings, but street after street became like this. We found a Christian church in the middle of the attraction. From far away, it looked like it had blue stain glasses windows. But, when you got up close, you realized that it was just cloth covering the windows. And, when you looked inside, it was just and empty shell of a building with nothing inside. Jim and I agreed that it was kind of like walking through a Disney World Main Street under construction. Just for show. Or, better yet, a movie production sound stage. In fact, we thought that this would be an excellent place to film Chinese era movies.
One other disappointment for me was that I did not realize that they had hotel accommodations inside the attraction. And, from the looks of them, it would have been much fun to stay in them. None of my research online conveyed this to me. I wish it had. It would have made the trip very special.
With all this said, do not think that we did not enjoy ourselves. We did. It was wonderful to just stroll the streets and take pictures. It was fun to take in the beauty of the sites. And, different parts of the attraction had different feels to them too. It was not all the same everywhere. It was a wonderful warm spring day to just relax. It just was not what we envisioned it to be.
If you remember in a couple past entries, I had mentioned that as a foreigner, you sometimes become part of the attraction within the attraction. People wanting to get their picture taken with you all the time. This happened to us. Many times throughout the day. Jim jokingly began telling people that they had to pay 5 RMB for each picture. Since jokes are lost on Chinese people, they thought he was serious. We never turned down a picture request. But, it does get annoying sometimes. If we did charge for our pictures, I bet we could have paid for one of the tickets to the attraction by the end of the day.
It was late afternoon. We found a place to rest in some chairs on a porch of a building. Jim took a quick nap and I just relaxed and people watched. After our rest, we decided to take a boat ride along the canal. Another 20 RMB per person and we were on the boat. It was a nice ride, but it only lasted about 15 minutes one way. Thankfully we did a return trip for free.
We decided to have some dinner and by the end of dinner it was night time. The place was all lit up with LED lighting. Now, the place did feel like an amusement park at night. But, it was beautiful. But, it was a long day. Time to go back to the hotel. Jim and I spent some time in the lobby on the internet. Then it was bed time. I remembered to put the mosquito cartridge into the wall device this time and no mosquito bites this time. A great night’s sleep.
We got up in the morning, packed our belongings and checked out of the hotel. We asked about a more direct way back to Ganyu. We really did not want to have to go back to Xuzhou. It is over 50 km in the wrong direction. A two hour bus trip that we did not want to take. But, after a long discussion, we found that we had to go back the way we came. Ugghhhh. At least we did find a direct way versus having to transfer busses like we did in a small town. But, it was still a 7 hour trip back home. And, it is always good to be back home from a trip. Out of 5 stars, I would rate this trip a 3.5. To see pictures and videos of our trip, go to my blog at nashboroguy2.wordpress.com.