In an hour the train arrived at Cangzhou, some 110 miles down the track from Beijing, in Hebei Province.. A medium sized town, with an urban core over a million people, and metropolitan administrative district over seven.
Of course not as grand as Beijing's hi-speed rail station, Cangzhou's ain't no shrinking violet.
Where main street crosses the Canal, both banks have pedestrian walkways with green spaces, flower beds, and a replica of a tower building.
In another building along the Canal this lady started "The Grand Canal Confucius Institute", to promote Confucianism, through study, exercises, group meals, etc. Indeed, she fed us a vegetarian lunch!
She suggested visiting the recently refurbished Confucian temple a few blocks away, where a group of journalists, making a documentary, held a banner "Revisit the Grand Canal", in front of a statue of the sage himself.
Inside has some equally sage looking personages....
...and outside one can buy a plaque, write a wish, and hang it for them to make it come true.This seems to be a new ting in China, but it has a long, long tradition in Japan.
Cangzhou immediately felt like "China", the "not-yet-totally-rebuilt-and-swept-clean China" of Beijing and Shanghai, But th"e life-still-takes-place-on-the-streets China". This man is turning sticks of wood into round beads, for prayer bracelets to be sold near the temple.
This man probably started out with an array of bicycles to be repaired; not its a collection electric bikes and tykes.
This couple, using a sand mold, is turning aluminum scrap into pots, pans and trays. Just next to a major city street.
Away from the spiffed up downtown, the Grand Canal becomes little more than a trash tip, with goats to assist with the recycling.
If you were in China some years ago, you would have seen trash containers in all sorts of animal shapes. Place trash in the mouth and clean it out from the rear, how anatomically correct! Alas they have disappeared from the parks, but now found reused as retaining wall supports.
Also along the back-water canal are found residences with decorative entries: a pleasant river/ mountain scene...
...or an Arabic phrase from the Quarn, indicating the home of an Muslim family.
But the "Bejingification" of the city can certainly be found: the Hotel Arcadia International Hotel...
...and its swimming pool!
More than for the Grand Canal, Cangzhou is known for the Iron Lion...cast in 953, it is the largest, and oldest, cast-iron sculpture in China. Maybe once it was in a Buddhist temple, holding a statue of a Boddisattva, but now it is a survivor of more that a 1,000 years of human and natural ravage. It has gone through various efforts to protect and preserve it, some with beneficial results; others not so. It used to be at ground level, but repeated flooding led to it being placed on this platform. Good for it, bad for seeing it close. Bring binoculars. If you happen to be the only one around, another tourist might just ask you to take his picture, and of course you ask him if you can too.