Y and I are in Changchun. Changchun (literally meaning long spring) was once the capital of Manchuria, which was the name of Northeast China under Japanese occupation from 1931 to 1945. Today, it’s the capital of Jilin province and China’s biggest auto manufacturer.
After lunch we set out to take a cab that will take us to Kangde’s former palace. The Kangde emperor, or Puyi, was China’s last emperor and the emperor of the puppet state of Manchuria (满洲国, mǎnzhōuguó).
We stand on the roadside, waiting for a cab. One cab after another passes, all occupied. Those that aren’t will sometimes stop and ask where we’re headed. When we tell them, they say they don’t go there. In Changchun cab drivers are encouraged to take more passengers at one time. So if they already have one or two passengers, they might still stop to ask you where you’re going. If it’s the same direction, you’re lucky and they’ll let you jump into their car.
If not, you’ll end up like us. We wait at the roadside for more than half an hour. It’s not the lack of cabs that bothers us, but the lack of drivers willing to take us to the palace. 10 cabs pass to no avail. 20 cabs pass to no avail. 30 cabs pass and we still don’t find a single driver that will take us to the palace. There are even a few empty cabs, but they either won’t stop or won’t take us. After about 40 cabs have passed, we give up. We go back upstairs to my husband’s cousin’s place where we’re staying in Changchun.
In the evening, we have dinner with his wife and their daughter. After that, they take us to 文化广场 (wénhuà guǎngchǎng, Culture Square). We walk by Jilin University, a beautiful building that was once the office building of Kangde’s government. There are other old buildings across the square, also former office buildings of Kangde’s government. Today, they have been transformed into a hospital.
The square is filled with life. Young people dance hip hop and breakdance, older people perform traditional dances. The centerpiece of the square is a huge statue. It looks communist. The statue is a naked muscle-man who raises both hands towards the sky. The statue looks like it’s supposed to represent freedom, but it’s unlike any other communist statue I’ve ever seen. I google it and find information about another statue, but not about this one, which according to my husband has been put up around 20 years ago.
The other statue I google is located at 人民广场 (rénmín guǎngchǎng, People’s Square). It was put there after the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945. Not only did the Soviets force the Japanese out of Manchuria, but also what is today known as Inner Mongolia and northern Korea. Those were very turbulent times in Northeast China in the 20th century and it would go beyond the scope of this article to get into more details, but it’s definitely worth reading up on them.
The second day that we stay in Changchun, Y’s cousin takes us to the bus station by car. We tell him that finding a cab in Changchun is wicked. He says: “You have to trick them. Just tell them you want to go to the airport to pick up a friend. If you tell them you want to go to the airport, they’ll definitely take you. There’s no driver who wouldn’t go to the airport. When you’re in the car for a while, you’ll have to tell the driver that your friend’s flight is delayed and he or she won’t arrive until in a few hours time. Then tell them where you originally wanted to go. If they don’t take you, you’ll have to trick them into taking you. Remember well what I just told you, you’ll need this advice the next time you’re going to take a cab in Changchun, it really works.”
Oh and btw. – speaking of occupied countries and such – this very day 58 years ago marks the day that all foreign troops left Austria and the Austrian Parliament declared the country permanently neutral. May you always think back of that day and work as hard as possible on your neutrality and freedom.
Have you ever tried to take a cab to no avail in a city in China? I’d love to read your comments.