tianjin lu tian pen jing november 2011

by Cheryl Petty

Golden Statementsvol.xxxv No.1 Jan/Feb 2012

Sunday November 13 my husband Bruce and I traveled by bullet train to Tianjin, the 6th largest city in PRC (People's Republic China) in a beautiful setting on the Hai River near the Bohai Gulf with a beachy climate and clean air the day we visited.  Located at the Northern most end of the Grand Canal built in the Sui Dynasty 589-618CE, it has always been an important city.  Tianjin was also the location of an incident in 1856 when Chinese tried to defeat British and French opium smuggling.  At the end of the Second Opium War in 1858 China was forced to open Tianjin to foreign trade (opium trade).  Presently it is one of five Chinese cities home to the most active criminal gangs.

Western nations have had concessions and garrisons in Tianjin over the previous century, and it was occupied by Japanese in 30's until 1945.  One of the world's fastest supercomputers is located at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin.  In 1906 it had the first city-wide tramway system in China.  The main railway station was built in 1892 and rebuilt from scratch in 1988.  A well-known bonsai collector and active member of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Federation, Frank Bardella, lived here with his family before immigrating to San Francisco when he was eight years old in 1950.

Bruce is impressed by the size of the bullet train station in Beijing where we departed, called the South Railway Station.  Bullet trains are coming and going every 10-15 minutes.  Our track was elevated on a raised concrete roadbed from Beijing to Tianjin so things can pass underneath.  There are perhaps three classes of seats, coach, business class and first class with western style washrooms.  There is a snack bar in the center of the train.  Coach class has five seats across with an aisle in the center.  Business class has four seats with a center aisle.  The seats are built on locking devices which only take train personnel a few minutes to turn around.  They wash all the windows and are ready to go in the other direction.  It costs 55K $8.67 one way for coach to travel 69 miles or 112 kilometers.  The train travels 178mph or 287km/h top speed, quietly and smoothly, only taking about 30 minutes.

We pass farmland with smokestacks, groups of apartments to protect farms from being eaten up with housing like in the US.    The impressive stations are huge, cavernous, but beautiful and lit with natural light, many shops, cafes and seating for everyone waiting.

The modern train station is surrounded by an enormous plaza dotted with gigantic sculptures including a gigantic clock with numerals the sign of the zodiac and huge arms holding a sun and moon which move on an elaborate gearing mechanism.  Prominently displayed in a swath of green across the front are two family groups of large in-ground Lu Tian Pen Jing Penjing Fraxinus hupehensisChu Shang et Su. or Chinese Ash.  They appear to have been transplanted as recently as this year.  The Chinese are adept at successfully moving large specimens.

The Chinese Ash or Hu bei qin is native to Hubei province where it grows in the western hills at 100-600 meters or 328-1968 feet.  The Hubei province is well known for the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges Dam project.  Hubei has a subtropical climate with distinct seasons.   The mountainous districts have cooler summers.  A few of the trees I saw in Tianjin looked as though they had suffered this summer, some of the branches on older trees were dry, probably a result of having their main root cut for transplanting.  The majority of them were green and very healthy looking.

The Chinese Ash tree grows to 19 meters or 62 feet in the wild and their branches develop huge thorn like protuberances.   Flowers appear before the leaves in early spring.  The foliage is small and neat in long leaflets.  Penjing masters have used collected shuzhuang or "tree stump" (yamadori) material, cutting the top off at about 1 meter and developing a new lead from the large base.  The result is trees with lots of character and an appearance of great age.  Penjing masters can create a specimen over a period of ten years which looks much older due to the age of the collected tree.