Guangzhou Circle: Modern Chinese Architecture

China, why is your architecture as addicting as your food…is there an MSG in the concrete or something?  Yes, that’s sarcasm, but I really do wax nostalgic for taking long walks around Chinese cities, appreciating their overzealous approach towards geodesic domes, bumper car  facilities, and some of the most bizarre ideas ever constructed.

Today’s specimen: the 138-meter (just under 453 feet) Guangzhou Circle (广州园大厦), located in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.  Completed in December 2013 by Milan, Italy-based architect Joseph di Pasquale, the Guangzhou Circle pays homage to Chinese history both in design and in its main occupants.

As is common with major projects in Chinese cities, the Guangzhou Circle is near nothing.  An expectation is that businesses will follow, partially to bandwagon off of the cachet of a new landmark– it’s commonly done with building a high-speed railway station, and then a new neighborhood around it, but this structure doesn’t even have a metro station nearby…yet.  Yes, it overlooks the Pearl River (more on this later), and is quite close to the Dongsha Bridge, but to get there by public transit involved a not-so frequent bus.  In any event, I dig it.

But, what was it modeled after?

Was its inspiration this delicious, gluten-filled sesame-pocked nang, brought to us by Uyghur chefs?

Nice try.

In fact, it was the ancient bi – 璧 – or disc that lent its look.  Though their origins are something of a mystery, thousands of years ago bi were discovered buried with people of presumably higher social status.  One theory suggests that the bi represented the sky, and accompanied these people in their afterlife; another conjectured that bi were talismans to ward off evil spirits.

Then there’s that ever-present number eight.  What, you say?  It looks like a zero to me.  Haha…this is where feng shui comes into the mix.  When the Guangzhou Circle is reflected on the Pearl River, the pair “forms” the number eight, or double bi.  The number eight is China’s lucky number; try buying a license plate or phone number with mostly 8s, and you will be in shock.

When I first lived in Shenzhen, China, I noticed three awfully tacky golden skyscrapers along Shennan Boulevard, the city’s main east-west drag.  How ugly they are…but it’s simple.  Gold in your facade means I’m here to make money!  As such, with Guangzhou Circle’s two main tenants being Hongda Xingye, a giant international chemical company, and the Guangdong Plastics Exchange, perhaps the newest phone camera filter will be “Tackify Your Home.”


Have you been to Guangzhou?  Any desire to see the Guangzhou Circle?

Japanese Sewer Covers: The Trading Card Edition. Yes, Really.

Firstly, Happy 2021 everyone!

I’m kicking the year off with a post dedicated to a country to which I was supposed to have relocated last year.  Might 2021 make good on that?…

Oh, Japan, you weird, endlessly fascinating archipelago.  In one moment, you’re on top of the world, donating memorable antagonists to such movies as Gung Ho, and snapping up coal mines in such regions as Manchuria.  万歳 (ばんざい), banzai!

Next, however, you’re introducing to manic hobbyists sewer cover trading cards.

Manhole Cover/Card in Kodaira, Tokyo, Japan

Wait…WHAT??

In April 2016, the 下水報道プラットホーム, or Sewer PR Platform, decided to capitalize on Japan’s increasingly popular マンホールの蓋/ふた, or manhole cover designs, and introduced the first set of limited edition trading cards.  Although April Fool’s Day is not Japanese holiday – nor is it a holiday in any country, for that matter – the first edition was issued on April 1st.  And collectors are called manholers.

There’s got to be a joke somewhere in there.

Manhole Card Sign at Fukui City Hall

Roughly every quarter since then, a new batch has been introduced, showcasing manhole cover art from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. To get them, it might be as simple as going to a visitor information center next to a train station, or more awkwardly by paying a visit to a city/town hall or sewage treatment information center.  Whatever it is, the cards are free, and you’re limited to one per visit.  As far as I know, English versions of the cards also exist.

Having first noticed these sewer covers a number of years back, I just wish that these were printed way back then, if for no other reason than to learn the background story to the designs.  The front of a card shows a colorized manhole cover and city coordinates (and some type of manhole card collection legend in the lower right), and the back, a description of the art, as well as when the design was first executed:

Fukui City Manhole Card, Front Side
Fukui City Manhole Card, Reverse Side

After checking the invaluable Sewer PR Platform website, I decided to check out one of these sewer cards with my own eyes, this time in Fukui, the prefectural capital of Fukui…prefecture.

Although it’s best known for dinosaur fossils, according to the above, with Fukui suffering from the calamities of earthquakes and air raids, the city government adopted the 不死鳥 (ふしちょう・fushichou), or phoenix, as its symbol, and as the design on its manhole covers.  Though plenty of other Japanese cities could join them in choosing the phoenix for the same reasons, the backgrounder goes on to note that the phoenix was selected in 1989, to celebrate the centennial of the establishment of Fukui as a city.  Huzzah!


If you’re a Japanophile and keen to learn more about its history and pop culture, you’ll probably want to grab a couple of these manhole cards…or, you could do simply as a secondary source of vending machine income.