eBikes on Boai Road

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The salesman pounded the chassis with a steel bar. For all his fury, I was surprised that the long, distended ash didn’t drop off his cigarette. He then rattled off a few excited words in Chinese before dropping bar and letting it clang against the floor for dramatic effect. My Chinese friend gave me a broad smile and translated, “He wants you to know the body is very strong. Very resilient.” I took a closer look, and she was right, the body showed no signs of scratching or cracking. This was the very first shop and the first sales pitch while hunting for an eBike. To use a word I hate, I knew the afternoon was about to get interesting. (I hate the word, by the way, because my university students abuse it and use it like a crutch when speaking English.)

This was also two years ago, and it was my first ride I was searching for. I am currently on my second. My Chinese friend had come along for two reasons: argue the price down and ask a very specific question. I wanted an electric scooter that had enough battery life to be able to go from Wujin’s College Town to Metro in the north of Changzhou. I got exactly that. Only, the resulting CenBird had to be charged after each time I made the trip like that. Sure, I outgrew the vehicle, but it served its purpose nicely for awhile.

I mention because, well, there are many places to buy eBikes in Changzhou. Finding the right place requires a little research and a little help. But, there are some places where you can window shopping. 博爱路, downtown, is one such place. There are many shops next to each other from CenBird to NKNY and more. However, these are mostly just show rooms. Many of the brands in the area might not be equipped for maintenance. For example, when I returned to the CenBird shop to get a tire replaced, I was told to follow somebody down the road to a separate location near Hongmei Park. Apparently, that was where all the replacement parts were sold.

The point, however, is this. If you live downtown, and you are thinking of buying your first eBike. The shops on Boai are a good place to look. As for me, I bought my first one there. I had never ridden one before, and I had to ride my new purchase all the way back to Wujin and the College Town. Talk about trial by fire in Changzhou traffic.

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Spock’s Unsolved Mystery

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Spock sighting!
Note: This is is more of a personal post with little informational value about Changzhou.

Yes, I have a cat that has been named for an iconic Star Trek character, but how and why he got that name is a story for another time. Recently, he disappeared. I came home from the bar on night and he was gone. This was really perplexing. There are only two ways he got out, and that was either through the door or out the window. The door was just not possible. So, that leaves the window.

Now, consider this. I live on the seventh floor. Besides a perch for my heating and air conditioning unit, there are no ledges, crawlspaces, nooks or crannies that Spock could navigate. If he went out the window, it would have been more than likely that he fell. As grim as it sounds, I went looking for his body the next morning in the shrubbery under my window. Only, I never found a dead cat.

I started wondering if he got out of the door somehow when I wasn’t looking. I went down to the Hohai Guest Center lobby and talked to a receptionist. After showing her a picture of my pal, I asked if any of the workers had seen a rogue kitty roaming and marauding the hallways. Nobody reported anything unusual. In the meantime, I kept his litter and his food. When I lived in Wujin, he got out all the time, but he always came back. Since there was no dead body, I assumed he might be alive. I tried looking for him, but I found nothing.

A week went by. I adjusted to a life without a cat. I had accepted that I had lost one of my best friends, and I was about to start throwing his stuff out. One night, I was walking home after classes, I heard him yowling. I looked up, and he was on a ledge looking down at me, desperately pleading for help. Basically, there is a covering that sticks out from doorway at Hohai’s north gate. It’s over the entrance to Hohai’s health clinic. In a way, it’s “sorta” like a balcony.  There were windows right above my cat, and I rushed inside to see if I could get to him. I couldn’t. There were just no access points. Plus, it was raining, and I couldn’t find a ladder. Even if I could, it would have been slippery and unsafe to try and climb up to get him. As much as I didn’t want to, I had to leave Spock there. I reasoned that at least I knew where he was. And that he was alive.

Eventually, I had to get my foreign affairs officer involved. She called somebody from the university’s logistics department. They came out with a ladder, and the guy climbed up, grabbed the cat, and stuffed him into my back pack. So, now my cat his home, safe, and amazingly enough, uninjured. Since he hadn’t eaten in about a week, he had lost a lot of weight and was now quite scrawny. That being said, it least he wasn’t sick or injured with a broken bones. And that brings up the mystery.

How did he get there? As I said, I live on the seventh floor. He ended up six floors down, and if he jumped, it’s diagonal and a long distance. As I also said, there are no easy access points or crawl spaces. I just can’t figure out how he ended up where he did. The mystery, though, just isn’t important. My kitty is where he should be: home. He is still acting a bit traumatized and is demanding affection every three minutes. As annoying as that is, I’m happy he missed me.

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The cat is in the bag.

Disembodied Buddhas

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If you have been to enough Taoist or Buddhist Temples around Changzhou and other cities, you would see a lot of sculptures, carvings, and artwork displaying Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, lohans, Taoist gods, and much more. Temples are particularly ornate in the their decor.  In most cases, no two temples are alike either.

Crafting the works of art must be an industry unto itself. I only just realized this by accident. I was riding my ebike along the S232 highway in western Wujin. This is the part of the district that borders on Jiangyin. Dalin Temple and Qingming Mountain are also nearby. Out of the corner of my vision, I saw something like a Buddha sitting in an alley. So, I backed up and pulled into the alley. There, I saw something I have never, ever seen in Changzhou before. These were half finished, almost cast aside religious statues. For instance, a Buddha without a head. There was a fat Milefo laughing Buddha covered with splintered wood.

The varying degrees of incompleteness was also a bit interesting. Sometimes, when you see a statue in a temple, you may mistakenly think that they were carved or cast in a forge. Not the case with this lot. Much of what I saw consisted of smaller pieces that were numbered and riveted together almost like three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles.

This had me intrigued. It wasn’t the least bit unnerving to look it. Logically, it made sense if these was a religious sculpture workshop nearby. After all, not only is Dalin Temple nearby, but so is the Taoist Bailong Monastery — both seem to have ongoing construction for additions, too. But, quickly scanned the area. I took a picture of one factory’s name, but a Chinese friend quickly informed me, via WeChat, it was a business involving water treatment equipment. Maybe I saw it but didn’t see it. In the end, I gave up and left it what it should be, a bizarre mystery. Sometimes, that’s more fun than actually having a real answer.

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The Art of Chinese Seals

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Red stamps by Jiang Xuelian 将雪莲 on display at the Changzhou Museum.

Some foreigners have at one point in their life said a variation of the following: “China would cease to function without red stamps.” That would be a reference to the red circle and star you would see on any official document, contract, or even bank paperwork and receipts. Here is an example a little close to home for me. Lets say you take a job teaching at a Chinese college.  You sign your new contract, but the contract is not actually valid until it gets a red stamp from an very important person — usually a vice president or another type of administrator.

Whether the joke is actually funny or true or not is best left for another time. There is a broader issue to consider. Red stamps on official documents are not entirely a new thing in China. Actually, it is a very old part of the culture dating back thousands of years. Imperial officers used them all the time, and they usually stamped in red ink. The first Qin emperor — the guy buried with the Terracotta Warriors — had one created that became an heirloom passed down through generations.

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Jiang Xuelian 将雪莲
The craft of carving and creating these stamps is an art often closely related to calligraphy. It survives in Chinese culture to this day. However, seal cutting is much harder than calligraphy. A Chinese friend once told me that “all cutters are good calligraphers, but being a good calligrapher doesn’t guarantee the skills needed for carving.”  Engraving the characters requires a strong but delicate hand. Also, all the Chinese characters must be cut in reverse. This is to ensure the character looks right once ink is applied and the stamp is put to paper. This requires the artist to practically know how to write mirror, backward images of hundreds of Chinese characters.

Seal carving extends beyond just making square or rectangular red stamps. Some of it functions a little closer to calligraphy by stringing characters together into a sentence or a proverb. As a rule, red is always used for official business. Stamps in black ink and other colors are for personal use. Examples of this can be seen in the Changzhou Museum in Xinbei. This month, an exhibit opened showcasing the work of Jiang Xuelian 将雪莲. But the stone seals and the red and black stamps themselves are on display in glass cases. Some of Jiang’s regular calligraphy is also being exhibited.

Something else should be noted. Calligraphy is an art that some foreigners may have a hard time appreciating. There really is no cultural equivalent in the West. Seal cutting, on the other hand, might be easier for westerner to comprehend. Printmaking — whether by using woodblocks, zinc plates, or linoleum sheets — does have a long artistic heritage in the west. And seal cutting is a Chinese form of printmaking.

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Display cases on the third floor.

The Math Globe on Camphor Way

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The College Town in Wujin is essentially three streets that run parallel east to west. There is Gehu Road that passes by the north gate of Changzhou University and two vocational colleges. Then, there is Mingxin Road to the south. This passes the south gates of Changzhou College of Information Technology, the Mechatronics College, and the Light Industrial College. The B1, B16, and 2 buses all use this road. Camphor Way, however, is the road between the two. It’s usually partially gated and closed to through / shortcut traffic. In a way, it serves as park without being named as such. At night, you see college students walking or jogging  here. Couples often cuddle together on secluded benches.

One of the more “Changzhou iconic” sculptures is here. It’s a circular globe made of metal disks. The sides of these discs have mathematical equations and important educational quotes engraved onto them. I have seen photographs of this thing turn up in books and other bits of promotional literature for the city. As for its location, it’s on the eastern end of Camphor Way. It’s between Changzhou University’s south gate and Changzhou College of Information Technology’s north gate.

Sandwiches at CF Cafe

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Caesar salad wrap
Sometimes, finding good salads in Changzhou is easier said the done. It’s a no-brainer: if you live in the Middle Kingdom, you will
always be surrounded by Chinese food. So, some people are always looking for salad recommendations, and I tend to be one of those people. Thankfully, a friend pointed me towards C.F. Cafe in Xinbei, and I am very glad she did.

For me, it’s near my university and where I live. I can walk there. Also, for people maybe taking the B1 BRT bus into Xinbei for the day, it’s also conveniently located. It’s just down the street from Wanda Plaza and Istanbul Restaurant on Taihu Road 太湖路. The large media center and TV tower is also across the street.

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Ham, egg, and veggies
C.F. Cafe offers coffee and cake, too. But, honestly, I haven’t tried those, yet. I had not only a salad here, but also most of their sandwiches.  The chicken Caesar salad seemed a bit small, but the it had the right proportion of dressing. As for the sandwiches, they turned out to be the compelling selling point and what I most often return for.

The key to a good sandwich is always the bread. You can have the most expensive cuts of meat and the most exotic condiments ever, but if the bread is bad, the sandwich will be bad. It tastes like C.F. Cafe bakes its bread daily. As for the rest, it’s fairly simple. I had a chicken sandwich, a Caesar wrap, a ham and egg, and more. All of these are reasonably priced, and if you go in the middle of the day, there are available as easy takeout. They are already made and are ready and waiting. If you opt to eat in, they have something like a panini press that will warm things up and crisp the bread.

I noticed some items that might be very vegetarian friendly, but I haven’t given them a shot. Just took some pictures of the menu and sent them to a very interested friend. However, the selling point of a good restaurant is when many, many things on the menu look very good. So, while I currently like the sandwiches, I will definitely return often to try the other fare.

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CF Cafe’s storefront

Lushu Park in Zhonglou

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Lushu Park 芦墅公园 is a rather small public place in Zhonglou. In theory, Canal 5 is not that far away — but there is the actual canal in the way. Qing Feng park is also many kilometers away, and that usually acts as the bigger distraction. Lushu is more of a place where you see locals sleeping on the benches. Typically, older men sit around here during the day to play cards. In the many times I have been here, I have seen a number of stray cats huddles into the corner. Essentially, this is a small recreational area serving the residential estates nearby. It’s a nice place to take a stroll in the area, but honestly, this isn’t worth a special trip — especially on a very hot, very wet, very muggy day.

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Chen Yaqiang at Global Harbour

Some of Changzhou’s malls have culture exhibits mixed into the shops and restaurants. This is especially true at Global Harbour in Xinbei. The massive shopping center has several. One of them is a photography exhibit. The work on display comes from Chen Yaqiang. He comes from Yixing, which is one of Wuxi’s satellite cities directly south of Changzhou.  As for the photographs, they are black and white shots that show an eye for lighting and texture. This gives many of the shots on display an abstract feel.

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Wujin Revolutionary Martyrs’ Memorial

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Monuments to fallen communist heroes are extremely common in China. Nearly every town has at least one. Of course, in the past, I have had trouble finding some. Baidu Maps say they are there, and when you actually go to find them, you’re in an empty field. As I have always said before, I call these map ghosts.

Wujin has a fairly large one, but it looks more like a mausoleum where human remains are stored — not so much a place for tourists or an attraction in that way. I have been here when the gates were open during the day, and after walking around, I realized what it actually was and didn’t linger. It consists of a huge plaza, a monument with Chinese writing, and a large, shuttered building behind it.

It’s near Baolin Temple in Wujin — the temple with the huge indoor statue of Guanyin. Also nearby is grave site for the general population. The entrance to the Yancheng’s preserved historical site is also nearby. Honestly, Yancheng and Baolin are more worth the visit. As I always say, its best to let the dead rest in peace.

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Not the Number of the Beast

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As far as I know, Xinbei does not have a doorway to hell. I might even go so far that Changzhou as whole doesn’t possess any sulfur-frothing access points to the underworld. Demons will not possess you and force you to projectile vomit split pea soup on people, as one might see in a classic film The Exorcist. Of course I am being a tad bit sarcastic here. But then again, am I? Over at the Xinbei Wanda, there is a convenience store called 666. If you go in there, you will not hear Iron Maiden or Slayer or Cattle Decapitation blaring from loud speakers. Nobody will be headbanging. Nobody will be jamming out on their air guitar. You will just a find a very bored shopkeeper staring at their mobile phone.

So, some Westerners might wonder. Why 666? Why is it okay to put this number all over China? Why do Chinese people use it on QQ? The answer is obvious: China is not a majority Christian country, and automatically assuming the number is evil for everybody around the world is just what the late, great language scholar Edward W. Said would label as a facet of “cultural imperialism.”

In China, a string of sixes is actually considered lucky.This is partly due the number six, by itself, is considered lucky. If you have Chinese friends on Wechat, they may even reply to a “Moments” post by simply typing 666 or 6666 or 666666666666. They are not trying to damn you to hell. They actually liked what you had to say, and that’s the way of showing their approval.

And when it comes to these things, it’s just best not to tell Chinese people that things like this are offensive in your home country. Skip that discussion entirely. You are not in your home country. Your are actually in somebody else’s home country, and asking them to change is a bit rude when you are a guest. And, China is so big, you will be having this conversation nonstop. It’s about as absurd as a Chinese person going to America and laughing at all the men they see wearing green baseball hats — and then asking their new American friends to stop wearing such things. (Wearing a green hat in China means your wife is cheating on you.) So, why bother? And really, there are more important things to worry about.