Three Things at Emall Worldwide

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Emall Worldwide is an imported goods shop near the old Parksons complex on Beidajie Road. Honestly, it carries a lot of the same goods other import shops carry, but here are three products that make the place unique.

It carries cans of chickpeas and jars of beet root. Chickpeas are not always on the foreign goods shelves in many of the large, international supermarkets in Changzhou. If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, it can be a staple food. I know it was for me during the many years I didn’t eat meat. Carrefour used to carry them, but all three of their locations shut down over the last year. I do see them at Auchan at times. The jarred beets are more of a unique find. The only other place in Changzhou — that I know of — is Metro.

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As for the third thing, I’m not sure having it in Changzhou is a good thing. Four Loko is one of the nastiest alcoholic drinks America has ever produced. It’s an alcopop — well, sort of. For those who have never heard this word before, it’s a recent coinage for a soft drink or soda that has alcohol in it. For example, Jack Daniel’s makes a premixed whiskey and cola. As for Four Loko, it’s like somebody noticed how many people like to mix Red Bull or Monster with vodka. So? They created a highly caffeinated energy drink that punches you in the face with 12% alcohol. It tastes absolutely disgusting. Even worse, it has actually killed a few people, and it became highly controversial in America. There were even lawmakers and protesters trying to get Four Loko banned. It faced a few lawsuits as well. Eventually, Phusion, the company producing the drink, agreed to stop making it. So, I don’t know what is sitting on Emall’s shelves. Is it leftovers from 2014? Is it being produced only for export to countries that don’t know any better? Is it a new beverage concocted under a different, less dangerous recipe? Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m never going to buy it. I’m writing this more as a buyer beware.

America produces so many good beers and hard drinks. It’s a shame that Samuel Adams and other craft beers are not widely imported here. It reminds me of when I moved to Changzhou and went grocery shopping for the first time. I saw retail endcaps celebrating cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and started laughing hysterically. Many Americans hate that cheap, bargain-basement swill, but in China its exotic. Go figure.

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The Holiday Inn Snake Run

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“Are you our mayor?”

Laughably, this was not the first time in my life I have been mistaken for somebody’s governing municipal official. But, that’s a story for another time. This time, it was a little kid, and I was at a skate park in Long Branch, New Jersey. Pentagram stickers were plastered all over my helmet, and the person asking the question was nine years old.  His mother eyed me with extreme suspicion. If I could have read her mind, it would have been filled with What is this grown man doing by himself in skate park filled with children? The answer was simple: a half pipe or an empty pool is a good source of cardio.

That was more than ten years ago, now. Funny how life changes. Now I live Changzhou, but some things do not change at all. I still have a skateboard, and I think riding it is a fun source of exercise. While I seldom skate these days, I still keep an eye out for good spots. It’s an instinct drilled into me by my friends back in Belgium, when I was a teenager.

Changzhou does not have many good spots to go skate that I know of. There is a mini ramp and flat banks in Qingfeng Park. Yet, I have never seen anybody there. Its fenced in, and access has looked limited the last time I looked there about a year and a half ago. Over in Wujin, there is a place with no fence at all, and I have ridden my board there a few times.

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It looks like a concrete drainage ditch. When I first found it, it was covered with graffiti. Over the years, that graffiti has changed themes, but all that means is that concrete has several layers of paint, and paint makes concrete much more smooth against urethane wheels. My guess, though, is that the place is seldom used. The last time I went there two months ago, the concrete was covered with dirt and needs to be thoroughly cleaned before riding could be enjoyable.

This small set of flat banks is located in the park behind the Holiday Inn in Wujin. This is also in the part of Hutang that is close to the College City area. The No. 2 People’s Hospital is also nearby, as is a library and the Wujin governmental complex. Unfortunate for me, I now live in Xinbei and it’s a bit too far to go to. Yet, something inside me is itching to get the board out and go riding again. Part of me thinks its just middle age and a yearning for nostalgia and bygone years.

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Grinding Needles in Jintan

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Wisdom proverbs are a big part of a Chinese culture. So are poets and their writings. Sometimes, the two converge and overlap. For example, there is this idiom: 磨杵成针, or Mó chǔ chéng zhēn in Pinyin. If you translate it almost literally its “Grind pestle into needle.” More commonly, it means “To grind an iron bar into a needle.” This saying is often used to say persevering at a hard task is worthwhile.

This proverb is often attributed to Li Bai, who is often considered one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. The story goes like this. Li Bai, at a young age, came upon on an old woman who literally was trying to grind a thick iron bar into a thin needle. The poet-to-be took the iron bar and tried to do it for the old lady, but he eventually gave up quickly. Li told the woman she was being foolish — that it would take forever to do such a thing.  The old woman chided the young Li and reminded him that hard work can lead to good results. The young boy took that to heart and grew up to be one of China’s greatest poets. Eventually, “grinding an iron bar” also became a metaphor for succeeding at something hard.

As for the statue pictured above, it can be found in Jintan — Changzhou’s most westward district. It’s one of three idiom statues that can be found at Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. The district’s central shopping area, Dongmendajie 东门大街is nearby. The bus terminal, and the express bus back to downtown Changzhou, is also in walking distance.

Atop Zi Xia Feng

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“Changzhou has a mountain? Where the hell is that?”

People who say this are usually a little dumbfounded, and they have a right to be. Changzhou is a relatively flat city along the Yangtze River. Both nearby Zhenjiang and Wuxi have more hills. In a way, it’s sort of fitting that the mountain in question is in a north eastern part of Wujin and Changzhou.

The name, according to every map I have looked at, is Qingming Mountain. There are graveyards and at least four temples here. One time, I decided to take my ebike to the top. A small concrete road winds its way up the slope. However, I stopped halfway. I wondered if my bike could even make once the road became steep. So, I pulled over and put my D-lock on my wheel. I walked the rest of the way, and realized that parking was for the best. The road turns to uneven dirt.

As I walked, I noticed a number of people doing the same. Parents were with their kids. Chinese men on ebikes were braver than me while trying to ascend the hill — with considerable less powerful rides than mine. This reminded me of a friend who seen this place before I could, he got his bike to the top as well. Oh well, and too each their own. There was even a guy on a mountain bike getting in some good exercise.

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The peak of the hill seemed a little underwhelming. The trees and the forest line obscures much of the view. So, if you are up here with a camera, there are no great landscape shots of eastern Changzhou to be had. There is also a locked and seemingly abandoned pagoda. It’s one of the mountains prominent features when looking from a far distance. Close up, it appears somewhat neglected. People have scratched Chinese graffiti into the yellow paint, and grass and weeds have sprouted on some parts of the roof. Also, there are a series of rocks surrounding a single tree and an antenna. These stones feature engraved chinese characters displaying the name of the peak, Zi Xia Feng. According to a very good Chinese friend, another rock features a poem, and there are pleas to protect the environment from litter.

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Qingming Mountain has plenty of interesting cultural attractions like Dalin and Bailong Temples. The Zi Xia Feng Peak is not one of those cultural attractions. However, there are plenty of hillside paths, and these are a good if somebody wants to get good exercise via hiking.

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Discount Eyewear in Xinbei

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Summer in Changzhou can not only be depressing hot and sweaty, sometimes the glare from the sun can be too much. Of course, it depends on the health of somebody’s eyes. Some need sunglasses more than others, and some are always in the market for glasses in general. Regionally speaking, it helps that Danyang is a neighboring city. It’s one of Zhenjiang’s satellite cities, and it’s well renowned for manufacturing glass lenses. While Danyang is only 15 minutes away by high speed train, you actually don’t have to go there for bargain hunting.

Changzhou has eyewear markets featuring Danyang lenses. Xinbei has a particularly large one. It’s on the third floor of the Lippo Plaza shopping center. This is the mall on the other side of the street from Wanda Plaza. If one were to go in there, they would find a lot of empty shops. The place looks like its better days have passed. The escalators are all turned off. Still, there is plenty of commerce going on here. The eyeglass market is merely the biggest thing there.

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All You Can Eat Japanese at the Wujin Hilton

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In the Hutang part of Wujin, The Hilton is a lot like other international hotels found in Changzhou. By this, I mean there are several different restaurants inside of it: Western, Chinese, and Japanese for example. Like other hotels, they also have all-you-can-eat specials where you can stuff yourself silly. For 198 RMB, that’s exactly what I did at The Hilton’s Red Bar — which offers on sushi, sashimi, and teppanyaki.

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They offer a wide variety of seafood. The raw salmon and other fish slices were fresh and expertly chilled. Their wasabi octopus provided a sharp kick without being overpowering. The oysters with fish roe were absolutely huge in size. Both the steak and the lamb dishes were both tender and juicy. Oddly enough, my all time favorite was the one that just doesn’t photograph well. Imagine a half a potato, cut into slices and smothered with a rich, creamy caviar sauce. I must confess: I ordered seconds on this.

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While Red Bar’s claim’s this is a buffet, it’s not in the traditional sense most Americans might think of. No sane person would ever compare a high-end hotel with a slop shop like Golden Corral. The Hilton has an all-day,  buffet where you can grab a plate, walk around, and peruse a myriad of options before making selections. The Hilton’s Japanese all you can-eat is slightly different. Here, you sit at a table, and the buffet selections are brought to you. Considering the hefty price tag, this personalized version of customer service is even better.

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Nandajie’s Vape Shop

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“If cigarettes are heroin,” I said, “than vaping juice is methadone.”

“That’s a shit comparison,” a friend said. “Don’t go there.”

I still stood by the analogy then, and I still do. What I meant was this: e-cigarettes can be seen as a sort of replacement therapy. It’s meant to help reduce the health risks of nicotine addiction as one slowly transitions off it completely. Sure, some do not quit completely and simply exchange the method of delivery. Plus, e-cigs do not come with the carcinogens and tar that tobacco does. However, this is not meant to advocate one way or another on this issue.

I have been smoking since I was 13 and living in Belgium. Over the years, my habit has grown exponentially where I don’t feel comfortable admitting how many packs a day I was up to. It was that much. Living a life behind a computer as a English graduate student, a college writing instructor, and as a writer and editor over the last twenty years hasn’t really helped. Yet, this post is not meant to be about me, either.  Still, allow me to make this point. I have decided, recently, that it’s time for try, once and for all, to kick cigarettes for good. That’s where the above mentioned friend offered his help.

He took me to a vaping shop downtown. His help was twofold: first, he can speak Chinese, and second, he is very knowledgeable about the world of electronic cigarettes.  There, he was able to explain to me what atomizers do, and more. I eventually left there with the right gear and a complimentary bottle of nicotine liquid. As for my attempt to kick tobacco, it’s still a struggle. However, I can say the amount of smoking I have done has been decreasing. It will just take time.

As for the vape shop, it’s located on the bar street downtown. It’s where a Subway sandwich shop used to be. One of the large dance clubs is also nearby. As for the shop itself, the woman running it has no English abilities. So, it’s either speak Chinese or, like me, go there with a friend who can.

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Dalin Temple’s Hall of Luohans

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As noted elsewhere on this blog, luohan are the Buddhist equivalents of Christian saints. They are people who have attained enlightenment, but they cannot be elevated higher within the cosmological pantheon. These “saints” also figure big in temple decor and Buddhist art in general.

To a casual observer, the exact number of these luohan in scripture can be confusing. Are there 500 of them? 100? 18? 16? There are reasons behind each number. In the Lotus Sutra, for example, Buddha addresses and gives advice to a gathering of 500 luohan or “saints.” Specifically in Chinese Buddhism, there are 16 with actual names with stories behind them, and later, two more were added later. The original 16 appeared to the Chinese monk Guan Xiu, who made paintings of them. 

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For me, it’s always interesting to compare interpretations and visualizations of these holy men you can find in Changzhou. At Tianning Temple, for example there are two halls of golden statues in various poses. Over at Dalin Temple in Wujin’s northeastern arm, there is a whole hall dedicated to them. Here, you see them in vivid color. You have luohan with absurdly long legs. One seems to have an arm so long his hand is holding a star or some sort of celestial disk. Many of them are ride animals that are either real or mythical — Chinese unicorns, dragons, elephants, and tigers, for example.  The attention to detail is so tremendous, you could return here multiple times and see something you missed during each prior visit. Each statue comes with plaque in Chinese explaining who is who, but even if you had ability with the language, dust obscures many of them, leaving an casual onlooker like myself with a sense of mystery as to who they are and what their story is. 

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Comb Lane

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The longer you wander around Changzhou, the more likely you will see colorful wooden combs. These hair care items often feature pictures of woman in traditional Chinese outfits, and sometimes they may feature other designs. Some of them may may look like they have ornate, hand carved details. So, some may have wondered, “Ok, what is the deal with the combs?”

They are a tradition in Changzhou that dates back 2000 years or so. Two industries have called the city home for a long, long, long time. One is textile manufacturing, and the other are those handcrafted combs. And, if you are a western guy thinking of impressing a Chinese girl on Valentines on August 8th, you might want to consider buying one as a gift. However, be careful, as these combs can cost you a fortune. Sure, you can find cheaper fakes all over the city, but a native Changzhou woman will likely be able to spot whether your gift is authentic or not. Or, who knows, a Chinese girlfriend might just be impressed that you know the history of combs in the first place?

However, if you don’t want to risk it, there is a place you can go if you are willing to spend the money. Trust me, it’s really not that hard to find — it’s right behind the Injoy Mall downtown. The buildings in comb lane feature traditional architecture. The part that faces the shopping center is all restaurants. The comb shops are on the other side that runs parallel to the canal.

This has a been one of the historic centers of production within Changzhou. If you were to walk through this small alley, you will see some some unrelated jewelry, but you might also catch an artisan at work, meticulously laboring over a comb one at a time. Whether to buy one as a romantically inclined gift is a choice you will have to make for yourself.

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Shoes at Decathelon

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When you are an Westerner / North American who takes a big and tall size, shopping for clothing in Changzhou is nearly impossible. I have a size 46 foot, and my usual 2XLT (T stands for “tall”) size back in the USA translate into a XXXXXXXXL. My access to Taobao is really messed up and nonexistent. Besides, even when I have been able to order, it turns out not all 8XL jackets are the same size. So, I prefer to shop in person. This is why Decathlon has always been a go-to place for me. It’s a sporting good store — one where I bought my elliptical machine. It’s also the one of the very few places in Changzhou where I can find shoes that fit. That’s not saying much, because even there the pickings can be slim. There is an expression, though: Beggars can’t be choosers.  Changzhou only has one of these stores, and it is Wujin / Hutang on the B1 BRT line. The Yancheng historical area and amusement park are also nearby.