The Hilton’s Buffet

Eating out in Wujin seems to be a completely different culinary landscape than a place like Xinbei. The options are totally different, and a lot of newcomers are especially keen on knowing where they can find western food. It is the ultimate comfort food when you are surrounded by Chinese cuisine. International hotels are usually a reliable choice when seeking that sort of dining, and the Hilton’s buffet is no different. However, anytime you eat in a western hotel, be prepared to pay high prices. And, by the way, their all-you-can-eat Japanese place Red is totally worth a visit. Here are some pictures from the last time I visited.

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Ni Hao, Jiangyin

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Never judge a city by it’s Greyhound Bus depot. This is common sense in America, partly because most private, long distance coach stations are in the poorer, more dangerous parts of town. Back in the 1990s, I got hustled at the one in Pittsburgh. It’s also fair to think that, in China, one should also have the same attitude. Not about getting robbed, of course, but that bus terminals are not usually in the most convenient areas. I realized that while in Jiangyin. It felt like I walked for half an hour without seeing anything remotely interesting. Something similar happened the first time I went to Wuxi, too.

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Jiangyin is a satellite city controlled by Wuxi.  An apt comparison would be Liyang; it has its own municipal government, but Liyang is still under control of Changzhou. Jiangyin borders Xinbei in the east, but the city’s actual downtown is about an hour away by long distance coach. Once I finally began to reach the city center on foot, I found myself falling under the city’s charm.

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The first thing I saw was Xingguo Pagoda. This looks to be the remains of what was once temple grounds. If a visitor looks to the top of the tower, it’s damaged. There were a few other Buddhist attractions, like a stone pillar, but the place is now basically a walled-in public park.

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From there, I found my way to a Confucian temple. The area before the actual temple entrance looked like a flea market, and those are just things I can’t help myself with. Luckily, I didn’t let myself buy anything. Yet, now I know where it is, and I will likely being back for a closer inspection and will probably end up buying a backpack full of old junk at some point. The temple itself was rather small.

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Eventually, I ended up on the Renmin Road walking street. If comparing Jiangyin to Changzhou, this would be a little like Nandajie. It seems to be the commercial center of the center. However, walking through the area, it actually felt nicer to walk around there than Changzhou’s shopping pedestrian street. Partly, it seems, because Zhongshan Park is part of the whole complex, and a public art lover could spend a lot of time there snapping photos of statues.

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Essentially, Jiangyin’s city center feels as developed and as cosmopolitan as Wuxi and Changzhou — just on a smaller scale. Getting to there is, as stated earlier, an hour by intercity bus from Changzhou’s downtown station. There is no train station here. And, it’s best for a newcomer to do a little research in advance and take a taxi from the coach terminal to a predetermined destination. It was roughly 19 to 20 RMB when I decided to call it a day and not hike back there from the city center.

I also realized, in terms of this blog, that places outside Changzhou are fair game, so long as this city is a starting point. So, expect a little more usage out of the travel category in the future. One thing is certain; I know i will be going back to explore Jiangyin in a little more depth, now.

The Weirdest Place in Changzhou

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Wujin is not the same as when I first came to Changzhou in 2014. Yes, there are places that have been slowly filling in over the years, but out of all of Changzhou, the Hutang part of Wujin seems the most ghostly, at times. By that, I don’t mean that spirits of the dead and departed are drifting around. I mean it sometimes seems that this is the part of the city that has the most abandoned or yet-to-be-filled places at times. There are parts of the district that absolutely feel like it belongs in a ghost town.

One of these places is the TV Tower in Wujin. It’s next to Xintiandi Park, and both Jagerwirt and Kaffa are not that far away. This used to be a vibrant place, Hutang locals have told me. The top of the tower had a restaurant, and a subterranean shopping mall extended below that. There used to be a market for glasses here, a supermarket, and even a bunch of shops catering to the wedding industry. Even more, there was a parking level even deeper than that. All of that is largely abandoned now.

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A year and a half ago, I used to go here often. This was towards the end of my two-year stay in the College Town. There was just something about the place that seemed a little haunting. A person could walk around, and the silence was either deafening or interrupted by the squabbling of the birds nesting in the tower’s underside. But then, there were some truly eerie things down here.

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Lots of birds call this part of the tower home.

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For example, a lot of abandoned children’s rides. Many of these were stacked upon each other and gathered layers of dust. These wide-eyed faces looked a little creepy when they were in broad daylight. Stow them in some forgotten corridor in the dark, and they look even more odd and out of place. However, that’s not the most off-putting thing about here. If you go down a service corridor, you end up confronted by something that seems out of place.

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This picture of children is next to an elevator. The dim light overhead flickers and gives this an even stranger ambiance. Add to this that most of the children’s faces are quite somber. I sent the above pictures to a Chinese friend asking for a translation, and she told me it was a class photo for a private dance school. But even when you to this quiet bit weirdness into account, this end up becoming even more surreal.

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At times, I would come down here and find old, dried bits of meat hanging from the doors. These usually had even knife marks from somebody slicing off chunks. So, that means that somebody had been steadily eating these. And it wasn’t just one random piece of meat. At one point, this place had two hanging from abandoned shop doors. That’s not all of it. One night, I came down here, and I saw an old man and a young woman singing karaoke in an empty room that had disco lights. Nobody else was with them.

I am a man that does believe in ghosts, but I don’t fully believe in the supernatural. I am a secular agnostic, after all. All that means is that I am not convinced religiously of anything, and I am open minded enough for a spirited discussion. To me, ghosts are metaphors for the things that have gone wrong in one’s life: loved ones who have died, long term relationships that have gone really bad, meaningful friendships that have fallen apart, and so on. Ghosts live in your memory more than anywhere else. So, there are perfectly rational explanations for all of the creepiness I have found beneath Wujin’s TV Tower. However, once I consider the total sum of the experience, I still have to conclude that walking through the place can feel a bit odd.

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Changzhou Down To One Subway

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Changzhou used to have three Subway fast food restaurants. One was on Bar Street near Nandajie. I never saw people in there, and it has now been converted to something else. Dinosaur Park also had one, but the last time I went to it, it was closed. I often go to Dinosaur Park to take pictures of the weirdness there. So, this closure is more recent. That leaves Changzhou now with only one, which is between Xinbei Central Park and a BRT station on Tongjiang Road.

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Qianbeian: Another Pocket of Recreated History

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As been noted often both here and elsewhere, Changzhou is more of a modern Chinese city. There is not to say that there isn’t a rich history here, it’s just hard to find relics of it still standing around after thousands of years. You can in Nanjing and other places, but sadly in Changzhou most of those attractions just do not exist anymore. There is, however, a move to recreate more places that have an antiquated feel. Qianbeian is one of those places.

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It’s not that far from Wenhuagong — where Changzhou’s downtown subway station is being excavated and built.  A Starbucks is also nearby, and one of Changzhou’s antique markets sits behind it. When I first came to Changzhou in 2014, the place was empty. Weeds were growing through cracks in the walkway, and the windows were dirty and unwashed. Walking through here, back then, felt like walking trough a forlorn, white-washed labyrinth.

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It’s a classic trope in this city. Parts of it looked like a ghost town, but over the years, things have slowly filled in. Qianbeian is a like Qingguo Alley — which can also be found in the city center. Even though it’s either reconstructed or currently under reconstruction, real Changzhou history did happen there. For instance, the great Chinese poet Su Dongpo, once had an academy here, and recently it has been turned into a small gallery for calligraphers and brush-and-ink artists. There is also a tiny display place dedicated to him. There is also a small museum dedicated to local history, and a lot more.

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A Cautionary Tale

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“You haven’t been updating your blog quite a while. Is anything wrong?”

I have heard this in last couple of weeks from people in person and via Wechat. The answer is usually the same. So, here has been what is up with me, lately.

The body and mind craves routine and pattern, and sometimes, when habitual things become disrupted, it’s hard to try and find that sense of balance again. About a month or more ago, I hurt my foot while writing something extremely meaningless for money. It may sound silly, but a person really can hurt themselves while writing. Being a writer requires long hours in a chair staring into a laptop monitor. It’s the incremental drip-drip of bad posture over a prolonged period of time — especially if you are sitting with your foot in a bad position. Like this…

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Because of this, I woke up one morning back in October with an extremely sore foot. It’s an affliction I like to call “Writer’s toe.” Essentially, after a long time in a bad position, the ligaments in your foot become sprained. It makes it hard to walk. You end up limping for a few days and it goes away. This was not the first time I had this, and it likely will not be the last. Instead of staying off my feet and letting those inflamed ligaments heal, I did something very stupid. I was up against a deadline for a magazine article I had to write. It was about Wuxi, and I needed pictures to submit with my text. So, I had to get on a train, go to Sanyang Plaza and take photos. For five hours, I limped around Wuxi with my camera. To make matters worse, I had to go to Qishuyan the next day on something related to my day job. More hours of walking on a bad foot. The day after that, I couldn’t walk. At all. But, like the hardheaded moron I can be sometimes, I tried to go on with my day to day life without properly resting and staying off my feet.

Then, I made matters even worse. This is the “cautionary” part that the title of this post refers to. After weeks of hobbling around Changzhou, I decided to let a traditional Chinese medical doctor “fix” my foot for me. He explained what he wanted to do via Wechat, and the translation function garbled it. I really didn’t understand what I was consenting to. He first gave me a general massage, and that was relaxing. Then, he started scraping my food with a piece of plastic. That was a bit painful. Then, he started stabbing my afflicted toe and ligaments with a push pin. It was excruciatingly painful. When I looked down at what he was doing, I saw he was squeezing out blood — almost as if he were milking my big toe. As a result, I limped out of the massage place in more pain than what I went in. More time went by, and I finally listened reason. I spent a lot of time on my sofa watching horror and sci-fi movies and eating delivery pizza. In short, never let a TCM doctor do something to you when your really don’t know what he is actually telling you. Had I knew he wanted to do actual bloodletting, I would have said no.

So, this issue with my foot was one matter. The other issue is balance in life. Once a routine becomes disrupted, it’s hard to put it back together. Plus, I have been trying to add new routines to my life recently. I also have monthly column in Open Magazine, and there are other things like Steemit.com where I have been blogging for money. I am going to the gym everyday, and today I saw that I was down to my lowest weight ever in China. Yay for me! Also, I am trying to learn a lot more about the technical side of computers and technology — which means my mind has been swirling with talk of motherboards, PCI slots, and driver software as of late. So, really, it’s a case of trying balance all the new behaviors and endeavors with the old ones of like my love of wandering.