Religious Neighbors

If something happens twice, it could be a coincidence.  If it happens three times, it could be suggesting a pattern. A few weeks ago, when I was wandering around Danyang, I happened on an interesting pairing. This was as soon as I got off the train and walked north and west from the high speed rail station.  The area was mostly either empty or industrial. However, I found a Christian church.

While was interesting was the next door neighbor. They share a fence.

Yes, an Islamic mosque can be peaceful neighbors with a Christian church.


When I first saw this, I enjoyed the peaceful juxtaposition.  While it may seem rare, it made me think of America. By that, I mean the part of America where I come from: New Jersey. It’s a place filled with Jews, Muslims, Christians, white, black, Hispanic, Eastern European, Indians, Pakistanis, recent immigrants, wealthy business people, and so on. They are all neighbors, and while relations are not perfect, people find a way to get along with each other in day to day life — for the most part. Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City are multicultural in ways many parts of America are not.  We all have to live together and share the same geography in ways that people in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky do not.  This was one of my highlights of a recent visit to Danyang.  I saw lots of other stuff, but it wasn’t as personally meaningful as when I took these pictures.  It reminded me of the America I personally know and don’t read about in the news everyday.

Then, I went to Jintan. This is a place that used to be a small city, but it got absorbed into Changzhou. It’s now Changzhou’s more undeveloped western district that is near both Zhenjiang and Danyang.  During my wandering, I found a similar pairing.

This church and mosque share property lines. The mosque is more obscured by trees, and so there was no way to get a clear shot of these two standing next to each other. But, this is an instance, like in Danyang, where Christians and Muslims are essentially praying in the exact same geographical location.

This can’t be said for downtown Changzhou. The mosque is near Nandajie, and the church is at Wenhuagong. In downtown Wuxi, it’s the same. Mosques and churches are not neighbors. As I said earlier, if it happens twice, it’s a coincidence. Three times and more suggests a pattern. As I wander around Jiangsu, I will keep an eye out for the third instance, now.

This post originally appeared on www.realjiangsu.com. 

Hengtang River Wetlands Park

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Hengtang River Wetland Park is located in northern Tianning District and is between Dinosaur Park and Xijing Park (where they have that non-functioning Ferris wheel. You can actually see it from from some parts of Hengteng.

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For the most part, this ecological park stretches along side the river for a few kilometers.

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The long concrete paths make this area good for riding bikes. This also seems to be a pet friendly park. Many of the locals were walking their dogs. Not all parks in Changzhou allow dogs, and some park officials will actually kick people out if they have brought their pets. There is just one thing about this place.

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Where there certainly is enough area here to go for a stroll, this place is unfinished and a lot of it is still under construction. So, that just makes one thing certain. This place will look a lot different in a year.

Comfortable Dining at Marco Polo

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As hotels go, The Marco Polo is not an imposing or a large structure. This is by design, as the management hopes for a more intimate, personable atmosphere. A smaller scale of operation means more time staff can focus and giving quality customer service and care. Like other western hotels in Changzhou, there is a self service dinner buffet.

The management knows this, and they have tried to figure out what can make their restaurant stand out. The answer was a recently added iron skillet barbecue. This is personalized to each table with a heating element. Diners are served raw cuts of beef, chicken, and more to cook themselves. The concept is very similar to local paper BBQ places, but the ingredients are of higher quality.

 

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In truth, it’s best to treat the new personal BBQ as an appetizer to the buffet itself.  There are tried and true elements that you can find in other hotels around Changzhou. For example, there is a hot grill with a choice of meat and gourmet sauces. The quality here is what you would expect from a luxury hotel.

 

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There is another similarity: sushi and sashimi. The cook here is a professional trained in Japan, and the sashimi is freshly cut to order. This is not a “buffet” aspect of the dining experience. You tell the guy what you want from what’s chilled and on display, and he delivers. There are also freshly made rolls to pick and choose from — along with the standard condiments of pickled ginger, soy sauce, and wasabi.

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There are hot food service stations for both western and Chinese cuisines. However, there was one I found myself wanting to return to, and quite often. Without proper discipline, I would have made myself an outright pig with heaping plates. I really, really liked Marco Polo’s chicken curry. There is a reason for this; Changzhou only has two Indian restaurants: Kaffa in Wujin, and Indian Kitchen in Xinbei. There is also a Pakistani meal delivery service based off of Wechat called “CHILL MaRo.” Marco Polo’s buffet is not a South Asian restaurant, but they do offer a delicious curry dish in a town that doesn’t not have a lot of options when it comes to this sort of food.

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The Marco Polo Hotel is located very close to Dinosaur Park. This is the time of year where the Spring Festival lanterns are full on display there. A family could easily pair visiting these colorful sights with having a delicious dinner nearby. This is especially true for those in Wujin who need an excuse to go north for an evening.

 

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Tianning’s Hidden Waste Land

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What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock …

                     — T.S. Eliot, from The Waste Land

To quote a part of a poem is to usually take it out of the context of it’s greater meaning.  A quote usually works to build the aim of a larger text. But, in the history of literature, people have been taking quotes out of context all the time. It’s the way people try to understand the world; take somebody else’s beautiful language for which you have ascribed a different meaning. Shakespeare has often been abused this way. I’m pointing this out because I know full well the phenomenon, yet I do it all the time myself. The above words from Eliot ring in my mind a different meaning about Changzhou and other economic developments in China.

 

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Wastelands are not that hard to find here. It’s a fundamental part of urban development. Each new residential high rise cluster or shopping center used to be older buildings. Those structures where then knocked down into piles of bricks that were then carted away so that the foundations of new construction projects can be dug. So, that blasted pile bricks is just a normal step in an ongoing process.

I guess I find myself attracted to these places because I come from New Jersey — in specific, I lived in Asbury Park. New Jersey is a place in America where things get knocked down in the name of development, and then the funding dries up and you left with a ruin for many, many years. Take some of these pictures, and then imagine the Atlantic Ocean and a dirty, trash strewn beach nearby. That was Asbury Park for a long time.

As for China, what these wastelands look like depends on where in Changzhou your are standing. As I have mentioned before, the former Qishuyan district is currently the worst. It looks like a bomb hit many parts of it. What I found more interesting, lately, are some of the ones in city center part of Tianning. Some of these look like post apocalyptic settings, but they are mostly hidden away and sometimes hard to notice.

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Think about this: the busiest part of Changzhou’s city center, and Tianning District in particular, is the railway station. Hundreds of thousands of people pass through there everyday. The scenes of devastation in this post is merely one to two city blocks away. It’s mostly hidden behind buildings. I accidentally found this place because I was at the huge antique, furniture, and other goods market near the  downtown train station.

When it comes to historical preservation, I am hardly a fanatic. I believe it’s best to pick and choose some of these battles when they come up. The sad fact is not all old places can be saved. I choose a pragmatic view. Structural integrity is one issue, but historical value is another. Just because something is “old” doesn’t necessarily make it “antique.” I hope that doesn’t make me sound like a charlatan. This is why those lines from T.S. Eliot ring out in my brain.

There is shadow under this red rock …

From time to time, I have let the poetry nerd in me out. So bare with the quick explication. There are no “shadows” under rocks. If they are laying on the ground, the rock is touching dirt, and you need space for shadow to be cast. So, we can take “shadow” as having a little more of metaphorical meaning. In this case, I am choosing “ghosts.” Sometimes, when I talk about ghosts, I don’t mean that in a supernatural sense. Ghosts can be forlorn or forgotten memories, or memories that follow you around. These wastelands, whether they are in China or New Jersey, are where people once lived and worked. There are countless untold stories buried under these red rocks and shattered plaster.  Yes, some old neighborhoods cannot be saved; that is a pragmatic way of looking at it. The more idealistic perspective is that, under these red rocks, are the shadows of lives lived and times that have passed. These are ghosts that will be forgotten. That’s the sad part of looking at these places; they are more than discarded heaps of garbage.

 

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Monday Night Salsa Dancing at OK Koala

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One of my New Year’s resolutions is to become fearless and do things that make me feel uncomfortable. So, if I am afraid to walk into a bar alone that I have never been to, than I will do that. One of those things is dancing. I am terrible at doing that, and I easily get flustered and embarrassed whenever I try. Up until now, I have been avoiding Salsa Night at Koala. I had a very easy excuse. “But, I don’t know how to dance!” It was quite convenient.

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Only, as excuses go, that one is pretty lame. If a person shows up at 9 pm, there are simple and free lessons where two people teach the moves and count out the steps and each of the movements. So far, I have been twice, and I have made myself at least try. Sometimes, I got a little flustered, and gave up. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t try again next week and build on what I learned the week before. The beauty of Salsa Night at OK Koala is that nobody really judges you on if you are a good dancer or not. It seems how much fun you are having is more important.

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For those who may not know, OK Koala is located near the BRT station where Tongjiang and Hehai Roads intersect in Xinbei. There is no cover charge.

The 68 to Qianhuang

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Not all public buses in Changzhou have 1 RMB fares. The 68 costs 3 RMB. This bus originates at the Changzhou Railway Station and ends in a small town near Taihu Lake. Qianhuang is another small town on this bus route.

Once a person gets off, there doesn’t seem to be much to see here. There is a vast shopping center made up of intersecting walking streets, but there didn’t really seem to be much else there. So, I consulted Baidu Maps to see if there was something cultural or historical I could walk to.

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The area did seem a bit bleak, but to be honest I went there on a rainy day. I also went there without an umbrella. At the time, I thought a heavy coat and a hooded sweatshirt would be enough. I got soaked. What can I say, sometimes I can be stupid. I think I caught a cold because of this trip.

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Of course, even on sunny days, industrialized areas can still seem a bit bleak. Yet, in Qianhuang it seems to be on a smaller scale than other parts of Wujin where sprawling industrial parks and factories are seemingly endless at times. Yet, amidst all of this, I did find something in this town. It was in a small pocket between factories.

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It was a martyr’s memorial. Many towns have these to commemorate locals who died in the service to their country. This one, however, is dedicated to those who had fallen not only in Communist Revolution, but also in the War of Liberation against Japan. Their names are at the base of this pillar, along with which nearby village they came from. This memorial also functions as a tiny graveyard as well.

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After paying some respects, I started to walk back to where I got off the bus. The map app suggested something else, but it appeared to be several kilometers away and outside of Qianhuang. It was raining, and I was soaked. So, another day for whatever that was. I paid my 3 RMB rode back to Wujin and got off at the college town area.

Should You Visit Dinosaur Park’s Spring Festival Display During the Day or at Night?

It is that time of year again. Spring Festival is rapidly approaching, and most of the colorful displays are already up, or will be going up very quickly. The best of the lantern displays, however, is usually at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei. Yes, Yancheng in Wujin has some lights, but this year it is a few roosters and lot of colorful eggs. It really doesn’t compare as of this writing. Dinosaur Park usually has very large, very detailed lights. This year is no different. As always, it’s usually a fun, family friendly thing to do. However, there is one question. Should one look visit Dino Park during the day or during the evening this year? Look at the following pictures and draw your own conclusion. This is just a quick sampling of what has been put up at Dinosaur Park this year.

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Introducing Real Jiangsu

Real Changzhou will be a year old, soon. It’s kind of hard to believe one whole year has passed, both with leaving Wujin for Xinbei and starting this blog. However, I started to realize a limitation. This is not a self critique, but really an objective statement of personal reality. I love wandering around this city and writing about it, and I will continue to do so.

However, I also love wandering around Wuxi, Nanjing, Shanghai, and pretty much everywhere else in the area. And, there’s only so much of those experiences that can be used on Real Changzhou. So, it’s time this blog had a sibling. I am calling it Real Jiangsu. It’s the same concept, but it can be a home for posts about other cities, as well as Changzhou. This doesn’t mean I’m quitting this blog. I am just expanding my focus.

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Grand Metropolis Mall Vastly Expanded

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This is certainly not breaking news to people who live in Wujin, but sweeping changes have come to the Grand Metropolis Mall. This is the shopping center that contains RT Mart and is near an on ramp to the elevated road. Grand Metropolis used to share the building with Golden Eagle, but that high-end store shut down in Wujin around this time last year. In the period between then and now, Grand Metropolis renovated the unused parts Golden Eagle left behind. This means more shopping and dining options. One which appears to be a new-but-forthcoming location of Summer — one of downtown’s oldest surviving western restaurants. This would be the third Summer location in Changzhou that I know of. This new restaurant is set to open after Spring Festival.  It also appears that the Grand Metropolis’ Starbucks has been shut down, but the “coming soon” poster plastered over the windows makes it unclear if its permanently gone or just undergoing renovation.

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