Obscure Tea in Tianning

I once used to search out antique markets in Changzhou. I did this because these shops are often places of forgotten history. Often, there are stories behind what some consider to be old junk, and I used to regard these things as puzzles to be solved. I would often buy an old poster, take it home, try to figure it out, get thoroughly confused, and then send a picture of it to a Chinese friend and ask what it was.

I actually no longer do this and prefer to find other ways to waste my money (beer). However, when I did, I ended up finding nearly every antique market in Changzhou. Like I do with everything else, it was a case of trying to find the right Chinese keywords and inserting them into Baidu Maps. In this case, it was 古玩 Gǔwàn. It didn’t always work. We are, after all, talking about Baidu Maps, which has had a penchant for red herrings and sending me into weird places.

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One of those locations involved tea. This would be in Tianning and down the Lanling Road from the Jiuzhou New World Plaza. It’s an obscure alleyway next to the Changzhou Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery.  Did I find the aforementioned educational junk here?

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No, it’s just a concrete set of alleys with places that deal in what looks to be gourmet tea.

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Did I buy anything? No. I normally rely on coffee or energy drinks for caffeine. I am an American, after all.  Also, the culture of tea in China is rich and complex, and even if I entered any of these shops with a Chinese pal to translate, I seriously wouldn’t know what I was buying or how to appreciate it. Then again, I never really knew what I was buying in my average Chinese junk shops. It’s just a matter of perspectives, I guess. So, forgive this outrageously bad pun, because I can’t resist: This area is not my cup of tea. For others, however, it might be.

Papa John’s Opens in Xinbei

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Papa John’s is an American corporate pizza chain, and it can easily be compared to Pizza Hut and Mr. Pizza in China. However, it does not have the foothold and market presence. In Changzhou, for example, Pizza Hut is extremely easy to find, and their many locations can be as numerous as KFC. The Korean Mr. Pizza comes in a distant second with number of locations. Papa John’s is now entering the corporate pizza game in this city with a new location in Xinbei.

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The place recently opened in a newly remodeled and small shopping center up Tongjiang Road in Xinbei. It is right next to a KFC and a hotpot place. You could say, perhaps, that it’s in between Wanda and Monkey King Pizza, which brings up another point.

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Cheesy Sausages
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Super thin crust with Papa John’s trademark pepperoncini

Should places like Monkey King, OK Koala, and CF Cafe — local Xinbei places that also serve pizza — be afraid of the competition? Not really. Koala serves bar food, and CF Cafe and Monkey King are more high end. Food nerds like myself will always prefer those places because of the originality they bring to their cuisine. Papa John’s menu is more of a reminder of Pizza Hut and Mr. Pizza. The prices are roughly the same, too. Corporate pizza, however, is usually better than some of the locally owned Chinese places who may sweeten or spice things up when they absolutely shouldn’t. At any rate, it’s always good to have more dining options than less. So, in that spirit, welcome to Changzhou, Papa John’s.

Luqiao and the Nature of Chinglish

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For me, Chinglish has two valuable uses. First, it is a huge source of entertainment. I am a native English speaker, and I have been an English teacher for a very long time. This language has been my professional business as a poetry student, a college writing instructor, a published writer, and as an EFL teacher in China. Second, it has uses in the classroom in with Chinese students. The purpose there is never to mock but to use it to engage students on the differences of native language versus learned language. So, trust me, I have a vast treasure trove of Chinglish pictures. By the way, a Chinese person could easily do the same in the West be taking pictures of absurdly bad Chinese characters some Americans have chosen as tattoos.  Anyhow, so sometimes, I actually go out and seek out Chinglish so that I can grow my archive. I often do that at places like Luqiao Market in downtown, Changzhou.

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Why Luqiao? It’s simple logic. Chinglish can easily be found on public signs or on clothing. So, if you were to go looking for examples, a huge clothing market really is the easiest place. Chinglish there is low hanging fruit that is easy to pick.  So, on my latest wandering around Luqiao, what did I find? This…

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I am from New Jersey, so that makes this extra hilarious. There is no town in the Garden State with that name. Trust me. Jersey folk would have mocked and ridiculed any municipality named Stomach Parboil out of existence a long time ago. Sarcastically making fun of each other is how Jersey Folk and New Yorkers say Hi! to each other. It’s what we do. Howyadoing?

For example, this photo has already had me thinking of the Jersey Devil — a mythical monster that looks like this.

 

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You can read up it’s the legend on this beastie’s Wikipedia page. It allegedly lives in Jersey’s Pine Barrens. That is a huge flatland forest. Whenever other Americans like to joke about New Jersey being a toxic urban wasteland, I like to remind them that the Pines are a lovely place to take a camp, fish, hunt for deer, and take a nature hike.

Only,  the above-pictured monster is also rumored to live there. So, that hooded sweatshirt at Luqiao sent my overactive imagination into this direction: the Jersey Devil has discovered Chinese hot pot, has a plate piled high with tripe, and is boiling them quickly. With chop sticks, he plops them into his mouth one at a time and chews thoughtfully. Then, he looks over at his dinner guest, Sasquatch, who has traveled over from the Pacific Northwest.

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The Jersey Devil asks his hairy friend if he thinks the red peppers in Chendu-styled soup brings the true flavor of organ meat. The primate wipes tears off his furry face. “This is way too spicy,” he says.”

Eating this drains my sinuses!” He smiles before chopsticking up another bit of stomach lining and dipping it into their shared bubbling cauldron for thirty seconds and chomping heartily on the parboiled result.

Yeah, I know that sounds absurdly stupid, but so does Stomach Parboil N.J. Yet, I do like to approach bits of Chinglish like puzzles to be solved.  How do these linguistic mishaps happen in the first place?

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I actually spent a few hours trying to figure this out by looking at a Chinese map of New Jersey. I wanted to see what characters were being used for Chinese version of New Jersey town names and if one could be accidentally be “boiled stomach” in translation. Sometimes Chinglish is not as random as some people think. Most of it is organic, as it arises out of very bad translations from Chinese into English.

Proper names are particularly hard. Shanghai 上海 uses the characters for “up” and “sea.” Wuxi 无锡 is “no tin.” Nanjing 南京 is “south capital.” Changzhou 常州 is “common place.” Sure, no remotely sane person ever actually calls Shanghai UpSea on a daily basis, but, newly arrived Changzhou expats can be routinely confused when a local alternates between Xinbei 新北 and New North in the scope of one conversation. New North is the exact, literal translation Xinbei after all. This is why a common rule is never translate the names of places or people. Leave them as they are. The best way is to write the characters as Pinyin and leave off the tone markers.

Chinglish tends to get sillier once you take into account transliteration. For example, Obama is 奥巴马 Àobāmǎ in Chinese. If you stupidly translated that, one character at a time, you could get Obscure Desire for Horse. (And we are going to conveniently forget that horse can also be slang for heroin.) Are the Chinese mocking Obama by calling him 奥巴马 Àobāmǎ? Are they say that he has an obscure desire for a pony or a mare?Are they saying he wants herion? No, of course not. Some Chinese characters are used for approximating the sound of a word or name that is being brought into the Chinese language.  The actual meanings of the characters are irrelevant.  This is why 沃尔玛 Wò’ērmǎ is supposed to translate as Walmart and not Furtile Thus Agate.

While all of this sounds like an exercise in futility, remember that a lot of lousy phone language translation apps do this all the time with English, Chinese, and other languages. I suspect it’s how Stomach Parboil N.J. came into existence. Somebody absentmindedly copied from a machine translator. It’s why linguists, ever since the dawn of technology, have tried to tell people to trust a living, breathing, fluent human being over a computer when it comes to language. And, dear God, if you are an American, show your potential tattoo to a Chinese person before getting it permanently inked. Laser surgery to get Sweet Lesbian Lawnmower Juggler  removed from your arm or lower back is painful and costs a lot of money.

So, did I ever figure out the origin of Stomach Parboil NJ? No. I searched for a bit and then had to run off and teach a class.  As for Luqiao, it has its practical uses beyond laughing at knock offs and abuses of the English language. If you can fit into Chinese sizes, it can be a useful place to skip Taobao.com and go clothing shopping. After all, while some people swear by Taobao, it’s always better to try clothing on before you actually buy it. Luqiao is walking distance from Nandajie.

The 36 to Hell and Back

Hell, and the doorway to it, can be found in Xinbei. Somebody could accuse me of being facetious, and they would be absolutely, 100% correct! I am not talking about a mythological nether region where the souls of the damned are tormented. Actually, I’m talking about a statuary recreation of an underworld that is part of Chinese Buddhism. The torture meted out in this version of hell can be particularly brutal, but the saving grace is that the damned can pay their karmic debt and eventually be reincarnated. In Buddhism, people are not meant to rot in such a place for eternity.

This display can be found at Wanfo Temple. There was a previous Real Changzhou post about this place more than a year ago, but  that was more of explaining what the place was and what it culturally meant. Back then, I found it while riding my ebike in Northern Xinbei. Recently, I figured out how to get there on the public bus.

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Going north, I boarded the 36 at a stop in front of Xinbei Wanda Plaza. However, there are stops at points south of here. The 36 originates at the downtown train station and terminates in a part of Xinbei that’s just a couple of kilometers from the city line with Yangzhong. For a large section of the journey, this bus travels north on Tongjiang Road before turning.

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Eventually, I found myself in a small town called Weitang 圩塘镇. Instead of giving the street name, I would just say if you see the chimney from the industrial port along the Yangtze River, it’s time to get off the bus.

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Walk in a straight line towards that smoke stack. Sometimes, it will be hidden behind a building, but you can still see evidence of it on a clear day.

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The walkway might become a bit narrow, as you will end up walking through a working class neighborhood of desolate concrete. However, if you keep walking straight, you will not get lost. And trust me, I have been lost in this neighborhood before; it’s labyrinthine and it’s easy to make a wrong turn. So, I can’t stress how you only have to walk a straight line from the previously mentioned bus stop.

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A ticket runs about 10 RMB. Also, there are old ladies nearby that will want to sell you ceremonial incense. I skipped it this time, but a prior time I came here, a packet ran me about 10 additional RMB.

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As soon as you see something that looks like Guanyin dispensing mercy to troubled souls, you have almost found Hell.In the background of the above picture, you can see the entrance to the hall.

 

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The above picture doesn’t really do justice the gruesome detail on display here. So, consider this as an advisory. Graphic depictions of violence shall follow.

 

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The above three photos are just a minuscule sampling of what is here. A potential visitor should know that this a real religious site and not a wax museum like Madame Tussaud’s in London. The amount of carnage and brutality on display here may seem outlandish, but this is a place where I have always heard monks chanting in the background — every time I have been here. Christian cathedrals in Europe have been treated like tourist attractions, but visitors are still expected to treat the place with some sense of solemnity. The same could be said for Buddhist temples in Changzhou, China, and elsewhere in Asia.

Getting to Know Milo Bar 8

For awhile, it seemed like Thuringia was the only thing remotely western at Wujin Wanda Plaza. This is, of course, if you discount the fast food of Dairy Queen, KFC, Burger King, and Starbucks. Oh, and Pizza Hut, too. Even then, that really isn’t saying much, because Thuringia is a chain that likes to call itself German but fails miserably in the execution.

The times I have eaten there in the past, salads seemed skimpy and glazed with sugar water. Their sausages were of poorer quality that the ones that can easily be bought at Metro — and the slogan, You can make much better food at home will never inspire you to fling money at an eatery trying to be foriegn in China. Somebody from Eastern Europe once complained Thuringia’s borscht tasted like Campbell’s tomato soup from a can. Wujin Wanda had better, at one point. Right after the mall opened years ago, there was a place called Erdinger, and the food was decent. However, it closed because it never attracted consistent customers — leaving Thuringia to foist it’s substandard cuisine onto hungry mall shoppers.

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Recently, I found what might be a credible alternative at Wujin Wanda: Milo Bar 8. I don’t know how long it has been open, because I don’t live in the southern part of Changzhou anymore. Today, I went to Wujin to get some eBike maintenance done, and I thought to reacquaint myself with the area and see how some it has changed since 2014 and 15.

Milo Bar 8 seems to be a mixture of a restaurant and a bar with live music entertainment. I haven’t actually seen any musicians performing, because I went in the middle of the day for a late lunch. But they had all the equipment to serenade diners in a cozy, somewhat posh looking setting. As for it’s location, it’s located on the ground floor and at the north end of the mall. The entrance is on the outside of the building, not the inside. So, how was the food? I felt only peckish and cheap. I very much wanted to be a tightwad (I had just doled out 1000 RMB for 10 new bike batteries), so I opted only for two chicken related appetizers.

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This was a slightly spicy chicken and cheese combo on top of garlic bread. It rain for about 38 RMB — for one piece of toast. Two other options include garlic shrimp as well as salmon and avocado. I found myself enjoying the cheesy chicken thingie. In a way, it was sort of a nostalgia moment for New Jersey. I haven’t really seen actual garlic bread around Changzhou all that much. While I thought this was pricey, I would order it again.  I would probably confuse the non-English speaking waitress by want two or three on one plate. Then, there was this…

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The menu listed this as “chicken burritos.” The “burrito” concept here is close, so I’m not going to argue with the restaurant. Chinese food has something similar in concept called 薄饼卷肉 Báobǐng juǎn ròu. It’s basically meat rolled up in thin flatbread,

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So, this is definitely not Mexican food, but as a sort-of international fusion dish, it works. This was definitely much better than anything I ever ate at Taco’s at Wujin Injoy, and that place DID call itself Mexican (and quite wrongly, too. Who puts mayonnaise into a beef soft taco and calls it sour cream?). The spiciness seems to come, here, from Chinese green peppers. It wasn’t too hot, and I would order this again, too.

Both appetizers intrigued me enough to want to try other things on the menu some other time. They do have steaks, a Caesar salad, and other things that look more western than Chinese. Some items are absurdly expensive. For instance, Milo Bar 8 has a slab of meat that will run you 1288 RMB. I neither kidding nor being sarcastic.

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Dear God, that has to be a typo! What is it? Super select Kobe beef marinated in the preserved sweat of Elvis Presley and sprinkled with the dandruff of unicorns??? I would NEVER order this.

To be honest, the service was extremely slow, but I will be forgiving of that because I walked into the place in the downtime between lunch and dinner. Many places in China lock their doors at that time. The hostess actually invited me in as I curiously flipped through the menu. The other thing is this: I live in Xinbei, now. I would cross town for Kaffa and Jagerwirt on occasion. For Milo Bar 8, I definitely wouldn’t.  Maybe I would if I was in Wujin on other business, like I was today? However, it’s on my radar now.  Yet, I also know this; I know how excited I would have been if I found this when I actually lived in the area a few years ago.

 

Xu Zhimo Romantically in Tianning

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Image of Mr. Handsome Courtesy of Wikipedia

A snowflake falls from a winter cloud, but it seems intent. It’s consumed with desire. As it flutters its way to earth; it works hard to avoid forests, mountains, and valleys. It does not want to land on something or somebody meaningless. It knows what it wants its destiny to be: it has to seek out a garden and fall onto a beautiful woman so that it could melt and “dissolve into the cordial waves of her heart.”

This is the gist of 徐志摩 Xu Zhimo’s famous poem, “A Snowflake’s Happiness” — 雪花的快樂. My summation is a bit crude, because there is more at work here. The whole poem is a complicated metaphor about love, and that gets into the mechanics of how it was written. The first line goes like this:

If I were a snowflake

The voice of the poem is not declaring, “I am a snow flake.“ The operative word here, if we are trusting the translator, is if.  That means its a metaphor and not a description of real life or something following a more narrative context. Much like other effective poems, the middle is there to build tension and led to the emotional payoff of the end. Of course, I’m not basing this off the Chinese original, but a translation I found on a blog. This version reads like a few of the others that I have found

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This is well and fine, one might say. But what does this have to do with Changzhou? Xu, after all, was born in Zhejiang and spent a lot of time studying in the US and the UK. Living in England is the subject his most anthologized poem, “Taking Leave of Cambridge Again.” As it turns out, Xu had a few links to Changzhou. The first comes by way of his romantic relationship with Lu Xiaoman.陆小曼. She spent sometime growing up in the Dragon City and had a definite connection to it. By default, that gave Xu an connection, too.

During his writing career, Xu also wrote a poem about Tianning Temple. The temple’s website even acknowledges this. This has been translated into English, but its only available in print. It isn’t online, and the collection of verse does not have an eBook version. I would have bought a copy if it had. One can shove the Chinese version into an online translator, but that really does a bunch of indignities to poetry. Verse is a medium where the choice of language is mostly exact and precise. It’s all about the subtleties of nuance.  Translating something like this with Google is like taking a beautiful, delicate, and exquisite piece of porcelain and dropping it into a blender.

 

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Despite these literary and historical connections to Changzhou, there is something real that somebody can go see. It’s in Tianning, near a northern exit of Hongmei Park and just down the street from the downtown train station. There is a statue depicting a romantic couple, and the are standing next carved metal baring the title of Xu’s snowflake poem.

 

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It would be easy to pass this by and think it’s the only thing referencing Xu Zhimo in the area. However, if a person were to descend a nearby staircase and stand along the canal, they would see this.

 

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These are inscribed tablets reproducing pages from Xu Zhimo’s diaries. This, in particular comes from 爱眉小札日记. This diary has been published in Chinese as a book, but like a lot of Xu’s prose, it has not been translated into English. If one were to look at some of what has been reproduced on this wall, it’s a emblematic of Xu and the writer he was.

 

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Of course, Xu was a hopeless romantic. He not only had a relationship with Lu Xiaoman, but he had conducted affairs with lots of other women. If you take the content and context of his writing and put that to one side, there is something more stylistic. The passages on display near Hongmei are bilingual. English sentences like

Oh May! Love me; give me all your love. Let us become one…

are interspersed into Chinese. This is no accident. Xu also worked as a translator, and he was proficient enough in English to study both in the UK and the USA. This also gets into the type of writer he was.

In some ways, Xu Zhimo can be compared to Ezra Pound in America. Pound looked at traditional forms in English language prosody and wanted to throw them out, start over, and bring in something new. He had translated Chinese poets like Li Bai and felt their influence. Pound also translated Japanese verse, and his famous “In The Station of the Metro” poem reads like a haiku. On the other hand, Xu Zhimo  returned from study abroad. and did the same thing. Only, he loved western poets like Keats and Shelley. He wanted to throw out traditional Chinese poetic standards and write something more influenced by the west.  In short: Xu was not immune to experimenting and playing around with language.

Whether it is by way of his Tianning Temple poem or his relationship with Lu Xiaoman, Xu had some connection with Changzhou. This city has had a long reputation for helping cultivate scholars and and people of intellect. Xu Zhimo definitely didn’t come from here, but as evidenced by sculpture and canal-side engraved passages, Changzhou will still celebrate its link to him.

English at Xinbei’s Number 4 People’s Hospital

My body oscillates. Over the years, I have seen my belly expand and contract. This depends on how much exercise I am currently doing and how much I love the empty calories beer provides. My love for cheese and crackers is another underlying problem. A gender stereotype suggests that men do not care about their weight and never obsess over it.

This is simply not true — especially if you once were a wrestler or were otherwise engaged in a combat sport that required competing according to weight classes. I used to be a junior heavyweight, and that required me weighing no more than 189 pounds or 85.7 kilograms. High school wrestlers are infamous for doing stupid things to cut weight, and that includes wearing a trash bag under your sweatsuit and skipping rope in a steamy locker room shower. It’s desperate, because you have a match and only two hours to shave off a pound or two before official weigh-ins.

For me, these were formative years. Sometimes, what you do in high school sticks with you for the rest of your life. Being horribly self conscious about my weight is one of those things. Looking in the mirror and cursing at the size of my belly is another. Or, since I am learning Chinese, 我是一个胖子 Wǒ shì yīgè pàngzi! Of course, the wrestler in me is reminded that size of my stomach is relative to how much time I have put in at the gym.

Yet, the worst thing you can ever do is throw yourself into cardio and weights with too much enthusiasm and not ease into a regimen. You can hurt yourself. This is more so the case once you start aging, and your body is not indestructible like it was in your teenage years.  For this reason, I wanted to talk to a doctor before taking advantage of the year long gym membership I just bought.

Specifically, I wanted to get checked for a hernia — for real reasons I will not get into. Now, this brings up one of the challenges of being a foreigner in China. The language barrier is a real thing of concern for some. Sure, you can always task a Chinese friend to come with you, but a lot of my Chinese friends are platonic women I have worked with as an English teacher at one point. As a male, getting checked for a hernia requires dropping your pants and exposing yourself in the most vulnerable way. To put it this way: would a woman ever want a casual guy friend to translate for her during a trip to a gynecologist? Of course not. It is a real privacy issue.

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But, so is the language barrier. What is a person to do? Some hospitals are trained to deal with this and have international departments or help desks. In Changzhou, that would be Number Four People’s Hospital in Xinbei. They have English speaking nurses that will accompany you during a visit. If you think about it, this is a lot better than tasking a Chinese friend. These nurses are medical professionals and can be more accurate when conveying your concerns to a Chinese-only doctor.

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I am not saying this hospital is perfect. The location can be extremely frustrating if you live in Wujin. It’s north of the Foreign Language School and Trina, as well as Changzhou’s North train station. There are plenty of other places a person can seek out medical help. In 2014, I contracted laryngitis, and I received expert treatment at a Wujin hospital near the College Town. The international department at Number 4 is more for people who want to go it alone or want a little more privacy. It’s also one of the most convenient answers for people brand new to Changzhou and want to interact with health care professionals in English.The cost to check in and talk to a doctor is 35 RMB. The price goes up with whatever tests ensue.

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As for me and my most recent visit, I am fine. No hernias. In fact, the doctor said the issue that is bothering me could be fixed with less sitting behind a computer for absurdly long hours and more exercise — which is the exact reason why I wanted to get checked out. I have a resurgent beer belly that needs to be tamed and then terminated. Time to get to work!

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Chinese address is in the above Baidu Maps screenshot. This is one of the reasons why I post Chinese maps and not screen grabs from Google. Google Maps will not help when interacting with a cab driver. In this case, Number 4 People’s Hospital is not in a convenient location and a potential visitor may have to take a taxi here. This will likely be different in a few years when the subway is completed. But for much of the foreign community in Changzhou currently, it is in an out of the way place.

Regarding Honorary Changzhou Citizenship

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Awards mean more when you never asked for them in the first place.

This is something my mother once said to me a long, long time ago. It was towards the end of my senior year of high school, and I had been named Athlete of the Year and was handed a trophy. Privately, I complained to my mother that I didn’t deserve the award. I only played football and wrestled because her and my father made me. I considered myself a punk rocker more than a jock. I never felt like I was a serious athlete, and my high school had plenty of people that were passionate about sports.

She countered by pointing out that I received a regional award earlier that year as a football lineman, and that I had placed sixth in Europe as a junior heavyweight wrestler. In short, she was saying, “Shut up and take the compliment,” but in a more diplomatic and motherly way. What can I say? I have been a stubborn person nearly all of my life. Part of my innate nature is to downplay everything I do as not important.

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That has to change. Recently, I was given the title of Honorary Citizen by the Changzhou government because of this blog and other things. This is the highest award a Chinese municipal government can bestow upon a foreigner. Part of me wants to shrug this off and scream I’m not worthy, but the ghost of my mother that lives in my memory — as well as my close friends — are basically telling me to stop trying to be humble and to just shut up and take the compliment. And, that’s what I am doing. It’s also part of a life lesson I have learned, recently. I don’t know how to take compliments. I always want to disagree. Yet, arguing with somebody about this is highly insulting to the person that wanted to give you the compliment first place. That’s not humility; that’s just being a obnoxious jerk.

I am grateful for the recognition. I feel honored in ways I could never fully articulate. I am also grateful to every person who has told me that Real Changzhou provides something meaningful to them. When you are a creative person, sometimes you tend to forget that the content you produce takes on a life of it’s own once you put it out into the world. Writers, painters, songwriters and artists in general have no way to control how people interpret the content they produce. Nor should they.

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So, where do I go from here? It seems to be the best way to show gratitude for such a big honor is not change anything — keep doing the thing that brought recognition in the first place. For me, that’s trying to learn as much about this city, it’s culture, and it’s history as possible. I always tell people this: living in China and writing about it in English is a never ending source of article, essay, and blog topics. The other thing is this: I really haven’t scratched the surface and I have so much more to learn. That road of discovery is one I plan on following for a long, long time to come.

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This vase, with “Changzhou Honorary Citizen” written in Chinese, was presented to me by the city. I am going to ask Hohai University if I can donate it to the library as a way of showing them gratitude for being a great place to teach.