There are a number of the usual attractions to be seen — altars and dedicated spaces to kneel and pray or to light candles and burn incense. One of the more specialized spaces is an intricate hall of luohans.
The hundreds of statues here are both colorful and detailed. While Buddhist temples usually have some depictions of luohans, this one is more of the epic scale that can found at Dalin in eastern Changzhou. That temple however, has Buddhist saints with more exaggerated features — literally, the arms and legs are much longer than at Jintan’s Baota.
One of the more unique things here are the little statues of kids in monk’s garb.
And, of course, if a visitor climbs to the top of the pagoda, they can get a good panorama of Jintan and the surrounding parks. Since this temple is in an out of the way location from the intercity bus station, it is best to pair a visit hear to Gulongshan Park, which is hilly and a good place to take a woodland walk. The day I visited, nobody at Baota charged an admission fee.
I once asked a Chinese friend why many cemeteries were located in out of the way places. “Plenty of reasons. Feng Shui is one. If you are putting somebody into the ground, there should be a mountain behind them and water out in front.” He took a sip of his beer “Also, some of us are a afraid of ghosts and we don’t like going near those places. The only reason to go is to pay homage to a relative or ancestor.” So, as I have said before, cemetery walks — where you take a stroll around a graveyard even when you don’t know anybody there — may be common in America, but they certainly are not in China.
Recently, I visited the Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetary in Jintan. Much like many burial spaces in Eastern Changzhou, it seemed in a more remote location. This one was located far away from Dongmendajie, the commercial center of this western-most district of the Dragon City.
There is a wall with the names of all the Jintan people who died fighting the nationalist KMT during the Civil War / Revolution.
The people here are in ground plots. This is unlike the Martyr’s Memorial in Tianning, where long hallways have urns stored on shelves.
There is a museum dedicated to the local history of the war. When I went, it was closed. It was also Spring Festival, so I don’t know if it is always closed, or if it was closed for the holidays.
And, then you have the standard monument pillar. That’s pretty much all to see here. However, there are a few other things in the vicinity. There is Baota Temple and Gulongshan Park nearby. Getting here actually takes a lot of effort. Since Jintan, as a district, is so far away from the rest of Changzhou, you have to take a one hour intercity bus to just get to their coach station. A visitor could either take a taxi here, or they can walk. I walked. And my feet hated me for that.
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.
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.
Chinese culture is filled with wisdom proverbs that refer to specific behaviors deemed socially and personally desirable. One of them (凿壁偷光) stresses the importance of studying hard under tough conditions. The Chinese characters roughly translates into “to cut a hole in the wall to steal light.” Of course, there is a longer story behind that.
Kuang Heng came from the Western Han dynasty. He was born into a poor family, but he had dreams and aspirations beyond poverty. He loved books, wanted to learn, and he wanted to study hard. His family, however, could not afford candles. This meant he couldn’t read at night. So, Kuang Heng cut a hole in his wall. Light from his neighbor’s home streamed in. And with this solitary beam, he was able to study. Many, many nights and texts later, he was able to do very well on the exams aspiring civil servants must take in Imperial China. Eventually, he grew in rank and significance. This story, this proverb, is often used now by Chinese parents when encouraging students to work harder in school and at their students.
When shopping in Jintan, a trip to Dongmendajie is essential. After all, there’s a supermarket beneath the city square, and three floors of shops can be found in two separate commercial centers. Lots of the stores here tend to be higher end chains that you can find across China. As has been said elsewhere, this area is practically the district’s version of Nandajie in Changzhou’s city center.
This isn’t the only shopping to be had. Down the street — and closer to the intercity coach station — stands Wenhua Dasha 文化大厦. This loosely translates into “Culture Mansion” or “Culture Big Building.” And yes, it’s massive. It is one seemingly unending corridor of shops. It’s almost as if you can buy anything here from clothing to gas burners for stoves. The chief difference, however, between this place and Dongmendajie is how “local” it is.
When you shop at a chain store or franchise, money eventually leaves the area. If you shop at a place locally owned, you are giving your money directly to your neighbors. The cash tends to stay in the neighborhood. Things are also much cheaper at local markets, but there are other things to beware of. You have to look at everything a little more carefully when shopping in a place like Wenhua Dasha. The quality of goods may be lesser. For example, you could by a backpack and then have it fall apart after a week. That’s happened to me, but not specifically at this market in Jintan.
There are many places to go shopping in Changzhou. The city has two Injoy Malls and two Wanda Plazas. Downtown, Nandajie awaits with many shops, cafes, and restaurants. Plus there are many other markets and retail locations along Yanling, Jinling, and other roads. If you keep your back turned long enough, new malls seem to spring up out of nowhere. This doesn’t seem as true for Jintan, however.
Shoppers crowd Dongmendajie 东门大街. If you had to compare this to Changzhou proper, this would be the district’s downtown and center. The best analogy would to say this is “Jintan’s Nandajie.” Typically on a Sunday afternoon, this place is busy. There is a huge open square with a supermarket beneath it. Also, this is flanked by two shopping centers with three floors apiece. This is basically if you are looking to do a more fashionable sort of shopping. Jintan also has a huge market, but those tend to be for cheaper items. If you are looking for western food, here, you are mostly out of luck. The area has a large KFC and that’s it.
Jintan is not India, and I am not the Monkey King. Although, some people will think of my rampant ADHD and know I possess the attention span of a monkey. On a hot spring day, I might sweat enough to smell like a monkey, baboon, or a gorilla — but definitely not marmosets. They are too small, and they have white skull mullets. I would look absurd with a skull mullet.
But, I digress. I went to Jintan to look for Zapfler’s, a German restaurant which brews its own beer. I had went looking for it once before, but this time I thought I had a solid lead. I had found its website. However, my blundering around and Chinese map reading errors were epic. (Hence the “Journey to the West” reference. Jintan is Changzhou’s most western district.)
First, I was stupid enough to wear a hoody, and I realized it was a hot spring day. Sweat ran down my face. Eventually, I pulled the hoody off and tied it around my waist, much the same way grunge rockers did in the 1990’s. But they did that with flannel shirts. I cooled down a little, but I continued to sweat. Especially since I ended up walking around for essentially three hours nonstop.
My next error involved not eating breakfast or buying any water. I thought I was going to have a nice, big German lunch with a lager. So, I was incredibly thirsty and sweating, which led to dehydration.
In terms of navigating Jintan, I mistook 金沙园 Jinsha Park for Dongmendajie 东门大街 — which is the shopping center of the district. Think of it as Jintan’s Nandajie. I walked around every floor of every shopping area. Entering the Chinese for “German Restaurant” into Baidu Maps didn’t help. Eventually, I gave up and texted my friend from this area. Given how stubborn I can be in refusing help, that says a lot.
He told me I should have been entering the Chinese characters for “German Beer.” I did the whole facepalm thing, wondering why I didn’t think of that. Within a minute, he sent me a screen shot from his phone’s map. Now, would this be the end of my blundering? No.
Jintan has a lot of parks clustered together. Instead of simply buying water, I thought, “No, you will find this restaurant in five minutes, and you drink water with lunch.” So, I tried cutting through the parks — only to get distracted by a series of states with missing arms. Eventually, I walked around Jinsha park for an hour, and I didn’t find Zapfler’s. I was about to give up and return to the coach station, defeated. And, of course, that’s when I finally found it.
Did I get to have yummy German food, lots of cold water, and beer? No, they were closed. The Chinese waitstaff were sitting outside. So, imagine their facial expressions when a six foot two sweaty American — with a hoody tied around his waist — showed up. I hadn’t shaven in two days. Even though I didn’t look like a marmoset with a skullet, I probably smelled like one — contrary to my earlier position on the matter. They were very, very generous to me. I am extremely grateful for that. They let me drink a couple of glasses of water, and they even called a taxi for me. I was in no mood to walk back to the bus station. Most importantly, I left with a business card.
So, learn from my mistakes. If you are looking for Zapfler’s for the first time, either go somebody who knows or just take a cab there.
On Qingming, I went to Jintan for the day wanting to learn more about the district. As noted elsewhere on this blog, it takes about a hour on an express bus from the city center. While that sounds bad, going from Wujin to Xinbei on the B1 line can be just as long. The main difference is that the BRT costs 1 RMB, whereas the Jintan express will run you about 15.
I spent a few hours with a Chinese friend, ate at KFC, and decided to return home. I walked back to the bus station, and that’s when I realized I made a travel blunder. Since it was a holiday, all the buses were booked. And the express departs frequently. Everybody else was returning from the holiday.
I had to kill an hour and a half. So, I whipped my phone out, summoned my Baidu Maps app, and located a church nearby. Not a complicated walk either. I went north from the coach terminal until I found Beihuan Road 北环路, and then I made a right. Stopped at the first cross I saw. It looked like the plain chapel I saw in Benniu, but only big and square — almost like a shabby, not-aging-well hotel with a red cross on it.
You know spring has arrived not by the blooms of flowers, but the sight of Chinese people standing on the side of the road. They will either be taking extreme close up shots of flowers or selfies with them. Many times, it will be both. To say China has a passion for flowers would be an understatement. Each type and color has special meaning. Peach blossoms, a Chinese friend told me, are culturally — much the same way cherry trees and their blossoms are viewed in Japan. In Taoism, a peach is often the symbol of immortality.
The most curious, however, to me is rapeseed. In spring, this plant seems to be everywhere in Changzhou. If you’re cruising through a rural area, you are bound to see, bright, fragrant expanses of yellow. The importance of this plant seems more economic than cultural. To put it plainly, rapeseed is a cash crop in China. It’s edible, as it can be turned into a cooking oil. The Chinese government even had a strategic reserve of it as oil at one point. It can also be converted into a biodiesel fuel. Sometimes, I don’t think the spread of this plant is entirely natural selection. It’s cultivated.
Something about the plant also seems slightly otherworldly. It certainly seems that way in Jintan’s Nanzhou Park 南洲公园. There, you can find many of the amenities available in a standard, big Chinese city park. Amusements and rides for children, for example. There is also a sea of rapeseed, and the yellowness around you can sometimes be overwhelming. When it comes to flowers, the only time I felt an onslaught of bright color was looking at tulips in Keukenhof, The Netherlands. As for Jintan, this is more towards the western end of Nanzhou Park. Technically, you could walk there from the express coach station, but it’s a very, very long walk. It’s best to just pay for a taxi. And cabs are cheaper in Jintan then they are in other parts of Changzhou.
Coming here also made me think of Jintan itself — once as a city and now as Changzhou’s most western district. The name in Chinese is 金坛, which is literally “gold” and “altar.” If you smooth out the translation to make it sound nice, it could be “Golden Altar.” For sometime, I pondered how this area got its name. I figured it was something religious — maybe there was a temple nearby. And maybe it had a big altar made of gold! And it is ornate! With fat, laughing Buddha’s toting cloth sacks! That’s just silly thinking right there. Of course, when your Chinese reading skills are quite limited, finding an answer on the internet is much harder. So, I took the easy way out. I made up my own answer. Maybe vast fields of rapeseed ARE the golden altar?