Certain parts of Changzhou cater to different industries. Trina and solar power, for instance, plays a big role in parts of Xinbei. Over in Qishuyan, which became part of Wujin last year, the train industry is central to local economics. Zouqu, oddly enough, is big on all types of lights. Want to buy a chandelier? You can find a deal in Zouqu. The same can be said for most types of fixtures for home and commercial business like bars and restaurants. You can even purchase street lamps there. Yes, street lamps.
I didn’t know how big a deal this was until recently. I had been to this part of Changzhou before while looking for a Buddhist temple. I saw street lamps crowding the side of the road, but I didn’t stop. Eventually, I heard about “light market” in that part of town, I wondered if I had passed it or not. Turns out, I did. And the place is massive. Think of something that spans several city blocks, and you can drive a car through it — even park. But the market itself is not the end of it. A huge shopping mall stands across the street, and specialty carries on into there and several other large retail locations in the area.
Zouqu itself is located in the western part of the city. It’s in Wujin, but it’s in the western arm of that district. For instance, the huge light market like five to eight kilometers from Qingfeng Park in Zhonglou.
Once, a guy chased me while wildly swinging a bust of Chairman Mao. He didn’t want to beat me over the head with it; he simply wanted to sell it to me for 800 RMB. No matter how much I said “不要 bu yao,” he kept in hot pursuit, yelling about he’d drop the price. That went in 20 RMB increments. I really didn’t want it; I mean, I was downtown, and how would I get that thing home or just lug it around with me as I did other errands? It didn’t matter how much I didn’t want it; he was damned insistent. It wasn’t the first time this guy chased me, either. Other times, he waved posters of Zhou Enlai at me, as well as a wall tapestry of 10 prominent Red Army generals.
He wasn’t the first person to do this. In this part of downtown, I have been grabbed and pulled into shops with all sorts of junk paraded in front of my face. All of them had absurdly inflated prices. A comic book went for 200 RMB, and red and gold embossed Mao buttons went for 100 RMB. Some of those shopkeepers saw me as a clueless, rich foreigner that they could make easy cash off of. They were tripling their prices just at the mere sight of me.
And what can I say? I have a thing for junk and antique stores. However, as my Chinese abilities slowly improved from non existent to barely minimal, I actually learned how to haggle with these people. I also got it to a point where I don’t even have to say anything anymore. All I need to do is twist my face into a overacted grimace or scowl and wave my hand dismissively. Once these vendors realized I was no longer the goldmine they thought I was, I stopped getting chased or grabbed. Eventually, I settled on one antique merchant I trusted, and now I usually just go to him first.
So, where is this part of Changzhou? If you go to where the downtown central subway station is being built, you will find an antique market behind the Christian church. This would be Wenhuagong 文化宫. You can find everything from old communist propaganda to weathered books of nude photography, framed calligraphy, carved wood, and much more. This is an ideal place for stamp and currency collectors, too. There are two indoor markets with kiosks, but the main part is a small pedestrian street with shopfronts. Only, if you are going to go there for the first time, take a Chinese friend you are actually going to buy something. Otherwise, they will think you are a goldmine, too.
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.
I was staring at a statue of a guy ripping off his face, and I was trying not to make a connection to old Clive Barker novels and movies. After all, I was a Dalin Temple in Wujin’s northeastern arm, and the cosmologies of Buddhism and Hellraiser are not exactly the same. Dalin has a building filled with colorful statues, and I really haven’t figured out what the story is there yet. I just know it was a more playful scene than the bloody recreation of Buddhist purgatory 地狱 I have seen at another temple.
Once I finished my visit, I went outside and got on my eBike. It was time to go home, as I had classes to teach in two hours. I put my key into the ignition, and as I turned the throttle to leave, something snapped. Loudly. My front brake stopped working. When I looked at my wheel, it dangled on a cable.
To say this was a problem would be an understatement. This part of Wujin was 30 kilometers away Hohai University and Xinbei. For a little perspective, Hutang and the parts of Wujin where expats live was even farther. I thought of calling a Chinese friend, but since I am incredibly stubborn and hardheaded, I didn’t want to do that. I could just lock the bike, leave it for another day, and try and find a taxi, but the cheapskate in me would have none of that. I realized the bike could still be ridden. The back brake still functioned. So, I rode the thirty kilometers back — but at snail speed. Each time I turned, the flopping brake either smacked against the wheel and dragged against the concrete.
Once home, I tried to figure out replacements. My go-to mechanic works in Wujin, where I bought the bike when I lived the College City area. Obviously, I didn’t want to ride another 30 kilometers and damage the thing even further. Eventually, I realized that Lippo Plaza had eBike shops. This is the shopping center directly across the street from Wanda. This also means walking distance from my job and apartment.
Unfortunately, NKNY has no presence there. I checked Baidu Maps, and I realized NKNY shops were nowhere around this part of Changzhou. So, I walked from shop to shop, looking to see if any of them sold what were, essentially, heavy electronic motorcycles. Once I did, I looked at all of their brakes to see if any of them shared the exact same brand and part number as mine. Sure enough, the LVNeng one did.
Thankfully, the guy running the place there offered a lot of help — without knowing a single word in English. Once you have a good translation app, transacting comes easier. Only, that requires both you and the shopkeeper knowing how to use such apps. More recently, I had speed problems and tried using an NKNY shop. That older mechanic didn’t even have a smartphone and communicating bike problems became all the more difficult. So, lesson learned. Next issue, I’m going back to the LVNeng guy first.
Sometimes, I have daydreams of being a swaggering space commander. I might be on a planet of rampaging lava monsters with only a squirt gun when what I really need is a firetruck hose. Or, I can be stranded in a small shuttle; life and life support systems would flicker as I circle the event horizon of a black hole. Seconds could be counting down before the singularity and it’s gravity stretches me into an infinite noodle. At those moments, I would raise my wrist to my lips, press a button on my watch, and say “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Yes, that’s a Star Trek quote, and yes, both my mind and my daydreams can get that silly. That absurdity, though, led me to buying a digital watch six months ago. I was extremely curious about being able being able to text and make phone calls by having a device attached to my wrist. It all sounded like something you could read about in a vintage sci-fi novel. Turns out, real life is nothing like that.
As for the watch, I found one while browsing the downtown Changzhou’s mobile phone markets. This is Youdian Road 邮电路near Injoy Mall, a BRT stop, and the statue of a woman riding a horse. The road has a number of retail spaces filled with people sitting behind glass cases and kiosks. All three of my Huawei phones were purchased here — with the aid of Chinese friends who could haggle on my behalf. These markets are where people should by their new phones — not at expensive and over-priced foreign department stores like Walmart or Metro.
As for the no-brand name digital watch, I got what I paid 200 RMB for. I could make and receive calls from it, but I still had to have my main phone with me at all times. The watch had to linked to the mobile through a Bluetooth. In theory, I could get text and WeChat messages though it, but the interface screen was so small that epic typos were inevitable. It also had a camera, and that sounds all James Bond and spy-tastic, but the camera was awkward to use. It involved twisting my wrist at odd angles. Plus, the eventual photos were too grainy and low-res.
In the end, the watch became nothing more than a conversation topic, and the novelty of that wore off rather quickly. As for the black hole, I am not circling it. The rampaging lava monsters are a figment of my imagination, and I am no swaggering space commander. I am just a college English teacher with a blog. The digital watch is in a drawer, and haven’t worn it in six months.
When I lived in Wujin’s College Town, I once realized I was paying too much for computer hardware and digital devices. How? I would always buy stuff like external hard drives at Hutang’s RT Mart. Sure, buying stuff there is convenient, but that convenience comes with a mark up. Other places in Changzhou stock tech devices for a lower price tag. I am talking about the computer city and the digital plaza.
The two are close to each other. One mostly just sells computer and their internal parts. This would be a four story shopping center near the new Wandu Mall on Heping Road. It’s easy to spot, because it has a big black orb prominent in its ground-floor architecture. I have bought two laptops and an Asus tablet here. The other is a big, orange building. This also has like three to four floors.
The only difference is that computer city features shops and storefronts, and the Jiuzhou Digital Plaza 九洲数码城 has open-space floors with vendors behind glass display cases. Typically, I have come here for SD cards, memory cards for a high-end Canon camera, and external hard drives. I have also bought camera filters and a zoom lens here.
As for any market situation in Changzhou, if you are buying something extremely expensive, you should always bring a good Chinese friend with you. They have a talent for haggling and verbal combat westerners and just don’t. But, for smaller things, like SD Cards, the prices are still cheaper here than RT Mart even when you don’t try to argue the cost down.
Coming here is extremely easy. The 302 bus runs from Wujin’s College Town to Xinbei’s Dinosaur Park. This stop is in the middle of that route, right before a bridge that crosses into the city center.