Category Archives: Travel

Searching for Wujin’s Train Station

Question: In the Changzhou Prefecture, how many train stations are there?

Answer: Two? Changzhou Station and Changzhou North?

Wrong!

Answer: Three? Changzhou Station, Changzhou North, and Qishuyan?

Wrong again!

The keywords in the question are “Changzhou Prefecture.” So, that includes the city of Liyang to the south. They have high speed rail on a different route to Shanghai. So, while they have a station, you can’t actually take the train from Changzhou to Liyang. If you are using public transportation, the only option is a three hour bus ride. So, the answer is likely more around “four.”

I thought about this because I once tried writing trivia questions for Quiz Night at OK Koala. However, some of the questions in my music section seemed to revolve too much around the post-rock bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mount Zion.

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Godspeed’s most recent album. Think bleary instrumental rock that also uses violins and cellos. It’s the perfect soundtrack to writing a memoir about overcoming a midlife crisis (which I have been doing a lot of, recently). I was also listening to this while writing this post.

 

While they are currently my favorite bands, I realized that much of my quiz reveled in needless obscurity only I would likely know, and so I never finished it. I did want to fact check one thing, however.

 

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Apparently, Wujin has a train station. A Chinese friend, a few years ago, told me that she grew up near it. So, I decided to see if I can find it. The other issue is this: Baidu Maps can sometimes not be trusted. I have spent a lot of time traipsing through empty fields looking for “Martyr’s Memorials” that simply didn’t exist. As for Baidu, the app claimed it was a long-but-straight-forward trip.

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Roughly, 35.5 kilometers from my apartment in Xinbei’s Huai De Ming Yuan housing estate to a part of southern Wujin that is actually closer to the city limits with Yixing than it is Changzhou’s city center. Much of the trip took me along Heping / Changwu Road. (The name changes, once you cross the bridge into Wujin). For the most part, it was simple ride even after I turned off of Changwu Road. Until….

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I ran into some construction. These shipping containers I think functioned as like a makeshift foreman’s offices. It was completely blocking the road. I nearly gave up, but if you notice off to the right, you can actually see a train. So, I looked to see if there was a narrow path around. There was. This was on the other side.

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I thought the rest was about simple. However….

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The building I suspected of being the train station obviously was not. There is another thing to consider. There are plenty of narrow farm roads in the area. I tried to stay off them, but I couldn’t help myself.

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My photo archive always needs more Chinese scarecrows!

Essentially, vineyards make up a large part of this area. These are likely not wine grapes, as they look a lot like the type I see sold along the side of the road. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either. That’s just to say: it’s a local agricultural product. That was reinforced once I actually found the train station.

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One vineyard had been harvesting it’s crop and loading it onto a freight truck. Well, what about Wujin’s train station? Don’t get your hopes up.

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It looked pretty abandoned. That got me thinking, though. What about the train parked there? My guess is this: if this place is used at all, it’s for freight only. It is so far removed from an actual population center that it makes absolutely no sense for passenger traffic.

As for my proposed trivia question. How many train stations in Changzhou? Technically, five as of this counting. However, this place in Wujin is so obscure, it almost doesn’t count. There is a way around that: reword the question. How many high speed rail stations are there in the Changzhou Prefecture? The answer to that is still four, I think. Changzhou Station, Changzhou North, Qishuyan, and Liyang.

How to Get to the Shanghai Foreign Languages Book Store

I really dislike it when people tell me to just buy what I need off of Taobao or DangDang. Then again, I have been known to be a very stubborn and grumpy dude sometimes — and this is coming from a guy who, back in New Jersey, actually shouted at a bunch of kids and told them to get off my lawn. However, getting back to the my point, shopping and browsing a physical retail space can be enjoyable for some people. This is especially true when it comes to buying books. Perhaps I am a bit of a literature nerd. Okay. Fine. Point taken. Still, there is a sense of adventure when you walk into a store and you let a book unexpectedly find you.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of places to do that in Changzhou, currently. What you can find are mostly just educational texts in Xinhua Bookstore branch locations. Changzhou foreign folk have been told the top level of Banshan, downtown, will eventually have have big non-Chinese selection of texts. However, that still has not come to pass.  While this city is growing, there are still some things that you still have to go to Nanjing, Suzhou, or Shanghai if you do not want to use the Internet.

Books in English are definitely one of those commodities. Thus far, there is one particular bookstore in Shanghai that I have frequented. Sure, there might be others, but this one has become a habit for its wide selection and a relatively easy location. It’s in The Bund, and I often mix my Shanghai book buying with equally enjoyable culinary investigations that involve sandwiches.  Whatever your reason for a Shanghai day trip, Here is how to get the foreign languages book store.

Get from Changzhou to East Nanjing Road. 

There are two ways of going about this. It depends on which train station you are travelling from. If you are going to Shanghai via Changzhou North, you will end up at Hongqiao. Two subway lines reach East Nanjing Road from here. Trust me, Line 2 is the quickest. The trains from downtown Changzhou will take you to Shanghai’s central station. There, you will have to take Line 1 to People’s Square and switch to Line 2.

Find Exit #3 At East Nanjing’s Metro Station

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The bookstore is only like three blocks or so from East Nanjing Road, and there are many routes one could actually take. I am suggesting this one because it involves the least amount of turns. Plus, I hate walking on East Nanjing’s Pedestrian Street. There are too many swindlers, panhandlers, grifters, and pimps there that either want to sell me a watch or “a massage with extra romance!”

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Exit 3 takes you through part of the basement of Hongyi, which is a shopping center. Once you are up and out of the station, the pedestrian street will be on your right. A smaller street will be on your left. Walk down the street. Do not turn afterwards. Stay on this street.

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Find Fuzhou Road 福州路

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As I said, you should be walking a straight line. You haven’t turned. You should pass through any intersection with Hankou Road 汉口路 on your way to Fuzhou Road.

Turn Right and Find Your Destination

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Once you find Fuzhou Road, turn right. You will know when you are in the general vicinity. There are other book stores around here. One is dedicated to art and photography. Most of the stuff sold there is in Chinese with slick colorful pictures, but they do sell beautiful Taschen volumes. If you are into art, this is one of the biggest international art book publishers. If you see this particular establishment, you have actually passed the foreign languages book store, but not by far. Your target destination is pictured below.

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If All Else Fails, Show A Cab Driver This

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This is Huangtu

There is an intersection in Changzhou’s northern Xinbei district sharing a map line with Jiangyin. The B1 bus turns here to pass the Trina International School  and end its route at the Changzhou’s northern rail station.  Make a wrong turn at this stop light, and you end up in Wuxi. Jiangyin, while an independent city, is actually part of Wuxi.  There are a few times I have crossed this red light border intentionally to see what was there.  One time, it was to see the town of Huangtu.

This is a very small town between Changzhou’s Xinbei district and Jiangyin’s dowtown “proper.” The intercity bus from Changzhou North Station makes local stops here. The bus from the downtown / Tianning station does not. That’s more of an express, and frankly, if you are going to downtown Jiangyin, it’s always better to take the express and not a local. It’s a faster ride. So what does Huangtu have to offer?

Not much, actually. However, that is more of a “city” point of view. And, it’s not meant to be condescending. It’s more of a statement that you can’t find a lot to be a “foreign tourist”  about here.

The local temples are actually places of worship — not places that charge admission and give you commemorative ticket. But, again, that’s the point in a way.  “Real” is a relative term. What applies to cities doesn’t apply to towns. “Real” also means “people live here” and “local.”  It’s also an interesting contrast. Appreciating and understanding urban China means also appreciating and understanding “small town” China. Maybe that’s just the key to understanding China in general? Maybe that’s the key to understanding the complicated dynamics of any country?

This post originally appeared on www.realjiangsu.com. 

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. 

A Newb’s Introduction to Dining in Jiangyin

img_20161211_193844While visiting Jiangyin either on business or as a tourist, there are a few western restaurants to consider eating at. While the city is smaller than Changzhou and belongs to Wuxi, Jiangyin is highly developed and quite modernized. There is one spot in the downtown area that seems to be central to dining and nightlife. Yijian Road has a lot of bars and restaurants.

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The biggest draw in the area seems to be a German establishment, Hofbrauhaus and a few others.

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While Yijian Road seems to be a culinary hub, these are not the only places to eat when visiting Jiangyin. Take, for example, St. Marco. This European eatery is just down Chaoyang Road from Huangshanhu Park. That park, and the others near in close proximity, are the more well known Jiangyin attractions. People on a day trip from Changzhou could pair visiting those parks with eating at St. Marco. As stated earlier, these are likely not the only decent places to eat in this city, but this was only my third visit, and I’m still figuring out where things are there.

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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.

Unassuming Buddhist Temples

Note: This is another travel post. This will be the last. I am leaving New Jersey and will be arriving back in Changzhou on the 5th of July. 

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Chongfa Temple in Renmin Park, Downtown Changzhou

Spotting a Buddhist temple in Changzhou is fairly easy. The traditional architecture is the basically the same. The four points of every roof curve upwards. The buildings themselves all are yellow. In some cases, some of the windows in the walls or in the doors all possess ornate woodwork of intersecting lines and right angles. Never, ever do you see a temple with a white paint job. However, not all these places look the same — from the outside — once you leave Changzhou or China in general.

Just as the religion can be interpreted differently around the world, so can the look of a place of worship. This is extremely evident in Howell, New Jersey. The Garden State is perhaps more well known for have a high per capita amount of Catholic and Jews. Once a person gets closer to the northern end near New York City, there are also dense neighborhoods of Muslims, too. People do not often mention Jersey and Buddhism in the same breath. However, there is one notable community of Mongolians that has lived in the Garden State since the end of World War Two, and they have called Howell home for many decades now.

These are Kalmyks — otherwise known as Western Mongolians. These are people far outside the reach of Mongolia or the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. Historically, they settled around Central Asia and areas of that could be described geographically that now fall into Russian or Ukrainian territory. The history of resisting Russian power goes back centuries, but in early Twentieth Century, they chose to oppose to Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War. Since the Red Army and communism won, the Kalmyks eventually had to flee. Some of them ended up setting up a community in southern Monmouth County, New Jersey.

As to be expected, casual American racism often lead this group to me misidentified by locals as ethnic Chinese or Japanese. Never mind that they landed in the USA able to speak their native language, Russian, and a few other tongues. They worked hard to embrace the very flawed, but inherently multicultural society that New Jersey essentially is. Many have married outside their ethnicity, and over the decades the small Kalmyk-American population has been shrinking. Their assimilation into American culture has also left their presence in Howell sometimes hard to spot. They own bungalows or two floor homes just like everybody else in the area.

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Fifth Street, Howell, New Jersey

Their three Buddhist temples, however, still remain. And these places look nothing like the places of worship you would find in Changzhou and other Chinese cities. These look decidedly suburban, and all three of them are located in residential neighborhoods. They are also small, and unassuming — easy to miss if you are not looking for them. Two of them look like your standard family dwelling with aluminum siding. Only one has a look of anything like the traditional architecture one might expect.

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Kalmuck Road, Howell, New Jersey

Religious difference might also fuel the differences in look between Changzhou’s and Howell’s temples. Many of Changzhou’s temples are Chan / Zen orientated, but with an ample influence of Chinese folk religion and Taoism. The Kalmyk’s Buddhism is more Tibetan in nature, and this can be seen in one temples ample amount of colorful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.

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Prayer flags

I never had a chance to see the interior of the temples on Kalmuck Road or Sixth and Fifth Streets in Howell. I am sure if I called in advance and explained my purpose, I would have been given a tour. Essentially, I had just showed up and wandered around. I talked to two monks at two of the three places. They were extremely friendly, and chatted for a bit. Most were intently curious about what life was like in China — especially in how I described how the Buddhist temples in Changzhou were different from the from the small, quiet places they called their spiritual homes.

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Sixth Street, Howell, New Jersey

Once I parted ways and started on my way back to my father’s house, I passed by a few Russian Orthodox churches. Place, there were a few other Christian places, too. And then, I got stuck in traffic in Lakewood, which is filled with Hasidic Jewish synagogues and yashiva schools for Torah study.  The sidewalks there are often filled with orthodox Jews in their black pants, black jackets, black fedora hats, and neatly ironed white shirts. All of this, within just a few miles of each other, reminded of how much more multicultural New Jersey is than many other parts of America.

Changzhou vs. Asbury Park

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Note: I am still in New Jersey, which is why there is a string of comparative travel posts.

At first glance, it might be insane to compare Changzhou with Asbury Park. One is a 4 million plus industrial metropolitan center in China, and they other really is a city in name only on the Jersey Shore. Asbury Park gets its “city” tag more as a municipal label than as an actual urban center.

There are many substantial and superficial differences. Asbury is next to an ocean, and Changzhou is along the Yangtze River. Monmouth County and most of New Jersey in general does not have air problems, and there are hardly any factories around here. People hardly treat Changzhou as a tourist destination, and beach goers flock to Asbury Park every summer.

If you look deeper, though, there is one important similarity. It’s ongoing development. In Changzhou, something new is always being built and is under construction, and Asbury Park often feels the same way. Both when I lived here and now when I return every summer to see family, there also seems to be new condos under construction. A lot of them look the same. In Changzhou, there is always those brown cookie cutter residential high rises being thrown up.

Asbury Park has been under redevelopment for years. It used to be a swanky destination for the wealthy 80 or so years ago. Then, it slowly fell into disrepair. Race riots broke out in 1970, and much of the town burned. From there, the place descended into severe urban blight that it almost never recovered from. Take the most decrepit looking parts of Newark or New York City, and put it next to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s what the area looked like. One sarcastic bit of grafitti boasted: “Asbury Park: Where the debris meets the sea.” Sometimes, debris even floated in from the sea. It it’s worst, garbage covered the sandy beach. In the 1980s and 1990s, the whole town looked like a shooting locations for a post apocalyptic science fiction movie. Crime and drugs were also rampant. Often, people drove through Asbury with locked doors.

When I moved to this place in 2004, walking out the door meant you possibly might have to contend with drug dealers and prostitutes. I once met a woman who fit both descriptions. However, people other than myself and my wife at the time were trickling in. The LGBT community, like it has in other parts of America, had moved in where renovating the town one house at a time. From there, real estate values have gone up and down, but Asbury has been on a recovery trajectory ever since.

However, when I walk through here, now, I am oddly reminded of Changzhou sometimes. For all of the speedy economic development, you can still find empty, derelict spaces in districts like Wujin — even in the prospering uptown of Xinbei in the greater Wanda area. It’s the same in Asbury. For every new condo development, there are still blighted and boarded over areas. It’s especially true the farther you get away from the beach and cross the train tracks.

You could also say there is one thing in Changzhou that always reminded me of Asbury Park. When I moved to Wujin in 2014, I saw the skeleton of a high rise. It was unfinished, and it stood on the 2 and 302 bus routes along Heping / Changwu Road. Two and a half years have passed, and no further construction has occurred. Something similar has happened in Asbury Park. There used to be something called C8. It was a project that never went beyond a steel framework. It became abandoned, and it became a fenced in tower of rust for a long time. This became a sore point for many of the old and more recently arrived locals. People cheered when it eventually became demolished. Once the rubble was cleared, another construction project took its place. And then, ironically, the real estate market in Asbury flatlined again. Construction halted, and now there is new and different failed real estate project there.

The similarities between Changzhou and Asbury Park essentially start and stop there. The Jersey town only has a limited number of spaces to develop. In theory, the construction projects will come to an end. In Changzhou and China in general, it will likely never end. Something is always getting bulldozed to make room for somethng else.

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Unfinished construction where the infamous C8 rusted ruin used to stand.

Pudong Security Changes

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If you are traveling from Changzhou to Shanghai Pudong International, new and extra security measures are in place. This came about because of an explosion that occurred at a ticket counter. Somebody lobbed a crudely constructed explosive, and four people became injured because of it.

In all honesty, this new security check didn’t take much time. I recently flew out of Pudong while on my way to New Jersey to see my family for about 13 days. When I went through this checkpoint, I had walked from the Maglev station to the terminal containing United Airline’s ticket counters. Once I reached the check point, I saw that they were wanding ten people at a time. This was to speed up the flow of travellers. By wanding, I mean security officiallys rub a piece of fabric over everybody’s luggage and bags. If an alarm is tripped, then they will more than likely check people within that group individually.

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Massage Differences in Jersey

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If you want to hear or speak Mandarin in New Jersey, the best thing to do is get a massage. Such differences are fundamentally different in Monmouth County than it is in a city like Changzhou.

First, there are all the prostitution stereotypes to contend with. Massage places and spas in China can sometimes be a front for such ellicit business ventures. The more legit places tend to be cloaked Chinese traditional medicine. Typically, these places are either storefronts or whole building billed as “spa hotels.”

In New Jersey, it is not the same. Chinese styled accupressure places are typically located in shopping malls. Many of the customers go to the mall to buy one thing, and then getting work done on their back or neck results as an impusle buy. As in, “Ooh! I want a massage, too!”  The places usually tend to be very spare, and the only bit of decor might be reflexology charts. The other notable difference tends to the equipment. In Jersey, massage places tend to use specialized chairs that allow the massuese to focus on a person’s back, neck, and shoulders. There are also tables. Typically, most massage places in Changzhou tend to only use the table. Neither me nor my friends have more than a very few massage chairs — just the tables.

Interestingly enough,  I have only seen Chinese immigrants and green card holders working at these places. You never see a non-Chinese person. Only on one occasion did I get a massage from a second generation Chinese-American who could speak English fluently. In most cases, many of these workers can barely speak broken English beyond, “How many minutes” and knowing body parts. Conversation between parlor workers always tends to be in Mandarin.

It would be a mistake to think these types of Chinese-centric businesses are common across the USA. I have seen mall massage joints in West Virginia that employed no Chinese people at all. In many regards, this is just one, of many, examples of how multicultural New Jersey can be.