Category Archives: Weird

Strange, Infantile, and Vulgar in Liyang

If one is easily offended by Euro-style statue nudity, read no further.

Liyang sometimes feels like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is the majestic bamboo sea, the pristine Tianmahu Lake, and the delicious fish head soup that is famous throughout China. That would be the Dr. Jekyll aspect of Changzhou’s county-level city. That is what is shown to you on postcards and media blitzes meant to pump tourism into the region. The Mr. Hyde part — that would be darker aspect, for those not versed in the Robert Louis Stevenson classic — would be Liyang’s downtown. Sure, a friend of mine suggested being smitten by this thought: It has at least two Starbucks! But so does Jintan — and that district has large parks and cultural attractions near their downtown. Like in walking distance. This was brought into focus for me based upon a recent visit.

Above is a picture of Pingling Plaza. It’s one of the older shopping plazas in Liyang. A friend of mine who actually lives in town did correctly point out to me that the city now has shiny brand new malls by way of a Wanda and a Wuyue. However, those were not next to my hotel, and I remembered that Pingling had a Thai restaurant that I wanted to try last time I was in town. Only, Pingling Plaza is open for business in name only.

Roughly about 90% of the plaza is being gutted and remodeled. Most of the place is inaccessible. I quickly gave up on my search for the aforementioned Thai restaurant. I did try to see what else was open. But, I was met with this.

Nothing says “go away” more than blocked off escalator. But, you know what? I was undeterred, and there was a working elevator behind me. I ascended! This is what I saw.

So, let’s see? What we have here looks like a training center, a Chinese-style pizza shop, and lot of noise made by hammers, saws, and jackhammers. The limited access and all the noise means that these businesses are not getting a lot of casual foot traffic. I mean, the only way to get here is to take the elevator — or the stairs. How do they stay in business, besides hardcore dedicated customers? But, this is not the weirdest thing about Pingling Plaza. Dejected by the realization that I wasn’t going to get to try the Thai restaurant I saw last time I was in town, I descended the floors and left. Out into the rain. I walked around Pingling Plaza and noticed this.

So, somebody with an infantile imagination took a black sharpie and decided to add something to the anatomy of these statues. The statues themselves are actually quite common place in this end of China. Greek and Romanesque figures are pretty normal outside spas and restaurants vying for chic vibe. Of course, I accuse the vandalizer of being infantile, but then again I am writing about this because I thought it rose to New Jersey levels of silly weirdness. Who is truly being infantile here, the graffiti guy with the magic marker or the guy that decides he needs to take a photo of it? The answer is likely both.

This whole blog post sounds like I am being harsh and critical of Liyang. Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not? Despite any negative connotations this may bring up, I am looking forward to my next visit there. Liyang is technically Changzhou, but it has a local culture of it’s own. It is, after all, an independent county-level city and not a district in Changzhou the municipality. That whole trip consisted of being rained out and stuck mostly in a pre-booked hotel. So, maybe the next time I will see the good the downtown has to offer.

Love in an Odd Place

August is the season of Qixi. Every year, this day is the traditional Chinese Valentines — whereas the day in February is a cultural import. Then, there are others; a friend of mine likes to complain there are many “Valentines” that were created by Chinese women conspiring to get more chocolate, flowers, and attention every year. I don’t know about that. He is married to a Chinese woman, and I am not. And instead of actually having a date on Qixi, I decided to take a bus to Jintan and walk to a small lake. What can I say? I’m sort of an emo dude sometimes. Besides, a nice bit of a water is always nice to look at when you want to contemplate things and stuff.

Yeah, but I didn’t get to contemplate things and stuff. Most of my trips to Changzhou’s westernmost district have been to wander around the downtown area and the parks next to it. This time, I decided to go south of the bus station and the district’s Wuyue Plaza. This whole area is either under construction, or the land is open and awaiting development. When I finally got to Qianzi Ecological Park, I noticed a smaller, sillier park within it.

Themed parks or sections of a park is not anything really new in this end of China. However, this one was gaudy in an aged-and-weathered looking way.

Then, I perhaps saw what has got to be the silliest thing in Jintan. Then, I perhaps saw what has got to be the silliest thing in Jintan. A public bathroom with loved inspired architecture. The theme did not carry into the bathroom. I know. because I personally inspected and used said restroom. Then, I perhaps saw what has got to be the silliest thing in Jintan.

A public bathroom with love-inspired architecture. I checked — the men’s room, of course — to see if the theme carried on with the internal decor. It didn’t.

A Mysterious Letter L

Years ago, I created this blog when I bought an ebike. The idea was to wander around Changzhou and figure out what stuff is and then write about it. So, this literally entails sometimes saying, “I’m going to see what is down this street,” and then cruising down said street. Lots of times nothing comes of it. I did this recently on the above road. It seemed weird to me because much of this particular road has walls on both sides, and it zigzags through undeveloped land.

Near one or two small housing complexes, there are these vegetables on the side of the road. Microfarming like this is more common than what one might think. Typically, this occurs in areas of a lower socioeconomic status. Oddly enough, there are signs everywhere telling people not to plant vegetables. The soil is being treated.

That makes sense to a degree, because once I hit this bridge over a canal, the walls on the sides of the road stopped, and small industrial parks started popping up. And then, that’s when I found a tiny park, and this weird bit of public sculpture.

Abstract art is pretty common when it comes to public sculpture in this town. This had me scratching my head because it’s shaped like a big L. Towards the top, there’s what looks like a red revolutionary flag with another L in yellow. Using Pleco on my phone, I looked up the Chinese. Those characters are 腾飞,and that basically means soar, fly swiftly upwards. A secondary meaning has “make rapid advance; develop rapidly, take off.” The back of the pedestal has nothing but the date this was erected — 15 years ago. So, I have absolutely no clue as to what this is supposed to be. I just know I haven’t seen anything else like it in Changzhou.

For the Love of Green Hats

bro5
Image has been borrowed from here: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2843690-mike-tanier-fixes-the-nfl-fanbase-rankings

Let’s conjure up an American football fan. Let’s call him Jimmy Spizone, and he comes from Trenton, New Jersey. He loves the Philadelphia Eagles on absurdly religious levels. In his mind, any fan who opposes his beloved team deserves to be punched in the face! His green Eagles baseball hat is a particularly prized possession. This is not just out of loyalty, but he also thinks it brings him luck. Every time he’s successfully asked a girl out on a date, he’s been wearing that hat. That green hat is just something he doesn’t leave home without wearing.

Now, let’s say Jimmy can’t find a job in Trenton. It’s not that far of a stretch; lots of people in Trenton can’t find work. Trenton can be a very sad place, and because of that, he ends up in Changzhou. He has bachelor’s in business administration, so he ends up teaching at a language center and not an international school, college, or university. Everyday, he happily walks to work, and just like his life back in Jersey, he can’t leave home without wearing his treasured green Eagles hat. Only, China isn’t New Jersey.

Every day, people on the street stare at him in weird ways. Some of them, in a state of disbelief, take photos of Jimmy for their QQ and WeChat feeds. They also whisper about him behind his back. Whenever he goes to a bar and tries to chat up a beautiful Chinese woman, they laugh hysterically in his face. He gets royally pissed off one day at work and has a nervous breakdown.

Why is China being so mean to me? He screams at the top of his lungs.

His head foreign teacher calls him into his office and tries to put it to him gently. China is not at fault here. Jimmy is. And, so that leads to the question of why?

bro2

It’s the totally the green Philadelphia Eagles hat. Jimmy came to China not knowing that a profound stigma comes with wearing a green hat. It means your wife or girlfriend has been cheating on you. When it comes to such matters of infidelity, there are some places in Changzhou that go out of their way to document that and depressing feelings that come with it.

bro1

This place is in Laimeng, downtown. It’s on the top floor and is near a cinema — presumably, a place where people have gone on dates. It’s also where I took the above wall-of-green-hats picture. It is truly bizarre.

bro3

It’s a space where items from broken relationships have been collected and curated. Explanatory text in Chinese accompanies most of these things, and those blurbs detail the circumstances and extent of the heartbreak involved. Also…

bro4

There is just a lot of silly, and surreal weirdness. However, while walking through, I wasn’t all that shocked by the garishness. Actually, I have been to somewhere similar before.

m3m5

There is another “museum” almost exactly like it downtown; it’s located in the MOOC Plaza where Golden Eagle used to be. When I found this Laimeng location, I was more shocked that I had accidentally found another one. While talking to a friend on WeChat, I was surprised even further. These exhibits are not rare anomalies.

bro6They are actually all over Changzhou. The above Amap screenshot doesn’t include red dots for Jintan and Liyang. Searches on Amap also turn up possible locations in Nanjing, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Shanghai. Even possibly Zhenjiang! This phenomenon isn’t even uniquely Chinese. The first possible “Museum of Broken Relationships” popped up in Zagreb, Croatia. Given the pervasive nature of these “museums” in Southern Jiangsu, one thing is clear. Apparently, this is a big business.  Entry is not free. The ones I have since been to range from 30 to 50 RMB a ticket.

If we could get back to Trenton’s totally made up Jimmy Spizone for a moment. Now that plenty of Chinese girls have laughed in his face over his green Eagles cap, he could donate it as a relic of his own broken heart. However, he wouldn’t. Once you are an Eagles fan, you are an Eagles fan till death. He now knows not to wear his treasured hat in public, but you’re only going to get it from him if you pry it from his cold, dead fingers.

Love Most Absurd

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged man who will die single and lonely, love can sometimes be a frustrating emotion. Think about it, somebody develops an deep attraction for somebody, and they might say and do foolish things. They get rejected, and in the doldrums of despair, they say and do equally foolish things. I have been both married and divorced — both loved and spurned. So, trust me. I know.

I was thinking about this because recently — by complete accident — I happened on what has to be one of the most absurd places in Changzhou. There is actually a small museum dedicated to the pain of heartbreak. It actually has curated items and other rooms that just defy rational description. Instead of describing it further, I think it’s just best to let some pictures do the talking.

m2 m3 m4

m7 m8 m1 m10 m5

These few pictures do not adequately capture the level of surreal absurdity that can be seen here. In short, this place really has to be seen to be believed. Sometimes, it feels more like an avant garde art installation than an actual museum. Either way, it’s a lot of mindbogglingly goofy fun.  It’s downtown and in the MOOC shopping center. This is the plaza that used to be Golden Eagle. It’s located on the uppermost floor.

m9 m11

Forgotten Wujin Weirdness

eglass

As noted elsewhere on this blog, the area around and beneath the Wujin TV Tower can be a little weird and creepy. This is especially true for the abandoned retail spaces beneath the tower. That area used to be dedicated to eyeglasses. However, that eventually moved out and to the sunken shopping plaza beneath Hua Yuan Road. You cannot see it in the above photo, but all the entry points to that underground retail area are now blocked off. The above photo is just but one of many. This is likely due to subway construction. So, what did this area used to look like? I think I took the following pictures in 2015.

IMG_20150811_172029

Pretty much as abandoned as the circular concourses beneath the tower itself. However, before this place was totally blocked off, there was some semblance of life down here.

base1

The eye glasses had moved here from beneath the tower. But, even when this was open, it was only at one end of what was essentially abandoned subterranean retail space. However, that was not the weirdest thing down here. The most surreal thing down here were some of the posters that were in one of the men’s bathrooms. These were public service announcements regarding urination.

p1

p3

p2

Um, rainbows?

At any rate, this whole sunken plaza is on Line 1 of the forthcoming subway. Wujin’s Xintiandi Park and the Tower is a stop on that line. So, this underground retail space will likely be re-purposed. And, who knows, with the metro may come new life. However, part of me has a suspicion the above three posters will not be part of that new life.

 

Down a Grape Flavored Rabbit Hole

grap1

Originally, the thought was to take my new ebike and seek out Cangshan Temple in Jiangyin, but as is usual, the weirdest things are always the ones not expected. The Huangtu Grape Corridor was one of them.

But first, where and what is Huangtu? It’s the part of Jiangyin that is right next to Xinbei. Actually, it’s considered a village. The part of it next to the Changzhou city line looks the most urban. The more east you go, the more rural things get. The prime industry here is agriculture, and more specifically, the cultivation of grapes.

So, on my way the above mentioned temple, I saw the “grape corridor” and said, well, why not? The things I ended up finding were not necessarily celebrating grapes. Rather, there were a lot of public signage and tiny parks dedicated to Chinese patriotism.

grap2 grap3

This includes a tiny park in honor of Lei Feng. This seems a little odd, since Lei Feng was born in Hunan Province, and he died in Liaoning when a telephone pole fell on him. As far as I can tell, he had no living connection with Huangtu or Jiangyin as a whole. Lei was a member of a transportation unit within the People’s Liberation Army. To this day, his image and likeness lives on as an intended symbol of being a “model citizen.”

grap4

There are other things to see in the area. It does function as an integrated green space as part of a residential community. Huangtu people do live around these parts — which gets into something else.

grape5 grap6

A lot of the buildings have vibrant, colorful pictures painted on them. None of it has anything to do with Lei Feng. But then again, Huangtu has little pockets like this in a few other places.

grap7

The more I wandered around, it got weirder. I eventually found an area of the village with cannons.

xuchao

I won’t include a picture of an anti-aircraft machine gun.

xuchao2

But here’s a rocket launcher!

Ok? What gives? Why does this town have old artillery pieces laying around? I was able to figure that out due to the ample signage, but none of it was in English. As I always say, the camera translator on Baidu Translate is sometimes my best friend. The military and patriotism theme in this part of Huangtu is likely due to this guy.

dav

 

This is 徐超 Xu Chao. There’s nothing on him in English on the internet. However, he was a battle hardened Chinese general. He had fought in both the war against Japanese Occupation and in the civil war that followed that. Unlike Lei Feng, Xu Chao was actually born in Huangtu.

xc

Although, it doesn’t look like his former residence is open to the public. Eventually, I moved on and found the temple I was looking for. It was closed and underwhelming, so you could say learning about Xu Chao was the highlight of this jaunt into Xinbei’s closest neighboring village. All of this is roughly five kilometers from where B1 bus turns west towards the Changzhou North Station. An intercity bus making local stops comes out this way. I do have to admit one thing. The last time I visited Huangtu, I left quite unimpressed. Times change, and so do perceptions.

 

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.

gsybe
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.

 

Screenshot_2018-07-28-20-05-48-24

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.

Screenshot_2018-07-28-20-15-45-81

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….

IMG_20180728_202530

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.

IMG_20180728_202806

I thought the rest was about simple. However….

IMG_20180728_202559

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.

IMG_20180728_202632
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.

IMG_20180728_203132

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.

IMG_20180728_202711

IMG_20180728_202735

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.

A Return to the Church that Wasn’t

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

–Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a current podcast obsession of mine. It delivers fictitious radio news broadcasts from a small, dusty, and utterly insane American desert town. It’s a place where all conspiracy theories are true, and the fabric of reality unravels all the time. The laws of physics and objective reality just don’t work in Night Vale. For example, the above quote is actually a variation on this well known maxim:

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck … it’s probably a duck.

That’s just pure logic. Only, Welcome to Night Vale gleeful turns stuff like that upside down. Just because something looks and sounds like a duck, Cecil is suggesting, doesn’t mean it really is a duck. You could be hallucinating. Your brain could be confused. You might be possessed by a ghost, and it’s distorting everything you see.  So, you might not be seeing the creature’s true nature — it could actually be, for example, not a duck but a psychotic octopus with a penchant for expensive silk neckties and large top hats. I made the well dressed octopus up myself, but it’s a fairly good example of the mind-bending silliness Welcome to Night Vale offers on a regular basis.

Image courtesy of Cincinati Magazine http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/artsmindsblog/speak-easy-cecil-baldwin/
Image courtesy of Cincinati Magazine http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/artsmindsblog/speak-easy-cecil-baldwin/

 

What does this have to do with Changzhou? Sometimes, I have recalled the above Cecil Palmer quote while wandering around the city. When you are a foreigner living in China, not everything is exactly what it seems. So, again, If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions. There is a perfect example of this at Gehu Lake in Wujin.

IMG_20180516_214418

This looks like a Christian church, right? Well, it actually isn’t if you go by what a Christian church actually is. I first found this place back in 2014 or 2015, I think. That was a long time before this blog existed. I wrote a lengthy essay about it for T-Guide, which was the precursor of the SupCZ Wechat channel and print magazine. So, if it’s not a church, then what exactly is it? It’s was built as a wedding hall. So, it’s a venue that can be rented. A potential visitor will not find regular Catholic masses or Protestant services here,  because it’s not a place of worship. There aren’t resident clergy here to privide spiritual advice or direction. To riff on Cecil Palmer: If it looks like a church, quacks like a church … you should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

Well, that was several years ago. I recently returned to Gehu / West Tai Lake (two names for the same body of water). It wanted to see if anything had changed since I left Wujin for Xinbei. The answer is …

IMG_20180516_214444

No, not really. In 2018, the half built construction site next to the “Not a Church” looks exactly the same as it did in 2015. This was supposed to a themed plaza dedicated to the wedding industry. I don’t know the full story behind it, but it seems the funding dried up. But then again, what exactly do I know?  Not a lot. there really isn’t a lot of information about this place online. I did find this part a little funny.

IMG_20180516_214535

Notice the English part of the sign. I had been walking around this thing trying to peer into its windows for like fifteen minutes. I did the same back in 2015. The only difference, all these years later, is the sign and a bored security guard sitting by an open door to the building. I said, Ni Hao to the guard. He didn’t care. I noticed the “keep out” sign only while l was leaving.

Recent Snowmen

In a thoroughly unscientific poll of one German guy, it hasn’t snowed this badly in Changzhou in at least ten years. For those of us who have lived in this city for awhile, it goes without saying. Some years, we don’t get any snow at all, and if we do, it’s just a dusting. In this regard, I liken Changzhou to a place like North Carolina. It’s so rare, that when it does happen, people freak out a little — unlike people in Maine, Michigan, or New Jersey, where blizzards of a least one meter of accumulation do occur. One of the more interesting things I found this snowstorm is this: people took to the streets and expressed their creativity in crafting snowmen. One could argue they rarely had the chance to do so over the past couple of years. Here are some snowmen I have run across over the past few days. Oh, and the creepiest one is at the end.

IMG_20180201_232025

IMG_20180201_231958

IMG_20180201_232201

IMG_20180201_232236

IMG_20180201_232119

IMG_20180201_232427