Category Archives: Wujin

The eBike Market of Old

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More than three years ago, I went shopping for a new eBike. This was before this blog even existed. My desire was simple; I wanted something heavy duty that could go long distances. I wanted to be able to go places most other foreigners couldn’t as an effort to learn all I could about Changzhou. Part of my comparative shopping process brought me to a massive eBike market on Zhongwu Dadao. The above grainy cell phone pic was from that time.

Eventually, I did buy the powerful bike I wanted. Only, I didn’t get it there. I got three solid years out of that vehicle. In the end, it started falling apart. Besides, the city government was also about to change regulations and enforcement. Larger bikes were basically going to become illegal. This shift has likely had a profound impact on businesses that sell what was essentially electric motorcycles. I can only guess, because recently, I returned to that massive market. It’s a ghost of what it once was.

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What used to be a thriving place that sold electric bikes of all shapes and sizes is now desolate and empty. Three years ago, all of these store fronts were open.

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One could argue that regulations and policies could have had a shaping influence, but it’s quite possible that this sort of death of a place didn’t happen overnight. It seems other markets have been shrinking in size. The digital plaza near Jiuzhou New World Mall seems to have gone out of business the last time I went there. The cellphone markets on Youdian Road downtown are half empty. Even Computer City isn’t quite what it was a few years ago. Given the city’s continuing growth at a breakneck speed, one can’t argue that this is a sign of a bad economy. Still, it is an indication of a change in consumer buying habits.

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As for eBikes, the current shift in regulations and enforcement does mean one thing. The demand for super bikes clearly isn’t what it was a few years ago, and this old market is now — as I mentioned earlier — a ghost from the past.

The 8, From Temple to Temple

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Tianning Temple, Downtown Changzhou

As has been stated in previous bus-related posts, most routes have a specific meaning in connecting destinations. The Number 8 city bus is no different. To put it simply, the 8 basically gives people in the former Qishuyan District (now the far eastern part of Wujin) access to Tianning Temple and Hongmei Park. Qishuyan is basically near the city line with Wuxi, and it has historically been linked to Changzhou’s part of the Chinese railroad industry.

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The south entrance of Weidun. The 8 doesn’t actually pass this part. I sued this picture because it was more picturesque the the park admin building the 8 actually stops at.

The 8 does pass near some of the train-related plants and companies, but it also passes one of Qishuyan’s major greenspaces: Weidun Relics Park. There is a prehistorical museum here, but it has be shuttered every time I have been in this part of the city.  About ten more stops past Weidun, and you end up at this line’s terminus.

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So, what is actually out this far? Not much. The area seemed pretty working class and industrial. For instance, there was this ongoing, slow, steady clanking noise from a decrepit factory next to the bus depot. However, there was something out here I wasn’t expecting.

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Yeah, I know this picture looks just like a regular old rough slab concrete road. However, look at the big row building on the left side of the picture. That structure is actually concealing something.  Further into the background, you will see a gap in the buildings. I walked there.

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Turns out, there is a temple out here, tucked away in seclusion. According to Baidu Maps, it’s Guanyin Temple 观音禅寺. It really isn’t open to the public, as all of the unpaved dirt will tell you. This area is not meant for tourism — at least not right now.

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The buildings are basically look like new construction. So, to point out the obvious, here, it looks like a new temple is going up in Qishuyan. I find it interesting though, that the 8’s official terminal points are both temples. That’s likely not an accident, but I’m not going to hazard a guess as to why. For the most part, my estimate would be that this line primarily exists to get people in Qishuyan to Tianning and downtown in general, as stated earlier. Unlike most buses, the fare is 2 RMB on the 8.

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A Lost Town and Forgotten Temple

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Typically, a brown street sign in Changzhou denotes something of cultural value and significance. The above, for example, advertises something called Xucheng Temple and Ruins. It’s next to a narrow little street off shooting from Xiacheng Road in Wujin — this would be on the eastern side of the Science and Education Complex adjacent to College Town. However, sometimes in China signs are not all what they seem. In fact, if you followed this sign, you would end up in a wasteland.

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There is really nothing to see out here. But what about the sign? What about the temple? That would be this….

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Part of the temple is still there, but closed to the public. The front part, however, has been demolished. I know this because I had visited this area four years ago, and it looked different. The front door of the temple was still there. The road here not used to be shattered, and the nearby bridge lead to a rather creepy building where I heard a hoard of pigs screeching and scratching around. That creepy building is now gone, too.

How about the sign’s advertised “Xucheng Ruins?” Yup, that’s actually still there, I think. It has a historical preservation marker.

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So, that means something historical, right?

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Well, maybe — if you’re counting a mound of dirt and pile of stone slabs. In fact, this whole area is something of a seemingly barren and morose landscape. It’s like a memory that is fading away, but still somehow clinging on by its finger nails.

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The above is a marker for Shangdian Ancient Town 上店古镇, and the marker speaks about this. However, if you enter those Chinese characters into Google, nothing comes up, even in Chinese. There was once a Chinese language blog post about the town, but even now that is a broken link. As for Xucheng Temple, there is an entry for that on Baidu’s Chinese language version of Wikipedia, but that seems grossly out of date. The entry ends by mentioning that the area was declared a cultural site worth protecting in 2008. That hardly squares with how the area looks now. There is, however, one thing that has remained intact.

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That would be a grave site. The above is the tomb of Yun Nantian 恽南田, a noted painter from the Qing Dynasty. Yun Nantian has had worldwide fame and has had gallery exhibits held outside of China. He was a native of this particular section of Wujin. His specialties included caligraphy and painting flowers.

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All in all, something was here. Several years ago, Changzhou was accused of being a “ghost city.” This is a term often leveled at over-building and over zealous urban development. The term really isn’t accurate for most of Changzhou these days, and since that initial accusation five to six years ago, major construction projects have finished and many of the eerily quiet parts of Wujin have filled in. So, a ghost city? Maybe not, but some places still have the vibe of “ghost towns” — places that life once was and that have been quietly forgotten.

First Time to San Sheng Temple

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Sometimes I think I have seen all that Changzhou has to offer, and then something comes out of left field and really surprises me. And, that’s what I can easily say about San Sheng Temple 三圣禅寺 — it really surprised me. With the exception of Maoshan  out in Jintan, I thought I had seen all of Changzhou’s major temples: Tianning, Bailong, Dalin, Baolin, Wanfo, and so on. Well, I was wrong, but then again me being wrong is nothing new. Still, I was awestruck by this place.

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Comparatively speaking, it felt roughly the same size as Tianning — albeit with a smaller pagoda. The pagoda is also not open, so you cannot climb to the top for a view of the surrounding area.

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There is so much to see here, it would be hard to fit it all into one post. So, here are just some of the more unique things.

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There is a huge lighted display dedicated to Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy.  The lights change from red to blue and green. However, this wall is massive.

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The textured background is made up of thousands of hands. We also see longer arms sticking out of this wall as well.

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This has spiritual significance; Guanyin is often dipicted with multiple arms, hands, and heads so that she can maximize her reach in hearing prayers and dispensing with mercy. She looks this way because it assists her in helping as many people as possible. There is a downside…

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It’s kind of weird to see disembodied arms in bubble wrap. This is emblematic of what is also currently going on here. The place is undergoing renovations. It seems like they may be adding more arms to the wall. Speaking of walls …

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There is an epic sculpture wall on one side of a staircase. Luckily for me, I had a very kind monk who offered to show me around.

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There is just so much here; it’s hard to digest it all in one visit. I am definitely going to return. However, some people who know me personally might ask, “You have lived in Changzhou for years. How is it you missed a place this large?”

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It’s in a very remote part of Changzhou. This is out in the former Qishuyan District, which is now currently part of Wujin. As a one way bike ride, this was 20 kilometers away from Xinbei. Basically, it’s eastern Changzhou, near the hills where there are a lot of public cemeteries. The 316 bus from the downtown train station comes out this way, but there are only a few buses a day, as the below sign illustrates.

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Cruising Around Lijia

I sometimes forget how large Wujin actually is. Most people know the area typically as Hutang and the College Town, but there is more to it than just that. Recently, I took an bike ride to Lijia 礼嘉镇 which is roughly about 12 kilometers from Changzhou University if you are going south and east. The 320 bus swings out this way. So, what is out here? Keep in mind this was an unplanned trip. This was the “point my bike in that direction and see what’s there“ sort of thing.

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This can be easily described as small town China. Still, the central shopping area was quite busy. While stopping here, I checked Baidu Maps if there was anything historical nearby. That lead me here.

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I got chased by a dog, twice. Eventually, I found what I was looking for, and I survived without getting bitten. What I was looking for was behind the above buildings.

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This is 王氏宗祠,or The Wang Family Ancestral Hall. Most time, when I find these places, they are closed to the public. I ran into another up the road a few kilometers …

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This one was 何氏大宗祠,or The He Family Great Ancestral Hall. Like it’s counterpart, seemed closed to the public. However, this building had large tomb nearby.

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Because I wasn’t careful in conserving battery power, my bike clunked out when I hit downtown, on my way back to Xinbei. In trying to figure a few things out, I ended up consulting the town’s Baike encyclopedia page once I finally got home. Turns out, I might have missed something. That just means instead of going there on a whim next time, I should do something new and different and actually make more of a concrete plan.

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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.

Wujin’s Lakeside Spire

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Late July and early August tend to be Changzhou’s hottest times of the year. Sometimes, it can get so bad, some may not want to venture out of their homes at all and will opt to hang out in front of an air conditioner on full blast. On the other hand, some locals and some expats from hot climate countries may actually like this time of year and may want to get out and about — and to that, I say to each their own. If one does want to get out, Gehu / West Tai Lake may be a possible destination. While not much has changed in this part of Wujin over the years, there is something interesting to consider.

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The lakefront around Gehu / West Tai has been undergoing a slow drip-drip pace of development. However, the first time I ever came out here a few years ago, access to the above tower was blocked off. It seemed like a project still under construction.

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Now, it’s open to the public. A visitor can pay up to 20 RMB to go to up to two different floors. The above photo depicts the uppermost cafe. The floor directly beneath is more of a viewing platform with telescopes. Here, one can get a good look not only at the lake itself, but the surrounding development.

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As has been noted elsewhere on this blog, Gehu / West Tai is still not the tourist destination and resort the city likely has in its long term plans. Still, there are a few things to see out here, and this tower is one of them. The best way to get to the lakefront involves taking the B15 BRT bus in Wujin, near the Yancheng zoo and amusement park area.

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.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

Waiting for Rabbits in Wujin

Wisdom proverbs and idioms are huge part of Chinese culture. Parents often quote them to children as a way of motivation, and sometimes people say these expressions under their breath to reassure themselves before taking action. Inevitably, when a person is trying to learn to understand and appreciate Chinese culture, coming to know these expressions is also important. These idioms don’t just show up in conversation or in books, but they are often the subject matter of public art — especially sculpture in public parks.

A person can easily find this in Wujin. The Yancheng area is not only home to an amusement park, a zoo, and a bunch of buildings made to look like the China of old, but there is also a very big parking lot there.  Near that part of Yancheng, there are a few statues depicting some famous Chinese expressions. So, here is one of them.

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守株待兔

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This means to “wait by a stump for rabbits.” Basically, a lazy farmer one day watches a blind bunny run into a tree stump and break its neck. The farmer considers himself lucky, and he takes the dead animal home turns it to a very filling dinner. Instead of going back to work the next day and plowing his field, he decides to wait for another rabbit to come by and run into the stump. For some reason, he think that just sitting and waiting will bring him free and easy dietary protein. In the meantime, his field is not plowed, and it eventually does not grow any crops. This idiom can be taken as a chide against think people can get by without doing any hard work.

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This particular idiom is thousands of years old and goes back to the Warring States period of Chinese history. Han Fei 韓非 wrote an essay entitled “The Five Vermin.”

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In this polemic, he spoke out against the things that he thought led to bad governance.  Han Fei’s writing belongs to a “legalist” tradition. His work has been said to influence Qin Shihuang as the first emperor of a unified China as well as several more rulers throughout Chinese history.

Wujin’s Hell Razed

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I have made an effort to track down many of Changzhou’s Taoist and Buddhist places of worship. This comes not only from a point of curiosity, but also a genuine interest to understand Chinese culture. I have been wowed by some of the intricate iconography. I have also on occasion found myself transfixed by truly gruesome and brutal depictions of the Chinese underworld. They are very similar in both Taoism and Buddhism.

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I have seen the Buddhist version of hell at Wanfo Temple in northern Xinbei — up by the Yangtze and one of the huge industrial ports. The Taoist version was in western Wujin, out where the former Qishuyan district used to be. Of the two, the Taoist one at Bailong Temple felt more creepy. The above picture is of a dimly lit narrow corridor.  Grotesque statues depicting demons torturing the damned were behind very dusty glass.

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However, if anybody ever wants to see this, they are currently out of luck.

 

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This desolate hallway used to be built into the Western-facing wall of Bailong Temple. However, I recently returned there with a friend. We were collaborating on a magazine article. I noticed a profound difference in my surroundings while I was there.

 

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Sections of Bailong Temple have been demolished. The above picture is related to the picture of the statue in the pool. In that picture, you see a white wall. This is actually where that white wall used to be, now. That desolate hall showcasing a Taoist gallery of horrors is now gone, too.

 

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In many respects, this is actually not surprising. Nearly all temples I have been to in Changzhou have had some sort of renovation and construction in progress. It’s just that a huge part of Bailong has been razed, and parts of the temple have been blocked off. The same could be said for the nearby Dalin temple and the area in general. There is likely a very long term development plan in place to build this area as tourist destination. I can’t cite any proof. I can just say that I have seen, with my own eyes, A LOT of construction and going on here over the past year or so.