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.
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.
However, if anybody ever wants to see this, they are currently out of luck.
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.
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.
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.
For awhile, it seemed like Thuringia was the only thing remotely western at Wujin Wanda Plaza. This is, of course, if you discount the fast food of Dairy Queen, KFC, Burger King, and Starbucks. Oh, and Pizza Hut, too. Even then, that really isn’t saying much, because Thuringia is a chain that likes to call itself German but fails miserably in the execution.
The times I have eaten there in the past, salads seemed skimpy and glazed with sugar water. Their sausages were of poorer quality that the ones that can easily be bought at Metro — and the slogan, You can make much better food at home will never inspire you to fling money at an eatery trying to be foriegn in China. Somebody from Eastern Europe once complained Thuringia’s borscht tasted like Campbell’s tomato soup from a can. Wujin Wanda had better, at one point. Right after the mall opened years ago, there was a place called Erdinger, and the food was decent. However, it closed because it never attracted consistent customers — leaving Thuringia to foist it’s substandard cuisine onto hungry mall shoppers.
Recently, I found what might be a credible alternative at Wujin Wanda: Milo Bar 8. I don’t know how long it has been open, because I don’t live in the southern part of Changzhou anymore. Today, I went to Wujin to get some eBike maintenance done, and I thought to reacquaint myself with the area and see how some it has changed since 2014 and 15.
Milo Bar 8 seems to be a mixture of a restaurant and a bar with live music entertainment. I haven’t actually seen any musicians performing, because I went in the middle of the day for a late lunch. But they had all the equipment to serenade diners in a cozy, somewhat posh looking setting. As for it’s location, it’s located on the ground floor and at the north end of the mall. The entrance is on the outside of the building, not the inside. So, how was the food? I felt only peckish and cheap. I very much wanted to be a tightwad (I had just doled out 1000 RMB for 10 new bike batteries), so I opted only for two chicken related appetizers.
This was a slightly spicy chicken and cheese combo on top of garlic bread. It rain for about 38 RMB — for one piece of toast. Two other options include garlic shrimp as well as salmon and avocado. I found myself enjoying the cheesy chicken thingie. In a way, it was sort of a nostalgia moment for New Jersey. I haven’t really seen actual garlic bread around Changzhou all that much. While I thought this was pricey, I would order it again. I would probably confuse the non-English speaking waitress by want two or three on one plate. Then, there was this…
The menu listed this as “chicken burritos.” The “burrito” concept here is close, so I’m not going to argue with the restaurant. Chinese food has something similar in concept called 薄饼卷肉 Báobǐng juǎn ròu. It’s basically meat rolled up in thin flatbread,
So, this is definitely not Mexican food, but as a sort-of international fusion dish, it works. This was definitely much better than anything I ever ate at Taco’s at Wujin Injoy, and that place DID call itself Mexican (and quite wrongly, too. Who puts mayonnaise into a beef soft taco and calls it sour cream?). The spiciness seems to come, here, from Chinese green peppers. It wasn’t too hot, and I would order this again, too.
Both appetizers intrigued me enough to want to try other things on the menu some other time. They do have steaks, a Caesar salad, and other things that look more western than Chinese. Some items are absurdly expensive. For instance, Milo Bar 8 has a slab of meat that will run you 1288 RMB. I neither kidding nor being sarcastic.
To be honest, the service was extremely slow, but I will be forgiving of that because I walked into the place in the downtime between lunch and dinner. Many places in China lock their doors at that time. The hostess actually invited me in as I curiously flipped through the menu. The other thing is this: I live in Xinbei, now. I would cross town for Kaffa and Jagerwirt on occasion. For Milo Bar 8, I definitely wouldn’t. Maybe I would if I was in Wujin on other business, like I was today? However, it’s on my radar now. Yet, I also know this; I know how excited I would have been if I found this when I actually lived in the area a few years ago.
Living in Wujin is not bad. You just happened to live in one of the most boring parts of Wujin.
— A friend and a very long term Changzhou expat.
Everytime I return to Wujin, I am reminded of how it is constantly changing and is actually beginning to look profoundly different from when I moved there. After two years, I decided to pack up and move to Xinbei. So, every time I go down there, I’m reminded of the above quote. I will not mention her name, but let’s just say it rhymes with Mikki Spaff. This is especially true when I go to my old stomping grounds of College Town.
When I moved there, a lot of storefronts around my vocational college were empty and devoid of life. Now, most of those shops have filled in. However, one big thing reminded me of how the area has been changing. This was a few days ago, before I sprained some ligaments in my foot (again). Consider this…
I normally would not be celebrating the opening of yet another shopping center in Changzhou. Good lord, the city has enough already. Some of them have been abandoned and have laid mostly empty for years now. However, this one makes sense.
It’s at the intersection of Mingxin and Wuyi Roads in the College Town. This is where the B1 and B16 turn north and head towards down town. The name seems to be Silver Valley in English, and it had a bit of a soft opening. Besides a Pizza Hut, a supermarket, a cinema, and a few other shops, a lot of the stores here are empty. However, if the rest of the area is any indication, those shops will eventually fill in over time. Why? Think about this area for a moment.
There are six institutions of higher learning here. There’s my former employer, Changzhou University, and four others. When spring or fall semester is in swing, this place is crammed with thousands upon thousands of college students. You figure there would be more here to cater to them and their money. I have always argued that College Town has been under served in terms of development. Remember, I partly left out of boredom and needing a new challenge.
When I first moved to Changzhou, this shopping mall was a huge hole in the ground surrounded by a construction barricade. Three and a half years later, it seems to have undergone a soft opening after the construction has finished. However, there is something more particular to day to day living that this shopping mall brings to Mingxin.
It’s the supermarket. Now, anybody who has lived along Mingxin knows this sounds like a dumb statement. Before Silver Valley, the area already had four. What’s the difference of having a fifth?
Easy answer. It carries things that the other four didn’t when I lived in the area. A bottle of western booze used to require a trip to RT Mart or Tesco. The same could be said for cheese, butter, cat food and a few other foreign items. Yeah, I know Wujin has Metro now, too. However, College Town is really the southern most part of the city before you start getting into all the industrial parks and the more rural areas of Wujin. Yeah, Metro has a lot of what somebody needs, but sometimes having the convenience of just going down the street and saving some time on some very basic items is nice comfort, too. That’s why having a shopping center here makes perfect sense.
You can say about 95% percent of the Changzhou’s public parks have a unique identity. Xianhu Park 仙湖公园 is no different, but this one has a subtly strange and schizophrenic vibe to it. This place is located in Yaoguan Township 遥观镇 in Wujin, in what used to Changzhou’s eastern Qishuyan district. This is nowhere near Hutang and the parts of Wujin most expats know. Yaoguan is definitely small town China within Changzhou’s city boundaries. I am sometimes out around these parts because of corporate trainings Hohai University organizes with some of the railway companies like CRRC out here. The park itself is split into two by Jianshe Road 建设路.
One half of the park has a lot of brick and stone work, giving the water a canal-like feel without actually feeding into any canals. In this regard, it looks a lot like a man made urban pond.
There are two sets of statues here suggesting industrial themes. Unlike other parks, there are no explanatory plaques or Chinese wisdom idioms attached to give a greater meaning. Perhaps the biggest “this is not urban Changzhou” indicator was this …
There were three goats roaming around and eating everything from the grass and the bushes. Some of these animals had collars and leashes, so it is safe to assume that these are not feral, marauding goats. These were domesticated. Nearby, there was a woman washing something in the “canal-pond” water. I didn’t feel like being nosy about what she was actually washing. So, I didn’t take a picture of her. It is likely safe to assume the goats were hers. If you were to cross Jianshe Road to the park’s other half, you would see this.
There are a lot of walkways, but notice the surface of the oibd. There is a thick, very green algae skin to the water here. By the way, the person with net is not fishing. Typically, a very big algae population like this makes water low in oxygen an not habitable. This person was not fishing out garbage, either.
This person was actually harvesting the algae itself. While that may sound weird to some, algae has a lot of uses like as a farmland fertilizer. There are also chemical compounds that can be extracted and multi-purposed in food production, wastewater treatment, and much more.
Essentially, this is a profoundly local park. Changzhou has places like Qingfeng, Hongmei, and others that are meant for mass public and tourist use, and Xianhu Park is not one of them. I found this place because I was already in Qishuyan on a teaching assignment and just wandering around my ebike.
However, this place is also a positive reminder that what I like to call Real Changzhou; this city is vast and more storied than what some foreigners might think. There is life beyond Xinbei, the city center, and Hutang. I don’t mean that as, “Ooh, this is quaint.” I mean that in this exists, it is here, and it is part of Changzhou.
If the myriad of things lacked life they would vanish.
–Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Understanding Taoism sometimes can be quite a challenge. Allow me to reference Winston Churchill: it’s like a riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside an enigma. True, Churchill was originally talking about understanding Russian politics, but that doesn’t stop people from using that quote to talk about things that seem utterly opaque. Yet, I tried to understand Lao Tzu’s (Laozi in Pinyin. The book I referenced used the Cantonese spellings for author and title) words over the Qingming holiday.
The cold weather had gone away, and I finally got back to wandering around Changzhou on my ebike. Since it was a holiday to honor the dead, I thought I would go out hunting for cemeteries. Only, I didn’t go into any of them. That might be culturally offensive, and I just wanted to look at them from afar. In the process, I saw people lots of people burning Joss Paper, hell money, and so much more. Burnt offerings is a way to honor the dead in China. So, setting “hell money” aflame is like an inter-dimensional wire transfer for somebody who has yet to be reincarnated. At one cemetery, I saw one family build a fake house and then torch it. But, that wasn’t the thing it that made me think of the Tao Te Ching quote. It was this place.
This is Qingyunshan Temple 青云山道观. It’s in Wujin, but not really in the Hutang area most foriegners know. Actually, its in Niutang, which is west of Hutang, and it’s at the end of a bumpy and cracked concrete road. I didn’t find this place by accident. Besides cemeteries, I spent my Qingming holiday looking for a Taoist place of worship. Changzhou doesn’t have many of them. I found this as a result of entering vague Chinese keywords into Baidu Maps and navigating towards a red dot on my mobile phone. Qingyunshan basically looks like this …
Forlorn. Seemingly abandoned. There was almost a haunted vibe here. I pressed my phone up to one window to get a shot inside.
According to Baidu, this Qingyunshan Temple is 500 years old. It made me think a little about Lao Tzu’s words. “If the myriad of things lacked life they would vanish.” This place looks like it lacks life. Yet, it hasn’t vanished. The Cultural Revolution and the contemporary boom in real estate and infrastructure construction has made plenty of places vanish. So, maybe it’s not truly dead?
Yet, even on Qingming, when some people actively seek out such places to religiously honor their ancestors, it was relatively silent, solemn. It would be a mistake to think that this place was totally abandoned, though. The few candles somebody lit appeared sort of fresh. So, somebody other than me had been here recently.
Some people loved the place, and some people didn’t care for the more fusion-oriented western dishes. However, Secret Recipe in Wujin served a special purpose. While the district is rapidly growing now and is heading on a good trajectory, expat dining options in the greater Hutang area were limited. In 2014, for example, you had Monkey King, Chocolate’s, Grandma’s Nook, and Jagerwirt. And, you had Secret Recipe in the Injoy Mall. That was it. I particularly liked the Malaysian dishes like Nasi Lamak. I also really enjoyed their curries, too.
Recently, I was in Wujin and at the Injoy Mall. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Secret Recipe had gone missing. It looks like it’s being replaced with a BOY fashion store in progress. I lived in Wujin for two years, and their Injoy location was always a reliable option when I grew tired of Chinese or Chinese college cafeteria food. In a strange way, it feels like I am losing an old friend. However, to be honest, each time I ate there, I was one of very few butts in seats, and rent on the bottom floor of Injoy must be costly. It makes sense if this location closed because of a lack of traffic.
But, that’s the weird thing. It’s not completely closed. They still have a display case selling their cakes. Right now, it’s like half of Wujin’s Secret Recipe disappeared. And honestly, I never ate their cakes. I went there for the Malaysian food and curry, and, at times, the “Irish” lamb shank with mashed potatoes and gravy. Irish people might go there and laugh at its lack of Irishness, but I still enjoyed eating that dish. Though, I also know some people liked the desserts. A friend and former colleague who still lives in Wujin certainly did.
Secret Recipe had three locations in Changzhou: Wujin, Tianning, and Xinbei. Only the Xinbei one in the Lafu supermarket remains fully intact, now. And, honestly, that one doesn’t have many “bums in chairs” either. I am existentially afraid for this restaurant on its own behalf. So, yeah, in a very silly way, I feel like I have lost a friend. But, if there has anything the last year of my life has taught me, it’s this: when you lose a close friend for whatever bullshit reason, try to make new ones. Your life will be better for it. Wujin Injoy’s Malaysian place has gone missing, but Injoy has a Thai restaurant, now. So, you can still go to that mall and still get curry. So, imagine me saying this with all the swagger I can muster: Hello, you! You look nice! Beautiful, actually! Do you have a papaya salad?
Silk has long since been intertwined into Chinese culture. There is the functional use of it in high end couture and fashion, and then there is the use of it to produce cultural objects and art. Such is the case with embroidery — which like many other things in China, has a rich history going back more than a thousand years.
Like any art or craft, Chinese embroidery can be separated into different categories. One of which is native to Nanjing. It is often refered to as Nanjing Yunjin, with the Chinese characters and pinyin being南京云锦 Nánjīng yúnjǐn. The characters 云锦 refers to clouds. As they are a common motif on this style of brocade, but the style can be used to dragons, religious imagery, and much more. These designs are stitched by hand and can take many years to complete. The attention to detail is that exquisite. Also, since gold and silver lining is involved, the resulting brocades become extremely expensive and highly valuable.
The Wujin Museum in the Yancheng complex has a temporary exhibit of such brocades that runs to the end of March. There, a visitor can see first hand such fine attention to detail.
Across the street from the Changzhou College of Information Technology, there is a small noodle shop. Now, noodle joints are definitely not uncommon in this city or China in general — and that may be the understatement of the century. This one has a menu that contains some Xian dishes, and that is what sets it apart from the others. Xian food is not a common thing here, but that’s if you exclude the widely available 肉夹馍Ròu jiā mó, aka “Chinese Hamburger.” Don’t get me wrong. You can get that too at this noodle shop, but it’s not one of the more exclusive items. I used to always go here to get 臊子面Sàozi miàn.
This is a hearty noodle soup consisting of carrots, potatoes, tofu, shredded pork, bean sprouts, and more. The above picture is the hot and sour version. There is also a version that is less spicy.
Either version is 10 RMB, which is, of course, extremely cheap for a filling lunch. Among the other things on the menu, they do have good versions of more common dishes not from Xian.
This is 担担面Dàndàn miàn. It originates from Sichuan, and it is in basically a “hot and numbing” spicy pork based sauce. This is more of a dry noodle dish and not a soup. As stated, this is very easy to find. It doesn’t change the fact that is still a good dish at the Xian noodle shop. It also goes for 10 RMB a bowl.
According to local legend, Guanyin was key in the formation of Gehu Lake — which is also known as “West Taihu Lake.” The body of fresh water is located near the flower expo grounds in Wujin. This act of Guanyin’s was a way to show mercy to locals besieged by floods. And that is what she does. In Buddhism, she is a goddess of mercy. Some pray to her in times trouble and turmoil. This is just one of morsels of information that can be learned at Baolin Temple.
This is a Buddhist religious attraction near the Wujin’s Martyr’s Memorial. Baolin is perhaps one of the biggest cultural treasures in a district that is currently seeing a lot of construction. This is true for the temple itself. In the few thousand years it has existed, Baolin has been destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times. So, it’s largely renovated now and not in its original state. One of the more recent additions in the past two years is a pagoda a friend of mine compared to a pineapple.
This pagoda is dedicated to Guanyin. She is all over the exterior with golden statues and exterior paintings depicting her showing mercy to people.
Baolin has a lot of the stuff you could expect to see at Buddhist temples. But the real attraction here is the four-floor-high Guanyin statue inside the pagoda itself. It is simply a wonder to behold.
The pagoda has an elevator. I usually like to take it to the fourth floor, walk circles around the statue, and then take the stairs down one floor at a time.
Not all public buses in Changzhou have 1 RMB fares. The 68 costs 3 RMB. This bus originates at the Changzhou Railway Station and ends in a small town near Taihu Lake. Qianhuang is another small town on this bus route.
Once a person gets off, there doesn’t seem to be much to see here. There is a vast shopping center made up of intersecting walking streets, but there didn’t really seem to be much else there. So, I consulted Baidu Maps to see if there was something cultural or historical I could walk to.
The area did seem a bit bleak, but to be honest I went there on a rainy day. I also went there without an umbrella. At the time, I thought a heavy coat and a hooded sweatshirt would be enough. I got soaked. What can I say, sometimes I can be stupid. I think I caught a cold because of this trip.
Of course, even on sunny days, industrialized areas can still seem a bit bleak. Yet, in Qianhuang it seems to be on a smaller scale than other parts of Wujin where sprawling industrial parks and factories are seemingly endless at times. Yet, amidst all of this, I did find something in this town. It was in a small pocket between factories.
It was a martyr’s memorial. Many towns have these to commemorate locals who died in the service to their country. This one, however, is dedicated to those who had fallen not only in Communist Revolution, but also in the War of Liberation against Japan. Their names are at the base of this pillar, along with which nearby village they came from. This memorial also functions as a tiny graveyard as well.
After paying some respects, I started to walk back to where I got off the bus. The map app suggested something else, but it appeared to be several kilometers away and outside of Qianhuang. It was raining, and I was soaked. So, another day for whatever that was. I paid my 3 RMB rode back to Wujin and got off at the college town area.