Category Archives: Wujin

Qingyunshan and Qingming

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.

 

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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 …

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Forlorn. Seemingly abandoned. There was almost a haunted vibe here. I pressed my phone up to one window to get a shot inside.

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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.

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Wujin’s Secret Recipe is Partially MIA

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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.

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NASI LAMAK!!!

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.

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A construction barrier where Secret Recipe’s shop front used to be.

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.

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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?

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Elegant Nanjing Embroidery

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Xian Noodles in College Town

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Guanyin at Baolin Temple in Wujin

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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.

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This pagoda is dedicated to Guanyin. She is all over the exterior with golden statues and exterior paintings depicting her showing mercy to people.

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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.

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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.

The 68 to Qianhuang

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Grand Metropolis Mall Vastly Expanded

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This is certainly not breaking news to people who live in Wujin, but sweeping changes have come to the Grand Metropolis Mall. This is the shopping center that contains RT Mart and is near an on ramp to the elevated road. Grand Metropolis used to share the building with Golden Eagle, but that high-end store shut down in Wujin around this time last year. In the period between then and now, Grand Metropolis renovated the unused parts Golden Eagle left behind. This means more shopping and dining options. One which appears to be a new-but-forthcoming location of Summer — one of downtown’s oldest surviving western restaurants. This would be the third Summer location in Changzhou that I know of. This new restaurant is set to open after Spring Festival.  It also appears that the Grand Metropolis’ Starbucks has been shut down, but the “coming soon” poster plastered over the windows makes it unclear if its permanently gone or just undergoing renovation.

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Way To Delicious in Hutang

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There are a number of small little grocery stores that specialize in imported goods throughout Changzhou. Way To Delicious is a chain of them, and Xinbei has two of locations not all that far from each other. One is on the same street as the media tower, and the other is down the road from Dinosaur Park.

Wujin used to have one across the street from Tesco on Heping / Changwu Road. Burger King is in the same complex. The 2 and 302 buses used to pass by. And then, it disappeared. I thought it went out of business, but as it turned out, it didn’t. It just simply relocated to another part of Hutang — specifically, the South Town neighborhood. This is a pair of streets that runs between large housing communities that has everything from small restaurants to a tiny museum dedicated to Hutang’s history. These streets connect Huayuan and to Wuyi Road and is not that far from the shopping complex Jagerwirt calls home. The B11 passes it on Huayuan and the B1 passes it on Wuyi.

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Way To Delicious, as a chain, can be unpredicable at times. For example, one of the Xinbei stores carried Polish plum juice when the others didn’t. It seems that the Hutang location is similar. There, I saw Russian wheat bread that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There was also Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — which I have only seen in Xinbei’s Metro — and a range of gluten-free snacks. These stores are only worth the trip if you live near them. Plus, there also doesn’t seem to be a guarantee that specialty items will be restocked once they sell out.

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The Hilton’s Buffet

Eating out in Wujin seems to be a completely different culinary landscape than a place like Xinbei. The options are totally different, and a lot of newcomers are especially keen on knowing where they can find western food. It is the ultimate comfort food when you are surrounded by Chinese cuisine. International hotels are usually a reliable choice when seeking that sort of dining, and the Hilton’s buffet is no different. However, anytime you eat in a western hotel, be prepared to pay high prices. And, by the way, their all-you-can-eat Japanese place Red is totally worth a visit. Here are some pictures from the last time I visited.

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The Weirdest Place in Changzhou

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Wujin is not the same as when I first came to Changzhou in 2014. Yes, there are places that have been slowly filling in over the years, but out of all of Changzhou, the Hutang part of Wujin seems the most ghostly, at times. By that, I don’t mean that spirits of the dead and departed are drifting around. I mean it sometimes seems that this is the part of the city that has the most abandoned or yet-to-be-filled places at times. There are parts of the district that absolutely feel like it belongs in a ghost town.

One of these places is the TV Tower in Wujin. It’s next to Xintiandi Park, and both Jagerwirt and Kaffa are not that far away. This used to be a vibrant place, Hutang locals have told me. The top of the tower had a restaurant, and a subterranean shopping mall extended below that. There used to be a market for glasses here, a supermarket, and even a bunch of shops catering to the wedding industry. Even more, there was a parking level even deeper than that. All of that is largely abandoned now.

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A year and a half ago, I used to go here often. This was towards the end of my two-year stay in the College Town. There was just something about the place that seemed a little haunting. A person could walk around, and the silence was either deafening or interrupted by the squabbling of the birds nesting in the tower’s underside. But then, there were some truly eerie things down here.

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Lots of birds call this part of the tower home.

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For example, a lot of abandoned children’s rides. Many of these were stacked upon each other and gathered layers of dust. These wide-eyed faces looked a little creepy when they were in broad daylight. Stow them in some forgotten corridor in the dark, and they look even more odd and out of place. However, that’s not the most off-putting thing about here. If you go down a service corridor, you end up confronted by something that seems out of place.

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This picture of children is next to an elevator. The dim light overhead flickers and gives this an even stranger ambiance. Add to this that most of the children’s faces are quite somber. I sent the above pictures to a Chinese friend asking for a translation, and she told me it was a class photo for a private dance school. But even when you to this quiet bit weirdness into account, this end up becoming even more surreal.

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At times, I would come down here and find old, dried bits of meat hanging from the doors. These usually had even knife marks from somebody slicing off chunks. So, that means that somebody had been steadily eating these. And it wasn’t just one random piece of meat. At one point, this place had two hanging from abandoned shop doors. That’s not all of it. One night, I came down here, and I saw an old man and a young woman singing karaoke in an empty room that had disco lights. Nobody else was with them.

I am a man that does believe in ghosts, but I don’t fully believe in the supernatural. I am a secular agnostic, after all. All that means is that I am not convinced religiously of anything, and I am open minded enough for a spirited discussion. To me, ghosts are metaphors for the things that have gone wrong in one’s life: loved ones who have died, long term relationships that have gone really bad, meaningful friendships that have fallen apart, and so on. Ghosts live in your memory more than anywhere else. So, there are perfectly rational explanations for all of the creepiness I have found beneath Wujin’s TV Tower. However, once I consider the total sum of the experience, I still have to conclude that walking through the place can feel a bit odd.

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