Tag Archives: 江苏省

Massage Differences in Jersey

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

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

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

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

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

To Smile at Zouqu’s Laughing Buddha

IMG_20160504_185957For many Americans, Buddhism is a frequently misunderstood religion, and like Christianity, there are many variants.  Most Americans know maybe a fleeting little about Zen — thanks to America’s occupation of Japan after World War Two. Occupying a country and not having them hate you afterwards involves a lot of cultural exchange. Yet, this understanding of Buddhism revolves not really around worshiping the supernatural but as a way means of finding inner peace through meditation. This idea is sometimes reflected in popular books like Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — even though the author has openly admitted he really wasn’t writing about Zen in the real sense.

Of course, visiting an actual Buddhist temple in an Asian country shatters these preconceptions — especially when looking at artistic renditions of Buddha. There isn’t just one; there are many, and they are / were different entities or people. The laughing one isn’t the same as the standing one with a hand to heaven and a hand to Earth. They jolly and portly guy is 布袋 Budai, because he usually can be seen carrying a cloth bag. However, I never hear Chinese people call him that. They usually refer to him as 弥勒佛 Milefo. That’s sometimes considered a different Buddha completely. That’s the “The Buddha to come.” However, some religious practitioners believed that Budai fulfilled that role. I learned this recently after visiting 会灵山寺 Huilingshan Temple  in Zouqu, a part of Wujin’s Western Arm that’s near Qingfeng Park.

IMG_20160504_191235The temple itself seemed deserted. Two cars were parked there, but the main facilities and were all padlocked. However, the most interesting thing there didn’t consist of altars or places to light candles or burn joss paper. A huge sitting Buddha greets you once you walk through a gate. He’s smiling, big, and fat. He’s sitting in what looks like a large man-made cave. Vertical lines of Chinese text flank him. One talks about his smile, and the other talks about his big belly.  Essentially, the text expresses the values of happiness and generosity of spirit.

The exterior features other things, like elephants and a few other figures. But the concepts of generosity and happiness carry into the man-made cave. There are two tunnels that lead to the smaller, more modest (at the time locked) temple facilities. In several nooks, fatty, happy Milefo statues await.

I also saw a small opening where lots of religious objects were clustered together on the ground. Part of me pondered if this had a story, or if this functioned as a storage area. And, then, I started try and figure out why everything was locked. Was this place still under construction? Was it closed to visitors, and I was trespassing? Were angry Chinese people about to yell at me and demand that I leave? And then I laughed. Out loud.  Shaking my head, I told my obsessive, neurotic brain to just shut up. To just feel and enjoy the wonderful sense of discovery this place gave me. In the end, I left with the same broad smile as the Buddha behind me.
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Xinbei Has Friends!

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When one thinks of international diplomacy, one usually thinks of John Kerry or Madeline Albright touring the world. There is the famous beer picture where Xi Jinping and David Cameron are sharing a pint before watching a soccer game. If you want to get more dramatic, think of Russian Premier Khrushchev pounding a United Nations podium with his shoe in 1960.

There is another form of international diplomacy, and it doesn’t involve heads of states or their emissaries. Municipal governments in one country will often reach out to cities in another. This is the
concept of “town twinning and sister cities.” Municipalities agree to be “friends” in the name of promoting economic, social, and cultural exchanges. In Xinbei’s case, its the case of a district establishing “cordial bonds” with other whole towns.

You can see this on display at Xinbei’s Central Park 新北中心公园. Go in from the north entrance and look to your right.  There, you will see a couple of rocks sitting on the green. It’s called the “Xinbei International Friendship Grove.” On one rock, words are etched in Chinese and English explaining what this grove is. The others are Xinbei’s two official friends. One is the city of Herford in Germany. The other is of Roth — also in Germany.

The thing I find amusing about this is that these markers suggest that they are Xinbei’s friends, not Changzhou’s as a whole. Wujin, Zhonglou, Jintan, Tianning, and the city of Liyang might feel a little jealous and spurned.  Of course, I’m being a bit silly. We are not talking about high school, after all.  IMG_20160501_105818

Our Lady of Pollution

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People have different ways to measure pollution and how bad it is. The most obvious is to wake up in the morning, look out the window, and see how thick, thin, or not there smog is for the day. Other people tend to be more scientific and follow the Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers for Changzhou. For the longest time, I had a more arcane and most nonsensical approach, and it involved a statue.

It looks classically European, and I don’t know the story of why it is where its. It depicts a woman holding a basket of flowers, her garments are draped in a way you see in Italian sculpture, and her breasts are exposed — and so is a long bit of leg! However, the implied sexiness is muted by the “I must look askance and away” modesty thing you often see in art.

I used to pass this statue all the time when I lived in the south of the city. It’s on Heping Road 和平路, right after you cross the bridge from Wujin to Tianning. I would zip by it while on my way downtown on my eBike. This all sounds well and nice, but how did I link this weird girl to air quality?

It came down to how dirty this woman would look. At her worst, she would have black streaks across her face, and yellow smears across her breasts. Then, apparently, somebody would come scrub her and wash her. Then, she would be pristine and white again. Six months would pass, and the yellow smears on her legs and bosom would reappear — and somebody would eventually hose her down again.

As an air quality indicator, this is stupid beyond measure. I know that. Plus, I think the people responsible for the sculpture  have caught on to how nasty this gal can look. Over the last year, the smudges and smears have never returned. And really, if I actually cared about pollution, I should be looking at AQI numbers and not a statue of a woman with her tits exposed.

Cao Zhongzhi and Charitable Wheelchairs

The story of Cao Zhongzhi engraved in stone. You also can see my new conversation buddy’s reflection.

When you are a foriegner in Changzhou, you sometimes get stopped by curious Chinese people who want to practice their English.  Usually, I will oblige for a short and polite conversation.  Depending on what I am doing, I might try to turn this into a “win-win” situation. If I am out looking for things to blog about, I will rather craftily ask them to translate something for me. This was the case a few weeks ago.

I was at Tianning Temple in Hongmei Park. At the time, I was looking at Guanyin “goddess of mercy” statues. A middle schooler stopped me, and after the standard “Do you like Chinese food” questions, I pointed at a nearby gazebo. Inside, a figure of a man pushing a wheelchair “Can you tell me who that is?” He struggled a bit.

“Famous man with big heart,” was all my new friend could manage. “I don’t how else to say in English.”

“Can you write his name for me?” I handed him my phone.  He typed out 曹仲植 Cao Zhongzhi into my dictionary. I saved it for later research.

Turns out, Cao was a famous philanthropist. While originally hailing from Changzhou, he moved to Taiwan. Once, while returning to visit family in 1969, he saw a disabled man and became moved by his situation. So, he set up a charity that donated wheelchairs to the needy.

Once I read the story — badly machine translated from Chinese by Google, of course — the location of the his marker made a lot of sense. In both Buddhism and Taoism, Guanyin is considered a figure of mercy and compassion. To a lot of disabled people in China, Cao Zhongzhi was a humanitarian who embodied those qualities.  It is fitting to to draw this juxtaposition by placing him in a garden dedicated in Guanyin’s honor.