Tag Archives: China

A Post for Tomb Sweeping

joss1

“I was going to ask you if you felt anything. You know, like a haunted presence?”

A friend said this once while visiting Wanfo Temple in northern Xinbei. We had just spent a lot of time looking at brutal and bloody depictions of torture. The temple has a room depicting diyu 地狱 aka Chinese Buddhist Hell. But that was more kitsch than off-putting.  My friend was referring more to the small mausoleum we had accidentally walked into. She tends to be a lot more spiritually sensitive than me. To be honest, I had no feelings of foreboding, but once I realized where we were, I decided to stop taking pictures.

I’m only posting photos here, because well, it seems appropriate.  Today is Qingming 清明节 in China — Tomb Sweeping Day. It’s a festival to honor the dead and prior ancestors. Comparing this to American Halloween would be a mistake. That’s just a day people dress up like monsters and have a party. It’s much more solemn than that. In fact, it’s much more similar to All Souls Day in Europe. In some countries, like Belgium, it’s a day to go to a graveyard and clean and respect your dearly departed’s burial plot.

Traditionally speaking, Qingming is sort of the same in spirit. How the dead are respected, however, might be a little more  different. The mausoleum my friend and I walked into was filled with pictures of the dead. Sometimes, flowers were near these pictures, and other instances sacrificial offerings. Quite often, this takes the form of food or fruit. You see this often in temples — especially altars devoted to Buddha. Only, here, you could also find bundles of “hell money.” Its a special type of Joss Paper printed to look like cash. More often, these bills look like the red 100 RMB note.  The idea is that you are giving a form of spiritual currency that they can spend and use in the afterlife.

I found this all quite fascinating to look at — until I recognized one subtle detail near some of these pictures. Behind glass, wooden boxes sat.  I quickly realized that these were likely urns filled with ashes. Human remains were all around my friend and I. While I had not had any sense of foreboding before, I was a little unsettled now. I was looking at this place from the perspective of a curious foreign tourist, and I realized it would be best to leave and leave the dead in peace.

Freshman on the March

Recently, I found this picture while surfing through my Changzhou photo folder on Facebook.

Before taking a job at Hohai University, I taught for two years at the Changzhou College of Information Technology (CCIT) in Changzhou’s southern Wujin district. Essentially, it’s a vocational school — similar in spirit to the many community colleges I have taught English at in North Carolina and in New Jersey. Vocational students are not university students. It would be silly to equate the two. For example, you would not put Coastal Carolina Community College on the same level with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Many students have gone to CCCC because their grades were not good enough for UNCW or other institutions within the University of North Carolina system..

However, there are still a number of drastic differences between American colleges and what you might find in Chinese higher education. At this point, I’m just going to point to the biggest one: mandatory military training. It is something high school seniors and incoming college freshman must do.

At the beginning of every school year, new freshman must don military uniforms. Classes are assigned drill sergeants, and the students learn to march in formation, chant patriotic slogans. Sometimes they hold fake, dummy rifles, and sometimes they do not. During this time, these students do not attend any classes. Their job is basically march, march, march. Afterwards? March around some more!

In the College Town / 大学城 part of Wujin, there are six  institutions clustered together. Each college has its own, distinctive uniform. Some have different colors of camouflage, and some students look more like officers. It’s done this way, I guess, to tell students apart. Pretty much, they walk around all day wearing these uniforms.

I am neither applauding nor criticizing the practice. I’m pointing out what is, essentially, a reality on Chinese college campuses at the start of fall semester. I have seen it twice now, and it never stops being a slightly surreal spectacle to behold.

Welcome to Xinbei!

This seems to be the appropriate place to start: a cell phone shot from my apartment.  I live on the seventh floor of the Hohai University Guest Center. In the foreground, you see some of the rooftops on Hohai’s campus. The school is the Changzhou branch campus of the more prestigious, and older, Nanjing campus. It’s a 211 school, which gives it a lot of prestige and funding from the Chinese government.  In the background, you the Changzhou TV Tower. I often call it the “Xinbei TV Tower,” because — um, well — Wujin also has a TV Tower.

Wujin is the southern district within Changzhou City. Xinbei is the northern one near the Yangtze River. Xinbei basically has more foriegners and expats than most other parts of the city.

Speaking of Wujin, I lived there for two years before moving up here. What is likely to be echoed in the About This Blog page, Real Changzhou will focus on exploring the whole city and the surrounding Changzhou “prefecture lands.” All too often, expats living in Xinbei tend to think they live in the only part of the city that matters. Simply not true.