Tag Archives: Christianity

Religious Neighbors

If something happens twice, it could be a coincidence.  If it happens three times, it could be suggesting a pattern. A few weeks ago, when I was wandering around Danyang, I happened on an interesting pairing. This was as soon as I got off the train and walked north and west from the high speed rail station.  The area was mostly either empty or industrial. However, I found a Christian church.

While was interesting was the next door neighbor. They share a fence.

Yes, an Islamic mosque can be peaceful neighbors with a Christian church.


When I first saw this, I enjoyed the peaceful juxtaposition.  While it may seem rare, it made me think of America. By that, I mean the part of America where I come from: New Jersey. It’s a place filled with Jews, Muslims, Christians, white, black, Hispanic, Eastern European, Indians, Pakistanis, recent immigrants, wealthy business people, and so on. They are all neighbors, and while relations are not perfect, people find a way to get along with each other in day to day life — for the most part. Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City are multicultural in ways many parts of America are not.  We all have to live together and share the same geography in ways that people in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky do not.  This was one of my highlights of a recent visit to Danyang.  I saw lots of other stuff, but it wasn’t as personally meaningful as when I took these pictures.  It reminded me of the America I personally know and don’t read about in the news everyday.

Then, I went to Jintan. This is a place that used to be a small city, but it got absorbed into Changzhou. It’s now Changzhou’s more undeveloped western district that is near both Zhenjiang and Danyang.  During my wandering, I found a similar pairing.

This church and mosque share property lines. The mosque is more obscured by trees, and so there was no way to get a clear shot of these two standing next to each other. But, this is an instance, like in Danyang, where Christians and Muslims are essentially praying in the exact same geographical location.

This can’t be said for downtown Changzhou. The mosque is near Nandajie, and the church is at Wenhuagong. In downtown Wuxi, it’s the same. Mosques and churches are not neighbors. As I said earlier, if it happens twice, it’s a coincidence. Three times and more suggests a pattern. As I wander around Jiangsu, I will keep an eye out for the third instance, now.

This post originally appeared on www.realjiangsu.com. 

Not the Number of the Beast

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As far as I know, Xinbei does not have a doorway to hell. I might even go so far that Changzhou as whole doesn’t possess any sulfur-frothing access points to the underworld. Demons will not possess you and force you to projectile vomit split pea soup on people, as one might see in a classic film The Exorcist. Of course I am being a tad bit sarcastic here. But then again, am I? Over at the Xinbei Wanda, there is a convenience store called 666. If you go in there, you will not hear Iron Maiden or Slayer or Cattle Decapitation blaring from loud speakers. Nobody will be headbanging. Nobody will be jamming out on their air guitar. You will just a find a very bored shopkeeper staring at their mobile phone.

So, some Westerners might wonder. Why 666? Why is it okay to put this number all over China? Why do Chinese people use it on QQ? The answer is obvious: China is not a majority Christian country, and automatically assuming the number is evil for everybody around the world is just what the late, great language scholar Edward W. Said would label as a facet of “cultural imperialism.”

In China, a string of sixes is actually considered lucky.This is partly due the number six, by itself, is considered lucky. If you have Chinese friends on Wechat, they may even reply to a “Moments” post by simply typing 666 or 6666 or 666666666666. They are not trying to damn you to hell. They actually liked what you had to say, and that’s the way of showing their approval.

And when it comes to these things, it’s just best not to tell Chinese people that things like this are offensive in your home country. Skip that discussion entirely. You are not in your home country. Your are actually in somebody else’s home country, and asking them to change is a bit rude when you are a guest. And, China is so big, you will be having this conversation nonstop. It’s about as absurd as a Chinese person going to America and laughing at all the men they see wearing green baseball hats — and then asking their new American friends to stop wearing such things. (Wearing a green hat in China means your wife is cheating on you.) So, why bother? And really, there are more important things to worry about.

Beitanghe Christian Church

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In my wandering and meandering around Changzhou, I rarely if ever get stopped by security guards. Mostly, they just eye me and then return to their newspaper or mobile phone. I have walked onto housing estates and college campuses and security usually never bats an eye. It’s something I have had to learn in China: walk with confidence and usually people do not bother you. Of course, being six foot two helps. One obvious exception, however, is East Nanjing Road in Shanghai — but that’s panhandlers and con men, not security officers.

So, you can imagine the surprise I felt when several security guards approached me once. I was cruising down Beitanghe Road 北塘河路 in northern Tianning. This road is actually not too far from Dinosaur Park. I stopped to light a cigarette and look at the map. Sure enough, I noticed that a Christian church was somewhere nearby. Only, I had to go over a narrow construction road to get there. And, once I got there, the security guards swarmed in.

Turns out, there was something like a water processing plant nearby and a lot of construction. I simply pointed at the church, held up my phone, and said 照片 (photo) they smiled and then left me alone. I took my photo, and then was on my way.

As far as Changzhou’s churches go, this one seemed moderately sized and and fairly simple in it’s architecture. I neither saw people nor cars there — just security guards and construction workers related to a nearby job site. Then again, it was  also a Friday night. A week or three later, I returned during the day and saw more signs of life. However, I didn’t go in.

Jiaze’s Mysterious Church

IMG_20160502_182516Flowers are an industry in Wujin, but this would be closer to Gehu Lake / West Taihu (same lake, two names).  Plus, there is always rapeseed cultivation, but that’s all of China, and not just Wujin or Changzhou in general. There are the sprawling Eighth China Flower Expo grounds, for example. Near that, you would find Jiaze Township. Because of the huge flower show in 2014, the area was redeveloped, and a lot of the construction seems relatively new.

You can also say that for the Christian church in this area.  It’s directly south of the 状元坊 Zhuangyuan Fang commercial and cultural complex. There is a Daoist temple and a supermarket in Zhuangyuan Fang, but most of the shop spaces were closed. The “church” strikes me as strange the more I think about it. On my laptop, the church doesn’t seem to show up on either Baidu or Google maps. It doesn’t show on my mobile phone, either.  I even tried searching using the Chinese characters and English on the exterior: 恩泽堂 and Enze Hall. Part of me was wondering whether this is actually a church at all. There is a very large, very prominent cross here.  However, there is a wedding center shaped like chapel  also in the Gehu Lake area, and that one fooled me at first. That one turned out to be just a wedding hall for rent. So, it’s possible the thing in Jiaze might not be a church at all. In one last effort, I tried using more complex Baidu search terms, like 常州武进恩泽堂, and I finally found my answer. Yes, it’s a church alright.  It’s just a very, very new one that still hasn’t made it onto map apps, yet.  Again, this area underwent redevelopment in recent years.

As for the building, it the architecture looks fairly contemporary. Actually, it doesn’t really look like other churches I have seen in Changzhou.  It looks like a blocky building encased in glass.

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Finding a Church in Jintan on Qingming

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On Qingming, I went to Jintan for the day wanting to learn more about the district. As noted elsewhere on this blog, it takes about a hour on an express bus from the city center. While that sounds bad, going from Wujin to Xinbei on the B1 line can be just as long. The main difference is that the BRT costs 1 RMB, whereas the Jintan express will run you about 15.

I spent a few hours with a Chinese friend, ate at KFC, and decided to return home. I walked back to the bus station, and that’s when I realized I made a travel blunder. Since it was a holiday,  all the buses were booked. And the express departs frequently. Everybody else was returning from the holiday.

I had to kill an hour and a half. So, I whipped my phone out, summoned my Baidu Maps app, and located a church nearby. Not a complicated walk either.  I went north from the coach terminal until I found Beihuan Road 北环路, and then I made a right. Stopped at the first cross I saw.  It looked like the plain chapel I saw in Benniu, but only big and square — almost like a shabby, not-aging-well hotel with a red cross on it.

Benniu’s Christian Church

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I like to do this thing I call”working the map.”  If I am going to go out exploring, I first look at my Baidu maps app, smoke a couple cigarettes, and then figure out my destination. I do this by entering Chinese keywords. One of them is 基督教堂, which is “Christian church.” I am by no means a Christian, but I find churches culturally interesting to look at.

In Changzhou and China in general, Buddhism and Taoism are the most commonly practiced religions. The various shades of Christianity were more of a Western export just a few centuries ago. That came by way missionaries. What I have learned, though, is that Changzhou has more Christian churches than what one might expect. They usually are, however, hidden.

That could be said for the one in Benniu Township 奔牛镇. This is Wujin’s northwestern arm. Getting in there basically involved my riding through Xinbei and Zhonglou.  Benniu itself is not as developed as some of the other parts of the city. The road quality consists of dusty concrete rather than tarmac or asphalt.

As for Benniu Christian Church 奔牛基督教会, you have to drive through an alleyway and a small housing district to get there. It’s a humble chapel as opposed to a imposing cathedral. The congregation is likely tiny. The only thing to really distinguish it as “Christian” are a couple of crosses.