Tag Archives: Markets

Obscure Tea in Tianning

I once used to search out antique markets in Changzhou. I did this because these shops are often places of forgotten history. Often, there are stories behind what some consider to be old junk, and I used to regard these things as puzzles to be solved. I would often buy an old poster, take it home, try to figure it out, get thoroughly confused, and then send a picture of it to a Chinese friend and ask what it was.

I actually no longer do this and prefer to find other ways to waste my money (beer). However, when I did, I ended up finding nearly every antique market in Changzhou. Like I do with everything else, it was a case of trying to find the right Chinese keywords and inserting them into Baidu Maps. In this case, it was 古玩 Gǔwàn. It didn’t always work. We are, after all, talking about Baidu Maps, which has had a penchant for red herrings and sending me into weird places.

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One of those locations involved tea. This would be in Tianning and down the Lanling Road from the Jiuzhou New World Plaza. It’s an obscure alleyway next to the Changzhou Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery.  Did I find the aforementioned educational junk here?

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No, it’s just a concrete set of alleys with places that deal in what looks to be gourmet tea.

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Did I buy anything? No. I normally rely on coffee or energy drinks for caffeine. I am an American, after all.  Also, the culture of tea in China is rich and complex, and even if I entered any of these shops with a Chinese pal to translate, I seriously wouldn’t know what I was buying or how to appreciate it. Then again, I never really knew what I was buying in my average Chinese junk shops. It’s just a matter of perspectives, I guess. So, forgive this outrageously bad pun, because I can’t resist: This area is not my cup of tea. For others, however, it might be.

These Were Not Autons

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1744737
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1744737

If you were to say, “Store window mannequins were running amok and shooting people in the street,” people might think you were a bit loony. For the most part, they would be right. But, it did happen a few times — on a TV show.  The Autons have been a part of Doctor Who going back 1970 when Jon Pertwee (the third doctor) faced off against them in the serial “Spearhead from Space.” Essentially, a disembodied consciousness is able to control plastic. As a result, shop window mannequins come to life and chaos ensues. These nasty Autons have returned to the show from time to time, but the good doctor always saved the day in the end.

I was daydreaming about this once, while wandering around a huge market in downtown Changzhou. Culture City 文化城 stands between the downtown train station and Hongmei Park. It consists of intersecting streets and large warehouses. One section is nothing but books, but other parts offer the type of display refrigerators you can find in bars and convenience shops.

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Most importantly, Culture City has a massive amount of furniture than can be found for a bargain. This is what had brought me here. A friend had recently moved, I went there to see if I could price a desk chair for them. Most of the furniture is indoors, and on the second floor of a warehouse. It almost seems endless. There are stacks of desks, chairs, book cases, empty retail modular shelving, and more. Oh, and yes, mannequins. There are lots and lots of faceless mannequins.

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Once I left the main corridors, I found myself roaming through narrow paths of between wood and particle board. Sometimes, it seems every time I rounded a tight corner, I came face to face with those smooth, naked, and genderless pieces of plastic. Sometimes there were crowds of them huddled together, other times, one would just be sitting cross-legged on shelving.  One “child” was armless while still wearing a bicycle helmet and a necklace. In a stranger juxtaposition, a bunch were lurking not that far from an antique Taoist shrine.

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Given that I have an extremely overactive imagination, I started laughing and trying to think of all the short story plot lines I could come up that included haunted mannequins. That’s when I remembered the Autons and Doctor Who. It just goes to show: no matter how silly the premise in science fiction and horror, somebody else has likely thought of it first.

So, with that in mind, I pushed the Autons and the good doctor from Gallifrey out of my mind. I resumed looking for a chair for my friend. Even with my extremely limited Chinese, I was able to get one seller to offer something wooden for as low as 50 RMB. Of course, that day I was just there to look and not buy.

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Discount Eyewear in Xinbei

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Summer in Changzhou can not only be depressing hot and sweaty, sometimes the glare from the sun can be too much. Of course, it depends on the health of somebody’s eyes. Some need sunglasses more than others, and some are always in the market for glasses in general. Regionally speaking, it helps that Danyang is a neighboring city. It’s one of Zhenjiang’s satellite cities, and it’s well renowned for manufacturing glass lenses. While Danyang is only 15 minutes away by high speed train, you actually don’t have to go there for bargain hunting.

Changzhou has eyewear markets featuring Danyang lenses. Xinbei has a particularly large one. It’s on the third floor of the Lippo Plaza shopping center. This is the mall on the other side of the street from Wanda Plaza. If one were to go in there, they would find a lot of empty shops. The place looks like its better days have passed. The escalators are all turned off. Still, there is plenty of commerce going on here. The eyeglass market is merely the biggest thing there.

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Jiu Zhou Antique Market

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I am always on the hunt for old photos, and I am especially looking for old pictures of Changzhou and other cities. This means I spend a lot of time looking for antique markets and junk stores. So, far, there five places I know of. Wujin has a place near where Changwu and Renmin intersect. There are two near Hongmei Park, and one stands behind the Christian church at Wenhuagang 文化宫. That one is perhaps the largest. Recently, I found another near the Jiu Zhou New World shopping center near the city center..

It’s across the street and in a very weathered, very dirty looking building. It’s on the second floor of that building, and once you climb the stairs into the place, you notice it is as grimy on the inside as it is on the exterior. The wares are much of the same: ceramics, postage stamps, jewelry, old red Mao quotation books, and few other things. I did see some nice furniture there, too. However, I saw none of the stuff I like to collect. So, no photos, no old postcards, and very few old printed things. There was also a lot of empty space, too. The likelihood I will return to this place is minimal.

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Antique Shopping Near Culture Square

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Once, a guy chased me while wildly swinging a bust of Chairman Mao. He didn’t want to beat me over the head with it; he simply wanted to sell it to me for 800 RMB. No matter how much I said “不要 bu yao,” he kept in hot pursuit, yelling about he’d drop the price. That went in 20 RMB increments. I really didn’t want it; I mean, I was downtown, and how would I get that thing home or just lug it around with me as I did other errands? It didn’t matter how much I didn’t want it; he was damned insistent. It wasn’t the first time this guy chased me, either. Other times, he waved posters of Zhou Enlai at me, as well as a wall tapestry of 10 prominent Red Army generals.

He wasn’t the first person to do this. In this part of downtown, I have been grabbed and pulled into shops with all sorts of junk paraded in front of my face. All of them had absurdly inflated prices. A comic book went for 200 RMB, and red and gold embossed Mao buttons went for 100 RMB. Some of those shopkeepers saw me as a clueless, rich foreigner that they could make easy cash off of. They were tripling their prices just at the mere sight of me.

And what can I say? I have a thing for junk and antique stores. However, as my Chinese abilities slowly improved from non existent to barely minimal, I actually learned how to haggle with these people. I also got it to a point where I don’t even have to say anything anymore. All I need to do is twist my face into a overacted grimace or scowl and wave my hand dismissively. Once these vendors realized I was no longer the goldmine they thought I was, I stopped getting chased or grabbed. Eventually, I settled on one antique merchant I trusted, and now I usually just go to him first.

So, where is this part of Changzhou? If you go to where the downtown central subway station is being built, you will find an antique market behind the Christian church. This would be Wenhuagong 文化宫. You can find everything from old communist propaganda to weathered books of nude photography, framed calligraphy, carved wood, and much more. This is an ideal place for stamp and currency collectors, too. There are two indoor markets with kiosks, but the main part is a small pedestrian street with shopfronts. Only, if you are going to go there for the first time, take a Chinese friend you are actually going to buy something. Otherwise, they will think you are a goldmine, too.

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Buying a Digital Watch on Youdian Road

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One of many mobile phone markets on Youdian Road 邮电路 downtown.

Sometimes, I have daydreams of being a swaggering space commander. I might be on a planet of rampaging lava monsters with only a squirt gun when what I really need is a firetruck hose.  Or, I can be stranded in a small shuttle; life and life support systems would flicker as I circle the event horizon of a black hole. Seconds could be counting down before the singularity and it’s gravity stretches me into an infinite noodle. At those moments, I would raise my wrist to my lips, press a button on my watch, and say “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Yes, that’s a Star Trek quote, and yes, both my mind and my daydreams can get that silly. That absurdity, though, led me to buying a digital watch six months ago.  I was extremely curious about being able being able to text and make phone calls by having a device attached to my wrist. It all sounded like something you could read about in a vintage sci-fi novel. Turns out, real life is nothing like that.

As for the watch, I found one while browsing the downtown Changzhou’s mobile phone markets. This is Youdian Road 邮电路near Injoy Mall, a BRT stop, and the statue of a woman riding a horse. The road has a number of retail spaces filled with people sitting behind glass cases and kiosks. All three of my Huawei phones were purchased here — with the aid of Chinese friends who could haggle on my behalf. These markets are where people should by their new phones — not at expensive and over-priced foreign department stores like Walmart or Metro.

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Digital Watch Pic

As for the no-brand name digital watch, I got what I paid 200 RMB for. I could make and receive calls from it, but I still had to have my main phone with me at all times. The watch had to linked to the mobile through a Bluetooth. In theory, I could get text and WeChat messages though it, but the interface screen was so small  that epic typos were inevitable. It also had a camera, and that sounds all James Bond and spy-tastic, but the camera was awkward to use. It involved twisting my wrist at odd angles.  Plus, the eventual photos were too grainy and low-res.

In the end, the watch became nothing more than a conversation topic, and the novelty of that wore off rather quickly. As for the black hole, I am not circling it. The rampaging lava monsters are a figment of my imagination, and I am no swaggering space commander.  I am just a college English teacher with a blog. The digital watch is in a drawer, and haven’t worn it in six months.