Tag Archives: Travel

Searching for Wujin’s Train Station

Question: In the Changzhou Prefecture, how many train stations are there?

Answer: Two? Changzhou Station and Changzhou North?

Wrong!

Answer: Three? Changzhou Station, Changzhou North, and Qishuyan?

Wrong again!

The keywords in the question are “Changzhou Prefecture.” So, that includes the city of Liyang to the south. They have high speed rail on a different route to Shanghai. So, while they have a station, you can’t actually take the train from Changzhou to Liyang. If you are using public transportation, the only option is a three hour bus ride. So, the answer is likely more around “four.”

I thought about this because I once tried writing trivia questions for Quiz Night at OK Koala. However, some of the questions in my music section seemed to revolve too much around the post-rock bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mount Zion.

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Godspeed’s most recent album. Think bleary instrumental rock that also uses violins and cellos. It’s the perfect soundtrack to writing a memoir about overcoming a midlife crisis (which I have been doing a lot of, recently). I was also listening to this while writing this post.

 

While they are currently my favorite bands, I realized that much of my quiz reveled in needless obscurity only I would likely know, and so I never finished it. I did want to fact check one thing, however.

 

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Apparently, Wujin has a train station. A Chinese friend, a few years ago, told me that she grew up near it. So, I decided to see if I can find it. The other issue is this: Baidu Maps can sometimes not be trusted. I have spent a lot of time traipsing through empty fields looking for “Martyr’s Memorials” that simply didn’t exist. As for Baidu, the app claimed it was a long-but-straight-forward trip.

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Roughly, 35.5 kilometers from my apartment in Xinbei’s Huai De Ming Yuan housing estate to a part of southern Wujin that is actually closer to the city limits with Yixing than it is Changzhou’s city center. Much of the trip took me along Heping / Changwu Road. (The name changes, once you cross the bridge into Wujin). For the most part, it was simple ride even after I turned off of Changwu Road. Until….

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I ran into some construction. These shipping containers I think functioned as like a makeshift foreman’s offices. It was completely blocking the road. I nearly gave up, but if you notice off to the right, you can actually see a train. So, I looked to see if there was a narrow path around. There was. This was on the other side.

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I thought the rest was about simple. However….

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The building I suspected of being the train station obviously was not. There is another thing to consider. There are plenty of narrow farm roads in the area. I tried to stay off them, but I couldn’t help myself.

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My photo archive always needs more Chinese scarecrows!

Essentially, vineyards make up a large part of this area. These are likely not wine grapes, as they look a lot like the type I see sold along the side of the road. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either. That’s just to say: it’s a local agricultural product. That was reinforced once I actually found the train station.

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One vineyard had been harvesting it’s crop and loading it onto a freight truck. Well, what about Wujin’s train station? Don’t get your hopes up.

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It looked pretty abandoned. That got me thinking, though. What about the train parked there? My guess is this: if this place is used at all, it’s for freight only. It is so far removed from an actual population center that it makes absolutely no sense for passenger traffic.

As for my proposed trivia question. How many train stations in Changzhou? Technically, five as of this counting. However, this place in Wujin is so obscure, it almost doesn’t count. There is a way around that: reword the question. How many high speed rail stations are there in the Changzhou Prefecture? The answer to that is still four, I think. Changzhou Station, Changzhou North, Qishuyan, and Liyang.

The 50’s Purpose

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Sometimes, public bus routes are like riddles. They usually exist for a reason. Some are quite easy to understand, and others are not. Bus #50 actually was actually quite easy to figure out once I got off at its Zhonglou District terminus.

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This municipal bus depot also acts as an intercity coach station with destinations in places like Jurong and elsewhere. Sure, it’s not like the hub downtown and next to the high speed rail station. In many cases, places like this are also stopping points on coaches heading out of town. In trips to both Liyang and Yixing, the intercity buses have stopped in other city locations to pick up more travelers, for example.

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Ok, that’s well and fine. So, what’s the purpose of the 50 municipal bus?

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It connects an intercity coach station to Dinosaur Park, which is the other terminus. Dino Park is a major source of tourism revenue for both Changzhou and Xinbei. In theory, people in smaller cities to the west could get off bus here and switch to a public bus that would take them to Dinosaur Park and a potential hotel reservation in the area. That’s well and fine. Why would a Changzhou resident use this bus, besides the convenience of some of the stops in the middle of the route?

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Zhonglou’s Decathlon is the second to last stop. Changzhou only has two of these sporting goods stores. During my years in China, this retail chain has actually meant a lot to me. I am a tall guy with big feet. A lot of brick and mortar stores do not carry sizes 46 or 47. Decathlon does. Also, my Taobao situation is a bit screwy, so if I want to try on shoes to see if they actually fit me, this place has always been reliable. I will ride a bus in the name of convenience and not bothering Chinese friends to order, receive, and return footwear for me.

Changzhou’s other Decathlon is in Wujin. Quite honestly, both are pains to get to when you live in Xinbei, but the one in Zhonglou is easier. I boarded this bus actually at Xinbei Wanda Plaza, and that seems to only other major landmark this line services. For the most part, the 50 is not a scenic ride.

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This is Huangtu

There is an intersection in Changzhou’s northern Xinbei district sharing a map line with Jiangyin. The B1 bus turns here to pass the Trina International School  and end its route at the Changzhou’s northern rail station.  Make a wrong turn at this stop light, and you end up in Wuxi. Jiangyin, while an independent city, is actually part of Wuxi.  There are a few times I have crossed this red light border intentionally to see what was there.  One time, it was to see the town of Huangtu.

This is a very small town between Changzhou’s Xinbei district and Jiangyin’s dowtown “proper.” The intercity bus from Changzhou North Station makes local stops here. The bus from the downtown / Tianning station does not. That’s more of an express, and frankly, if you are going to downtown Jiangyin, it’s always better to take the express and not a local. It’s a faster ride. So what does Huangtu have to offer?

Not much, actually. However, that is more of a “city” point of view. And, it’s not meant to be condescending. It’s more of a statement that you can’t find a lot to be a “foreign tourist”  about here.

The local temples are actually places of worship — not places that charge admission and give you commemorative ticket. But, again, that’s the point in a way.  “Real” is a relative term. What applies to cities doesn’t apply to towns. “Real” also means “people live here” and “local.”  It’s also an interesting contrast. Appreciating and understanding urban China means also appreciating and understanding “small town” China. Maybe that’s just the key to understanding China in general? Maybe that’s the key to understanding the complicated dynamics of any country?

This post originally appeared on www.realjiangsu.com. 

Biji Lane’s Questionable Comb Museum

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As I have mentioned in the past, part of how I explore places relies heavily on Baidu Maps, my phone, and learning Chinese keywords. For example, 故居 Gùjū means “former residence.” 名胜 Míngshèng translates roughly as “famous place” or “attraction” (in a tourist sense). Another common one I use is 博物馆 Bówùguǎn. There is sometimes a problem with the last one. Sometimes, a business lists themselves on Baidu Maps as this. You show up, and it’s a retail store, not a museum.

When this happens, I just shake my head and walk away. There is one that I will make an exception for. There is something that translates as Comb Museum over on Biji Lane. This is in the small little historical alley behind the Injoy Mall, downtown.

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This is historical home for one of Changzhou’s oldest traditional industries: handcrafted combs. This city has been well renowned in China for this for at least two thousand years.  Only, the museum is not a museum. It’s actually a gift shop, and some of the combs can cost upwards of 1000 RMB. I, however, never treat it like a gift shop. A lot of the more exquisite items are behind protective glass cases.

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There are also non-comb realted items like bejeweled hairpins.

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The place also has other traditional Changzhou crafts, like carved bamboo.

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While I have given Changzhou combs to people back in America, they were the cheap 10 RMB knock offs. This place is too expensive for me. And, even though its not a museum, I like to treat it like an art gallery. I go in browse, but never buy.

Ni Hao, Jiangyin

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Never judge a city by it’s Greyhound Bus depot. This is common sense in America, partly because most private, long distance coach stations are in the poorer, more dangerous parts of town. Back in the 1990s, I got hustled at the one in Pittsburgh. It’s also fair to think that, in China, one should also have the same attitude. Not about getting robbed, of course, but that bus terminals are not usually in the most convenient areas. I realized that while in Jiangyin. It felt like I walked for half an hour without seeing anything remotely interesting. Something similar happened the first time I went to Wuxi, too.

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Jiangyin is a satellite city controlled by Wuxi.  An apt comparison would be Liyang; it has its own municipal government, but Liyang is still under control of Changzhou. Jiangyin borders Xinbei in the east, but the city’s actual downtown is about an hour away by long distance coach. Once I finally began to reach the city center on foot, I found myself falling under the city’s charm.

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The first thing I saw was Xingguo Pagoda. This looks to be the remains of what was once temple grounds. If a visitor looks to the top of the tower, it’s damaged. There were a few other Buddhist attractions, like a stone pillar, but the place is now basically a walled-in public park.

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From there, I found my way to a Confucian temple. The area before the actual temple entrance looked like a flea market, and those are just things I can’t help myself with. Luckily, I didn’t let myself buy anything. Yet, now I know where it is, and I will likely being back for a closer inspection and will probably end up buying a backpack full of old junk at some point. The temple itself was rather small.

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Eventually, I ended up on the Renmin Road walking street. If comparing Jiangyin to Changzhou, this would be a little like Nandajie. It seems to be the commercial center of the center. However, walking through the area, it actually felt nicer to walk around there than Changzhou’s shopping pedestrian street. Partly, it seems, because Zhongshan Park is part of the whole complex, and a public art lover could spend a lot of time there snapping photos of statues.

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Essentially, Jiangyin’s city center feels as developed and as cosmopolitan as Wuxi and Changzhou — just on a smaller scale. Getting to there is, as stated earlier, an hour by intercity bus from Changzhou’s downtown station. There is no train station here. And, it’s best for a newcomer to do a little research in advance and take a taxi from the coach terminal to a predetermined destination. It was roughly 19 to 20 RMB when I decided to call it a day and not hike back there from the city center.

I also realized, in terms of this blog, that places outside Changzhou are fair game, so long as this city is a starting point. So, expect a little more usage out of the travel category in the future. One thing is certain; I know i will be going back to explore Jiangyin in a little more depth, now.

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.

No Love for Qishuyan Station

Changzhou has three high-speed rail stations. The most commonly used can be found in the city center, in the Tianning District. This station services passengers wanting to to use the line between Shanghai and Nanjing. You can also get to other places like Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Hefei from here.

The other major station is in Xinbei. In English, this is most commonly called “Changzhou North.” It’s a totally different rail line connecting Shanghai to Beijing.  The stops are all different, too. Yes, the trains stop in Nanjing and Wuxi, but they don’t stop at the central stations in those cities. (Respectively, its Nanjing South and Wuxi East). Once you pass Nanjing, the train heads north to places like Xuzhou, Chuzhou, Bengbu, and more with Beijing South Station as its terminal point.

Then, there is Qishuyan Station. It’s provincial at best. It’s tiny. And if you do not live in Qishuyan, this is a very annoying stop on the way to Shanghai or other points east. It’s only on the Shanghai-to-Nanjing line. Once you leave Changzhou’s central station, the train coasts very slowly for like five minutes and then stops.  Two to five people may board or depart.  Thankfully, not all trains stop here, according the schedules you can find on Ctrip.com.

I find the existence of this train station a little troubling. First, Qishuyan is no longer a district in Changzhou city proper. It got folded into Wujin last year —  at the same time when Jintan stopped being a independent and was absorbed into Changzhou’s redefined city limits. It’s almost if if the municipal government bet on Qishuyan being an important financial center, hedged it bets, years later, and then started backing away. So, now there is a high speed rail station nobody really uses. Honestly, check Ctrip.com for how many trains actually stop there.

Besides, in the years I lived in Wujin, I always thought having an honest “Changzhou South” station  made more sense. The Xinbei, Tianning, and Qishuyan stations are highly annoying to get to when you work in Wujin’s many, many factories and industrial parks, or at Changzhou’s southern college town. All three are either long bus rides or expensive taxi fares. They are certainly NOT convenient to get to.

But what do I know? Who am I to question grand scheme of urban planning in China? I’m just a silly laowai 老外, a foolish foreigner, right?

Right.

So, I will now shut up and teach my Oral English classes.

A Post for Tomb Sweeping

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“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.