At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged man who will die single and lonely, love can sometimes be a frustrating emotion. Think about it, somebody develops an deep attraction for somebody, and they might say and do foolish things. They get rejected, and in the doldrums of despair, they say and do equally foolish things. I have been both married and divorced — both loved and spurned. So, trust me. I know.
I was thinking about this because recently — by complete accident — I happened on what has to be one of the most absurd places in Changzhou. There is actually a small museum dedicated to the pain of heartbreak. It actually has curated items and other rooms that just defy rational description. Instead of describing it further, I think it’s just best to let some pictures do the talking.
These few pictures do not adequately capture the level of surreal absurdity that can be seen here. In short, this place really has to be seen to be believed. Sometimes, it feels more like an avant garde art installation than an actual museum. Either way, it’s a lot of mindbogglingly goofy fun. It’s downtown and in the MOOC shopping center. This is the plaza that used to be Golden Eagle. It’s located on the uppermost floor.
Pretty much as abandoned as the circular concourses beneath the tower itself. However, before this place was totally blocked off, there was some semblance of life down here.
The eye glasses had moved here from beneath the tower. But, even when this was open, it was only at one end of what was essentially abandoned subterranean retail space. However, that was not the weirdest thing down here. The most surreal thing down here were some of the posters that were in one of the men’s bathrooms. These were public service announcements regarding urination.
At any rate, this whole sunken plaza is on Line 1 of the forthcoming subway. Wujin’s Xintiandi Park and the Tower is a stop on that line. So, this underground retail space will likely be re-purposed. And, who knows, with the metro may come new life. However, part of me has a suspicion the above three posters will not be part of that new life.
If there is one things many Americans love to watch on TV, it’s documentaries about UFO sightings and conspiracy theories about alien visitation. The History Channel even has that and gets all Erich Von Daniken in probing ancient history and art for alleged ET references. The show is called Ancient Aliens and it has the habit of saying the most outlandish and absurd things by phrasing them as questions. For example: “Were the ancient Hindu gods actually astronauts from another world?” That’s not an actual quote, but something I made up that channels the spirit of the show. And trust me, that TV program has likely said something very similar.
One of the show’s frequent contributors has a hair style so bad, it rivals the current American president as the worst ever in human history. This contributor is also the subject of rampant social media memes in American social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I will admit that watching this stuff about UFO’s is a guilty pleasure that I actually share with my dad. I don’t believe any of it, but I find the far-fetched “possibility” entertaining to consider. Then again, my dad and I are science fiction nerds. Of course we like looking at strange things. But, I found myself pondering extra terrestrials in Xinbei, and I let my brain wander into Ancient Aliens question mode. This is why.
One night recently, I left my ebike at a bar that will not be named. At the time, it was raining and didn’t want to ride back and get drenched. The next morning, I walked to retrieve it and I noticed some strange art on the back of some of the buildings. This is on a backstreet that runs north-to-south parallel to Tongjiang Road in Xinbei. I saw some weird-but-simplistic artwork painted dark grey on light grey brick. While the front of the building has shop fronts and none of this, back the structure is largely derelict and empty. Parts of the building look like they are being currently gutted.
I couldn’t decide whether I was looking at aliens, cats, or ghosts. For the rest of my stroll, I gleefully puzzled out this nonsense and what it meant. Give me some leeway; it was a fun distraction from walking in cold and drizzle. I also developed my own theory. But, allow me to mimic the intellectual slight of hand Ancient Aliens uses. Could it be that these weird images are actually related to an after-school arts education center in the building?
Nandajie used to have a toilet themed restaurant. The seats were actually commodes, and there was fecal related imagery all over the walls, by the cashier, and on the cheap hoodies the employees wore — in cartoonish ways, of course. There wasn’t anything too graphic about it all. I know this sounds utterly bizarre and surreal. However, these types of restaurants are common in China. There is even a multi-city chain of them. Downtown Changzhou had more than one at one point. Then, the one at the Zhonglou Injoy went away. Now, Nandajie has lost its own toilet themed restaurant. It was on the third floor.
I don’t know exactly when this happened. I only ate there once and only once. Recently, I was wandering around Nandajie as a way to kill some time. I passed the place, and it looked absolutely gutted. Yeah, there are still urinals on the wall, but there was a lot of trash laying around.
And, a lot of the toilets are still there — as well as the sinks shaped like buttocks. But it seems most of the BBQ tables were stripped out — along with the a lot of the other kitchen hardware. Pretty much, anything that would be remotely salvagable and used in another restaurant is basically gone. The only clue I found as to what happened to this place was on the door.
Only, this was not a clue at all. I showed this picture to a Chinese friend, and she told me it was a gas notice. Somebody wanted to do an inspection, and since nobody was there, they slapped this on the door. The date says December of 2016, Also, I walked around Nandajie’s third floor, and counted two other such notices on doors. Those places were also derelict and abandoned. This is not a case like Bellahaus, where it closed and a bill collector had slapped a letter on the door.
The best theory I have, however is this. Forgive the crappy pun, but this place was a little shitty. Trust me, as I said earlier, I ate there once. The food quality was terrible, and they oil they used on the BBQ tables gave off a burning smell that got into your clothes and hair. The low quality ingredients made my stomach feel weird afterwards. So, in many ways, I am not sad to see it go.
Xinbei’s central park is filled with lots of absurd Chinglish, but that is not the only weird thing to be see. The park is filled with lots of trully strange signs detailing EMERGENCY! situations. These seem out of place. For example, one talks about water, and there is no sign of publicly available water. For a time, I thought it was just unique to Xinbei’s central park. However, I started seeing similar signs over in Xuejia’s park. I also saw similar things in Hongmei, downtown. Then, I started seeing in other city’s parks — like in Jiangyin last sunday. So, naturally, I started taking pictures.
For a laugh, I showed the pictures to a friend while we were having coffee. She laughed at them just as I had, but then she pointed out something I hadn’t thought of. Maybe these signs are not just randomly placed? Maybe some parks are designated as places to go if a real emergency did happen? After all, Sichuan has had earthquakes. Cities in the south of China have seen flooding. Typhoons seem to be getting stronger every year. Maybe this signs are set purposefully to denote where stations for water, garbage, toilets, and more should be set up should the park actually be needed in an emergency. Given the Chinese zeal for urban planning, it seems plausible to me. I tried Googling an answer, based on this theory, and I didn’t find one. At any rate, here are some of those park emergencies.
I was standing by myself in large Chinese graveyard when I heard a voice. This was at Qingming Mountain, in eastern Changzhou. At the time, I had my Canon camera with me, and I was taking photos for a magazine article I was writing. So, I glanced around. For a moment, I thought maybe a Chinese person might be angry with me. Customs and cultural sensibilities regarding the dead are different in China than they are in the west. For example, people do not go on cemetery walks, here, but in America, it’s quite common.
Yet, once I carefully looked around, I saw nobody. I stood on a downward sloping path between white stone burial markers complete with names and pictures of those interred. Yet, there was still a gruff sounding male voice. Instead of leaving immediately, I walked towards the the source — it wasn’t that far away.
Was it a ghost? Not likely. The more I carefully listened, the more I understood what was happening. My Chinese was very bad, and I didn’t understand a word. However, I could tell that is was a recorded message set on a loop. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that message was likely linked to a motion detector, and my presence he tripped it. In a way, such things are not that unusual now, at least in America. There are audio and video enhanced tombstones available. Now, I know China might have something similar. I also realized that I had taken enough photos, and that it was time to leave the dead to rest in peace.
If you were a Christian, imagine walking into an alley and finding a lot of headless statues of Jesus Christ. Now, nearby, imagine the Virgin Mary without arms. Also imagine also headless angels that are missing one of their two wings. Think of it as a small space filled with crippled iconography. It would be a little off putting and creepy, right? Surreal? Like walking through a three-dimensional recreation of a Slayer CD cover? I am not even remotely Christian, and I would find myself peering over my shoulder from time to time. But then again, I have too much of an overactive imagination, and I have watched too many horror movies.
Still, something similar happened to be me in Changzhou, once. I was zipping down the road on my ebike in northeastern Wujin — the part closer to Jiangyin, Wuxi. I passed an alley that was filled with headless Buddhas and unfinished statues of louhans and some figures from Taoism. There was even a sitting, laughing Buddha covered with splintered wooden planks. I snapped a few pictures and moved on. I looked at all the businesses in the area, and I took photos of those, too. Turns out, the nearest was a water plant. I never found out who was responsible for the headless Buddhas.
Upon a recent return visit, I was able to figure out a little more. First, some of the statues were gone, and some new ones had taken their place. And, some of them had remained the same. Like before, some of them unfinished. The poor laughing Buddha was still covered with scrap wood. This meant the place was active. These half finished sculptures were not abandoned derelicts. Somebody was responsible for them.
I did, however, take a picture of one business I missed upon my earlier visit. Turns out, it was as I originally suspected. These disembodied religious figures actually do belong to a nearby workshop. You would think this would be a major industry given how many temples there are around the region — and that both Dalin and Bailong Temples are nearby. But, as one of my Chinese friends told me, it’s not as lucrative as I suspected. Once you make a religious statue, there is not much else to do. Temples only have a finite amount of space. Plus, regular maintenance may only be paint jobs once the color begins to fade in a few years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For some, hunting for Chinese translated very badly into English is a sport. Once you find something absurd enough, you snap a picture and post it on social media so that you and your friends can giggle about it. For others, Chinglish is just another weird aspect of day to day life in China and Changzhou specifically. For them, Chinglish just melts into the background. However, if you are the laughing type, the worst abuses of the English language can be found in Xinbei’s Central Park. You can easily kill an hour wandering around and finding WTF moments. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but sometimes I couldn’t resist and added a caption. I saved the best for last.
“I once walked into a housing estate and saw fountain statues of little boys peeing.”
A friend of mine once said this to me over dinner. She said she was new to Changzhou at the time, and like me, liked to aimlessly wander as a way to learn about a new city.
“Where is this?”
“Sorry, I forgot.”
“You know,” I said, “I am now going to obsessively look for that housing estate, now.”
She flashed an evil grin. “That’s why I told you about it.”
And, I went looking. I walked onto many housing estates over the course of a week, and I almost never found the weirdness my lady friend described. Eventually, I discovered something close, but it was not the urinating fountains my friend spoke of. It was a small statue of a naked little boy. This was on a housing estate on Zhongwu Avenue 中吴大道 near the bridge to Wujin / Hutang. As soon as I saw it, I started laughing, hard. It was not the first time I had seen this little boy.
Actually, it was a replica of an infamous fountain in Brussels, Belgium. It looks forged in bronze, and it depicts a little boy urinating into a small pool of water. The statue’s name is Mannekin Pis, and it’s a famous landmark, and souvenir shops make a fortune selling related merchandise to bewildered tourists with WTF on their minds. It’s even to the point where the statue has a dedicated blog.
The fact that there is a replica in Changzhou doesn’t surprise me. There are lots of new construction that actively tries to imitate European architecture and atmosphere. This housing estate, and the mostly empty shopping center next to it, has a decidedly Euro theme. As a reference point, there used to be a Tesco on Zhongwu. It’s that area. At Global Harbour in Xinbei, for example, there is a whole atrium with European style faux paintings. This is at the uppermost level, on the interior of a dome ceiling. As for the housing estate my friend stumbled onto, I largely suspect what she saw there were also Manekin Pis replicas.