THE 215 CIRCLE

I learn about Changzhou by riding buses.

This post was first published back in 2017.

I had written this into Baidu Translate, switched it into Chinese, and showed it to a rather bewildered bus station employee. She smiled and nodded, and then started rattling off something in Chinese. I replied with 对不起,我的中文很真不好  Duìbùqǐ, wǒ de zhōngwén hěn zhēn bù hǎo (I am sorry, my Chinese is really bad). She smiled, nodded, and left me alone.

When you wander around like I do, you sometimes get this sense of bewilderment from the locals. Who is this foreigner? And why is he here, of all places? Is he lost? He has to be! There is no reason for him to be here! Typically, this attitude pops up more in far flung places. It never happens in downtown Xinbei or Nandajie, because, well, the locals tend to expect foreigners to be there — not in a place like Huangtu 黄土镇.

Technically, I was not really even in Changzhou anymore. Huangtu is actually part of Jiangyin. However, I had taken the 215 bus from Hohai University and I rode it to its terminus. It had passed Dinosaur Park, and then it turned and eventually crossed over the city line. Jiangyin / Huangtu is part of Wuxi, so technically, you could say I took the bus to Wuxi today. The idea was to to get off and explore the area.

Turns out, there wasn’t much to see. The 215’s end of the line is in an really obscure corner of Huangtu. So, I just walked down the road and bought a pack of smokes and returned to the bus station. I did notice one thing.

There was a guy out here who set up a bee apiary, and the bees were all over the place.

I don’t know if the guy was selling honey. If he was, he picked a silly location because literally there is no traffic out here.  For some reason and by random association, the following two lines of a Pablo Neruda poem leaped into my imagination:

 

Where can a blind man live

who is pursued by bees?

 

Donde puede vivir un ciego

a quien persiguen las abejas?

–Translation by William O’Daly

Neruda never answers that question, either. It comes from his The Book of Questions. The whole poetry collection is just a long list of surreal and unanswerable inquiries. I made a mental note to see if this volume was on Kindle, later. At the moment, however, I was happy to note that, A) I was not blind, and B) I was not being pursued by bees, yet. Nobody wants to be pursued by bees, and that includes me. I also realized I should definitely leave before that happens. So, I got back on the bus once it was ready to go.

I also noticed that once the bus cruised back into Xinbei proper, the bus didn’t go in a reverse route of what had taken me to Mister Beekeeper’s apiary.  I eventually learned that the 215 is a circular — not linear — route. Because, it eventually passed where I originally boarded, Hohai University.

I later learned that the Neruda’s weird little tome was not on Kindle, but somebody scanned their copy as a PDF. Kudos to whoever did that!

THE GOOD PERSON WALK OF FAME

This post was originally posted back in September of 2017

Governments often like to showcase people they deem as exemplary citizens. In China, there has been the tradition of the “model worker” that stretches back to at least 1951 with Hao Jianxiu. This is a commendation that has been given out at both the national and provincial levels. Municipalities, it seems, have been doing something similar with “Good People” streets. In Chinese, it’s 好人街. I have seen this is Danyang and Liyang, and Changzhou has one, too.

Of course, it wouldn’t be right to talk about the good people of Changzhou without mentioning Ji Zha 季札,Changzhou’s founding father. The rest of the entrants are more contemporary than historical.

Basically, “good people streets” normally consist of a series of signs that have pictures next biographies.

Each sign has a QR code that will take you to a webpage that will give you more information on that person. The story, so to speak, that lead them to being featured.

Of course, the webpages are completely in Chinese. However, Baidu Translate’s camera translation has been getting more and more sophisticated over the years. The other thing to remember, though, is that this is not a “famous person” display. So, besides Ji Zha, you will not find other historical figures like Qu Qiubei, Zhang Tailai, or Yun Daiying here. These are everyday citizens.

These signs can be found along the Grand Canal downtown. It’s in the park that has the Ming Dynasty Wall — which is next to both Comb Alley and the backside of Injoy Plaza.

ENGLISH AT XINBEI’S NUMBER 4 PEOPLE’S HOSPITAL

This post was originally published back in October of 2017. It is still useful information in while living in this city.

My body oscillates. Over the years, I have seen my belly expand and contract. This depends on how much exercise I am currently doing and how much I love the empty calories beer provides. My love for cheese and crackers is another underlying problem. A gender stereotype suggests that men do not care about their weight and never obsess over it.

This is simply not true — especially if you once were a wrestler or were otherwise engaged in a combat sport that required competing according to weight classes. I used to be a junior heavyweight, and that required me weighing no more than 189 pounds or 85.7 kilograms. High school wrestlers are infamous for doing stupid things to cut weight, and that includes wearing a trash bag under your sweatsuit and skipping rope in a steamy locker room shower. It’s desperate, because you have a match and only two hours to shave off a pound or two before official weigh-ins.

For me, these were formative years. Sometimes, what you do in high school sticks with you for the rest of your life. Being horribly self conscious about my weight is one of those things. Looking in the mirror and cursing at the size of my belly is another. Or, since I am learning Chinese, 我是一个胖子 Wǒ shì yīgè pàngzi! Of course, the wrestler in me is reminded that size of my stomach is relative to how much time I have put in at the gym.

Yet, the worst thing you can ever do is throw yourself into cardio and weights with too much enthusiasm and not ease into a regimen. You can hurt yourself. This is more so the case once you start aging, and your body is not indestructible like it was in your teenage years.  For this reason, I wanted to talk to a doctor before taking advantage of the year long gym membership I just bought.

Specifically, I wanted to get checked for a hernia — for real reasons I will not get into. Now, this brings up one of the challenges of being a foreigner in China. The language barrier is a real thing of concern for some. Sure, you can always task a Chinese friend to come with you, but a lot of my Chinese friends are platonic women I have worked with as an English teacher at one point. As a male, getting checked for a hernia requires dropping your pants and exposing yourself in the most vulnerable way. To put it this way: would a woman ever want a casual guy friend to translate for her during a trip to a gynecologist? Of course not. It is a real privacy issue.

But, so is the language barrier. What is a person to do? Some hospitals are trained to deal with this and have international departments or help desks. In Changzhou, that would be Number Four People’s Hospital in Xinbei. They have English speaking nurses that will accompany you during a visit. If you think about it, this is a lot better than tasking a Chinese friend. These nurses are medical professionals and can be more accurate when conveying your concerns to a Chinese-only doctor.

I am not saying this hospital is perfect. The location can be extremely frustrating if you live in Wujin. It’s north of the Foreign Language School and Trina, as well as Changzhou’s North train station. There are plenty of other places a person can seek out medical help. In 2014, I contracted laryngitis, and I received expert treatment at a Wujin hospital near the College Town. The international department at Number 4 is more for people who want to go it alone or want a little more privacy. It’s also one of the most convenient answers for people brand new to Changzhou and want to interact with health care professionals in English.The cost to check in and talk to a doctor is 35 RMB. The price goes up with whatever tests ensue.

As for me and my most recent visit, I am fine. No hernias. In fact, the doctor said the issue that is bothering me could be fixed with less sitting behind a computer for absurdly long hours and more exercise — which is the exact reason why I wanted to get checked out. I have a resurgent beer belly that needs to be tamed and then terminated. Time to get to work!

Chinese address is in the above Baidu Maps screenshot. This is one of the reasons why I post Chinese maps and not screen grabs from Google. Google Maps will not help when interacting with a cab driver. In this case, Number 4 People’s Hospital is not in a convenient location and a potential visitor may have to take a taxi here. This will likely be different in a few years when the subway is completed. But for much of the foreign community in Changzhou currently, it is in an out of the way place.

Added in 2022. This clinic still exists, but this article was written before the CZ Subway opened. This hospital can be easily accessed by taking Line 1 north to the Tourism Institute’s metro station.

XU ZHIMO ROMANTICALLY IN TIANNING

Image curtesy of Wikipedia

This post was originally posted in October of 2017.

A snowflake falls from a winter cloud, but it seems intent. It’s consumed with desire. As it flutters its way to earth; it works hard to avoid forests, mountains, and valleys. It does not want to land on something or somebody meaningless. It knows what it wants its destiny to be: it has to seek out a garden and fall onto a beautiful woman so that it could melt and “dissolve into the cordial waves of her heart.”

This is the gist of 徐志摩 Xu Zhimo’s famous poem, “A Snowflake’s Happiness” — 雪花的快樂. My summation is a bit crude, because there is more at work here. The whole poem is a complicated metaphor about love, and that gets into the mechanics of how it was written. The first line goes like this:

If I were a snowflake

The voice of the poem is not declaring, “I am a snow flake.“ The operative word here, if we are trusting the translator, is if.  That means its a metaphor and not a description of real life or something following a more narrative context. Much like other effective poems, the middle is there to build tension and led to the emotional payoff of the end. Of course, I’m not basing this off the Chinese original, but a translation I found on a blog. This version reads like a few of the others that I have found.

This is well and fine, one might say. But what does this have to do with Changzhou? Xu, after all, was born in Zhejiang and spent a lot of time studying in the US and the UK. Living in England is the subject his most anthologized poem, “Taking Leave of Cambridge Again.” As it turns out, Xu had a few links to Changzhou. The first comes by way of his romantic relationship with Lu Xiaoman.陆小曼. She spent sometime growing up in the Dragon City and had a definite connection to it. By default, that gave Xu an connection, too.

During his writing career, Xu also wrote a poem about Tianning Temple. The temple’s website even acknowledges this. This has been translated into English, but its only available in print. It isn’t online, and the collection of verse does not have an eBook version. I would have bought a copy if it had. One can shove the Chinese version into an online translator, but that really does a bunch of indignities to poetry. Verse is a medium where the choice of language is mostly exact and precise. It’s all about the subtleties of nuance.  Translating something like this with Google is like taking a beautiful, delicate, and exquisite piece of porcelain and dropping it into a blender.

Despite these literary and historical connections to Changzhou, there is something real that somebody can go see. It’s in Tianning, near a northern exit of Hongmei Park and just down the street from the downtown train station. There is a statue depicting a romantic couple, and the are standing next carved metal baring the title of Xu’s snowflake poem.

It would be easy to pass this by and think it’s the only thing referencing Xu Zhimo in the area. However, if a person were to descend a nearby staircase and stand along the canal, they would see this.

These are inscribed tablets reproducing pages from Xu Zhimo’s diaries. This, in particular comes from 爱眉小札日记. This diary has been published in Chinese as a book, but like a lot of Xu’s prose, it has not been translated into English. If one were to look at some of what has been reproduced on this wall, it’s a emblematic of Xu and the writer he was.

Of course, Xu was a hopeless romantic. He not only had a relationship with Lu Xiaoman, but he had conducted affairs with lots of other women. If you take the content and context of his writing and put that to one side, there is something more stylistic. The passages on display near Hongmei are bilingual. English sentences like

Oh May! Love me; give me all your love. Let us become one…

are interspersed into Chinese. This is no accident. Xu also worked as a translator, and he was proficient enough in English to study both in the UK and the USA. This also gets into the type of writer he was.

In some ways, Xu Zhimo can be compared to Ezra Pound in America. Pound looked at traditional forms in English language prosody and wanted to throw them out, start over, and bring in something new. He had translated Chinese poets like Li Bai and felt their influence. Pound also translated Japanese verse, and his famous “In The Station of the Metro” poem reads like a haiku. On the other hand, Xu Zhimo  returned from study abroad. and did the same thing. Only, he loved western poets like Keats and Shelley. He wanted to throw out traditional Chinese poetic standards and write something more influenced by the west.  In short: Xu was not immune to experimenting and playing around with language.

Whether it is by way of his Tianning Temple poem or his relationship with Lu Xiaoman, Xu had some connection with Changzhou. This city has had a long reputation for helping cultivate scholars and and people of intellect. Xu Zhimo definitely didn’t come from here, but as evidenced by sculpture and canal-side engraved passages, Changzhou will still celebrate its link to him.

THE 36 TO HELL AND BACK

This post was originally published in October of 2017.

Hell, and the doorway to it, can be found in Xinbei. Somebody could accuse me of being facetious, and they would be absolutely, 100% correct! I am not talking about a mythological nether region where the souls of the damned are tormented. Actually, I’m talking about a statuary recreation of an underworld that is part of Chinese Buddhism. The torture meted out in this version of hell can be particularly brutal, but the saving grace is that the damned can pay their karmic debt and eventually be reincarnated. In Buddhism, people are not meant to rot in such a place for eternity.

This display can be found at Wanfo Temple. There was a previous Real Changzhou post about this place more than a year ago, but  that was more of explaining what the place was and what it culturally meant. Back then, I found it while riding my ebike in Northern Xinbei. Recently, I figured out how to get there on the public bus.

Going north, I boarded the 36 at a stop in front of Xinbei Wanda Plaza. However, there are stops at points south of here. The 36 originates at the downtown train station and terminates in a part of Xinbei that’s just a couple of kilometers from the city line with Yangzhong. For a large section of the journey, this bus travels north on Tongjiang Road before turning.

Eventually, I found myself in a small town called Weitang 圩塘镇. Instead of giving the street name, I would just say if you see the chimney from the industrial port along the Yangtze River, it’s time to get off the bus.

Walk in a straight line towards that smoke stack. Sometimes, it will be hidden behind a building, but you can still see evidence of it on a clear day.

The walkway might become a bit narrow, as you will end up walking through a working class neighborhood of desolate concrete. However, if you keep walking straight, you will not get lost. And trust me, I have been lost in this neighborhood before; it’s labyrinthine and it’s easy to make a wrong turn. So, I can’t stress how you only have to walk a straight line from the previously mentioned bus stop.

A ticket runs about 10 RMB. Also, there are old ladies nearby that will want to sell you ceremonial incense. I skipped it this time, but a prior time I came here, a packet ran me about 10 additional RMB.

As soon as you see something that looks like Guanyin dispensing mercy to troubled souls, you have almost found Hell.In the background of the above picture, you can see the entrance to the hall.

The above picture doesn’t really do justice the gruesome detail on display here. So, consider this as an advisory. Graphic depictions of violence shall follow.

The above three photos are just a minuscule sampling of what is here. A potential visitor should know that this a real religious site and not a wax museum like Madame Tussaud’s in London. The amount of carnage and brutality on display here may seem outlandish, but this is a place where I have always heard monks chanting in the background — every time I have been here. Christian cathedrals in Europe have been treated like tourist attractions, but visitors are still expected to treat the place with some sense of solemnity. The same could be said for Buddhist temples in Changzhou, China, and elsewhere in Asia.

Between Something and Nothing

This was originally posted in May of 2017.

Searching for history in Changzhou can lead to amazing finds like a tiny museum dedicated dragons and another dedicated to cigarettes, and sometimes it’s downright quixotic. Searching for the Dacheng #3 Factory historical site was one of those quixotic searches. I first noticed this place from across the canal in Tianning. I saw a historical marker and some traditional-looking roof lines, and curiosity ensnared me. I actually spent a month or two looking how to get to this place. Finding it actually meant riding my bike down random narrow alleys.

Searching for history in Changzhou can lead to amazing finds like a tiny museum dedicated dragons and another dedicated to cigarettes, and sometimes it’s downright quixotic. Searching for the Dacheng #3 Factory historical site was one of those quixotic searches. I first noticed this place from across the canal. I saw a historical marker and some traditional-looking roof lines, and curiosity ensnared me. I actually spent a month or two looking how to get to this place. Finding it actually meant riding my bike down random narrow alleys.

Yeah, it was a little bit overgrown. The historical marker was still intact.

So, I mentioned the word “quixotic” earlier. So, what is was useless and silly about this search? What was the windmill I was tilting at? Remember the sign says “protected” for “historical and cultural value at the provincial level.” Yeah, right. This is what the place looks like behind the wall.

Apparently, in the back alleys next to a canal, I found a grave site. The two huge stone boxes are caskets. Lots of people were buried in them. The signage did not say if they were local, or if these things were simply moved here because there was open space and it was convenient. Honestly, in China, you can never tell, especially if you are a foreigner trying to figure out a local culture that is not in your native language. From the signage, I eventually that two important people were among the interred.  They were 白埈 Bái jùn and 样淑 Yàng shū. I was told these two guys were important in Changzhou. Funny, thing, Baidu searches go nowhere. I can’t find anything on who they are. So, these stone caskets will linger in my mind until I can understand the story behind them. In short, the search to understand China continues. I always will.

No Logic at Computer CIty

A rather bloody moment from the opening of Argento’s art house masterpiece.

If one tried to follow the plot of the original version of Suspiria, one would be likely driven insane. An American girl goes to a German dance academy that’s secretly run by a cabal of witches. However, the plot twists and turns and contorts into so many absurd directions that it would laughable if it wasn’t for the uniquely terrifying ambiance Dario Argento brought to his art-house horror masterpiece. The interior layout of the Tanz Dance Academy makes even less sense — multiple secret passages, hidden doors, and so on. There is one room that exists only to be filled with razor wire, and one of the students meets an untimely fate there. I reflected upon this movie multiple times over the years while in Changzhou. Specifically, while in the Computer City mall near the city center.

By no means am I accusing Computer City of being a hotbed of the occult or home to a secret hive of evil witches posing as ballet instructors. That would be silly. The bloody gore factor is also nonexistent. But there are a lot of things that have not made sense over the years in terms of Computer City’s layout. It should be noted that Changzhou of 2014 is not the Dragon City of the 2020s. A lot has changed both here and across the Southern Jiangsu region. Computer City had its heyday, but online shopping has both crippled it and other commodity markets. What now remains is an illogical and half-shuttered mess. For example, consider the elevator that nobody uses, is closed to the public, and has absolutely no practical value.

And take a good look at that track and field painted on the floor. It used to not be there several years ago. By the way, the gate to this playground has a D-lock on it, and every time I’ve gone technology window shopping in this half-deserted mall, I have never seen people actually use it. Then, there’s this.

The basement level used to be substantially larger. You can actually see it here. This was from the pre-painted-track-and-field years of this particular location. Recently, I returned to take a similarly angled photo. Keep in mind the above was taken from the third floor, and the below was taken from the fourth.

Floor space was created when there was none before. Anyhow, the weirdness persists. Some of the Chinglish in the elevators is epic.

Floor space was created when there was none before. Anyhow, the weirdness persists. Some of the Chinglish in the elevators is epic.

But amateur doors are okay? And by which international credentialing committee will you be using? I know the Olympics has been tarred by doping scandals for decades now. You can’t trust them. However, last I checked, doors do not compete in either the winter or summer games. Believe it or not, this is not the worst when it comes to Chinese-to-English translation errors. The basement of Computer City used to be home to one of the most outrageous bits of Chinglish of all time. Consider this photo.

But amateur doors are okay? And by which international credentialing committee will you be using? I know the Olympics has been tarred by doping scandals for decades now. You can’t trust them. However, last I checked, doors do not compete in either the winter or summer games. Believe it or not, this is not the worst when it comes to Chinese-to-English translation errors. The basement of Computer City used to be home to one of the most outrageous bits of Chinglish of all time. Consider this photo.

Yeah, nothing to see here. I know. However, keep in mind of what used to be here years ago. And I’ll leave this as a final word about how strange Computer City can be.

A Farewell to an F-word

“This has all happened before, and it will happen again.”

The above quote comes from Battlestar Galactica, which is one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time. Humans build robots. Robots rebel and almost kill off all of humanity. Humanity recovers and builds more robots. Like shampoo, rinse and repeat. History can be cyclical, and patterns do repeat themselves in different contexts from eon to epoch. Just give it time, and a certain type of event will repeat itself. I was thinking about this recently in a much more silly and mundane context.

I took the above photo back in 2021. It’s of a YMD supermarket’s grand openning near Hohai University’s north gate. Specifically, the grocery store is on the second floor, and you have to take an escalator to get in. The ground floor is a fresh market where vendors sell meat and vegetables.

As of this writing, I am less than one month away from my seven-year anniversary of moving from America to Changzhou. The last five have been in Xinbei when I took my current job at Hohai. In all of those years, there has been something weird about this exact retail location. Supermarkets have opened here to much fanfare, and then they go out of business inevitably. They get gutted and remodeled and they reopen. I don’t know why, exactly. Part of me would like to wager that having a grocery store selling meat and vege above a fresh market that sells the same is a bit of a redundancy. By my calculation, I think this is the third or fourth time a supermarket has had a grand opening here while I have been around.

The English name of the previous supermarket is common misspelling of a frequently used swear word — one euphemistically referred to as “The F-Word.” Chinglish happens in many ways, and this instance is by using the Pinyin for 福客多 fu ke duo and turning that into Fuked Mart. It’s purely accidental — just like when I learned to never use the word shabby while teaching because it sounds like a nasty Chinese vulgarity. Well, now Fuked is gone forever. YMD — which has no scandalous misinterpretations that I can think of — has taken its place. But, seriously, when it comes to this real estate location and supermarkets, Battlestar Gallactica’s logic still applies. This has happened before, and it will happen again. I get the feeling that YMD’s future at this location is Fuked.

CROSSING THE YANGTZE

Over the years, I have weirdly romanticized the idea of the Yangtze River. I blame an adulthood filled with kung fu movies for that. There have been times I have sought out the river with the hopes of enjoying a scenic view, but those attempts were usually dashed by large, hulking industrial ports. I did get down to the river bank once in Jiangyin. What I saw that time was far from picturesque; it was more of a display of the strength of China’s manufacturing and shipping prowess. The river was bustling with cargo ships likely headed to the west with goods to be sold in places like Walmart, Target, and other big box retailers. It was the real Yangtze and not the one I often have in my head. I was reminded of this recently because I took a bus to Taixing. Along the way, I got to spend some quality time with the river again.

To get from Changzhou to Taixing, crossing is a necessity. Part of me was afraid that the journey to this small county-level city in Taizhou would involve going via Zhenjiang and Yangzhou — you know, the long way round. The thought there involved bridges. However, both Changzhou and Taixing have ferry ports. In this case, buses, cars, and even eBikes can get from one side of the river to the other. As a coach passenger, you can either stay on the bus or get off during the ferry ride. I chose to get off.

The back and forth ferry traffic is fairly brisk. So, the actual wait time for a boat is fairly low. On the way across the river, you are likely going to see more than one boat heading in the opposite direction.

Of course, there is more than enough reminders that this a very industrial body of water and not a scenic one. This is view of some of Changzhou’s port facilities.

So, yeah, it wasn’t as scenic as I dreamed. Especially when the phrase “I live near the Yangtze” sounds super sexy to friends and family back in America. But then again, you you’re supposed to love something for what it is and not what the fantasy in your brain wants it to be. As for my journey to Taixing, the ferry ride is actually a nice break in what is usually a two hour journey.

Something happened to real Changzhou

Someone or something happened to this blog. It either was hacked or suffered from a corrupted highly corrupted WordPress auto-update. Either way, the whole site has been deleted by something or someone other than me. No backups have been archived by either Worpress or my hosting provider. Please be patient as I manually reupload years of content. Think of RealChangzhou as temporarily out of / missing in action. To anybody who has found value in this blog, rest assured. Much of it will be coming back. It’s just going to take some time and effort. And, most of all, thank you very much for reading over the years.

–Rich Ristow