Like usual, my attempts to get a glimpse of the Yangtze River in Changzhou get a little side tracked. The northern most part of Xinbei is filled with industrial ports. This time, it was to a small place called Xinhua Village. Open entering the area, you see a stone with an Olympics symbol. Looking around, I had to wonder what those games meant to this tiny place. Later, on a wechat forum, a friend told me there was a rifle and bow and arrow shooting range out here. I think I passed it without realizing it.
After consulting the map, I was suprised to find a Christian church in the area. It looked a lot more well maintained then some I have seen around the city. The gate was locked and nobody seemed around, so I couldn’t walk in and investigate further. The area also had a small public park with the usual sort of abstract sculpture that is also highly common in Changzhou. There wasn’t much else in the park, with the exception of walkway to strange bunch of round, white pillars clustered together.
I didn’t stay long — as I still had afternoon classes to prepare for. Once I returned home, though, I was surprised when I looked at my digital display. A one way trip from Hohai University on Hehai Road to Xinhua Village looked to be roughly 38 kilometers. That’s just another reminder of how massive Changzhou is by western standards.
To put it bluntly, parts of the former Qishuyan district look like somebody dropped a bomb on it. Take a wrong turn, and all of sudden you are surrounded by rubble. There are a number of old buildings where only some shattered grey walls remain, and people around them scavenge for bricks and bits of scrap.
Of course, this just the beginning of urban redevelopment. Many parts of the former Qishuyan district look really old and decripit. My guess is that it was shuffled into Wujin for the same reason why Jintan ceased being an independent city: accelerate development at a faster pace. That’s just a guess. I could totally be wrong about Qishuyan.
It’s there, however, that I found another weird juxtaposition. Over near Metro, there’s a statue of Chairman Mao that’s surrounded by something similar. It’s like everything but Mao met the wrecking ball. In the former Qishuyan, I found a Christian Church much in the same situation. Everything around it was destroyed, and that leads me to assume that it’s being perserved and things will be build around it.
When I found this place, it was in the middle of a working day. There was no way for me to tell whether people actually attend services here. Cars were parked outside of it, but that could for the foreman and the construction workers excavating a huge hole nearby. Unlike other wastelands in Changzhou, this one actually had heavy construction equipment beginning to create the foundation of something. However, I do not know what that something is.
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.
Flowers 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.
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.
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.