My Eulogy for Jack

jackshome

I once had a sandwich totally confuse and confound me. The menu called it a Reuben, and that brought all of these fond culinary memories of Jersey. For those who don’t know, this involves two slices of rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island or Russian dressing. They are common in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City delis. What I ate didn’t meet that description. Cheese and fried onions topped a minced steak patty. No rye bread either — just white toast.

This “not a Reuben” could have been found, once, at Jack’s Home in Wujin. When around, it stood halfway between College Town and Monkey King and Chocolate’s. I used to go there out of sheer laziness. It was the closest expat bar to the College Town area when you ride an eBike or take the B1. Now, its gone. Somebody gutted it and replaced it with a fruit store.

Jack’s death, I am told, is typical of a failing restaurant in China. Butts were not in chairs. Menu items routinely fell out of stock for long periods. Once, I ordered a hamburger there and was served a pork cutlet between two slices of bread. I ate it. It was okay, but it wasn’t a hamburger. Also, some of the menu items began to get spicier — like a fusion between Western and Chinese, but not in a good way. Moves like that are supposed to draw in Chinese  customers, but it more than likely just confuses them.  Jack’s isn’t the first restaurant in Changzhou to vanish, and it won’t be the last. That’s just nature of the hospitality business. However, somebody needs to tell TripAdvisor, by the way that this place is gone and forgotten.

Finding a Church in Jintan on Qingming

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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.

Our Lady of Pollution

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People have different ways to measure pollution and how bad it is. The most obvious is to wake up in the morning, look out the window, and see how thick, thin, or not there smog is for the day. Other people tend to be more scientific and follow the Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers for Changzhou. For the longest time, I had a more arcane and most nonsensical approach, and it involved a statue.

It looks classically European, and I don’t know the story of why it is where its. It depicts a woman holding a basket of flowers, her garments are draped in a way you see in Italian sculpture, and her breasts are exposed — and so is a long bit of leg! However, the implied sexiness is muted by the “I must look askance and away” modesty thing you often see in art.

I used to pass this statue all the time when I lived in the south of the city. It’s on Heping Road 和平路, right after you cross the bridge from Wujin to Tianning. I would zip by it while on my way downtown on my eBike. This all sounds well and nice, but how did I link this weird girl to air quality?

It came down to how dirty this woman would look. At her worst, she would have black streaks across her face, and yellow smears across her breasts. Then, apparently, somebody would come scrub her and wash her. Then, she would be pristine and white again. Six months would pass, and the yellow smears on her legs and bosom would reappear — and somebody would eventually hose her down again.

As an air quality indicator, this is stupid beyond measure. I know that. Plus, I think the people responsible for the sculpture  have caught on to how nasty this gal can look. Over the last year, the smudges and smears have never returned. And really, if I actually cared about pollution, I should be looking at AQI numbers and not a statue of a woman with her tits exposed.

Burgers and Guinness at Daniel’s

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On Hehai Road 河海路

For the longest time in Changzhou, KFC was the only place to really offer something like a pulled-pork sandwich. It gave me heartburn, but I happily suffered through it from time to time. After all, it was the only southern-style American BBQ sandwich in the city.  Gourmet, not-fast-food cheeseburgers are easier to find, but they can be hit or miss. It comes down to the quality of the ground beef. You can easily find dry, sandy-textured patty. But who wants to find that?

After listening to me whine and pine for cheeseburgers a great deal, a good friend lent a helping hand. He took me to a place that, currently, makes one of the best cheeseburgers in Changzhou. It’s Daniel’s on Hehai Road 河海路 in Xinbei. Inside, the decor reminds one of a pub might find in the UK or Ireland. It’s dimly lit at night, but it has the sort of homey atmosphere one might find in an Irish or British pub.

After all, you can get Guinness stout here. And by that, I don’t mean a tallboy can poured into a pint glass. Those cans have this plastic carbonation ball in them, and it screams export. Once the can is empty, it rattles if you shake it. I mean Guinness on draft, and the difference between that an export can is enormous. It involves carbonation and how thick of a foamy head develops.

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Yum!

As for the food, the burgers and the pulled pork are both great. However, Daniels recently did a soft opening. Their menu right now are handwritten pages in a notebook. This is because they are still sorting out what dishes to offer based supply and ordering issues. The actual menu should be set and printed in a few weeks. Meanwhile, the burger and the pork are well worth the visit.

 

Benniu’s Christian Church

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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.

Solving an eBike Issue

At Dalin Temple
At Dalin Temple

I was staring at a statue of a guy ripping off his face, and I was trying not to make a connection to old Clive Barker novels and movies. After all, I was a Dalin Temple in Wujin’s northeastern arm, and the cosmologies of Buddhism and Hellraiser are not exactly the same.  Dalin has a building filled with colorful statues, and I really haven’t figured out what the story is there yet. I just know it was a more playful scene than the bloody recreation of Buddhist purgatory 地狱 I have seen at another temple.

Once I finished my visit, I went outside and got on my eBike. It was time to go home, as I had classes to teach in two hours. I put my key into the ignition, and as I turned the throttle to leave, something snapped. Loudly. My front brake stopped working. When I looked at my wheel, it dangled on a cable.

To say this was a problem would be an understatement. This part of Wujin was 30 kilometers away Hohai University and Xinbei. For a little perspective, Hutang and the parts of Wujin where expats live was even farther. I thought of calling a Chinese friend, but since I am incredibly stubborn and hardheaded, I didn’t want to do that. I could just lock the bike, leave it for another day, and try and find a taxi, but the cheapskate in me would have none of that.  I realized the bike could still be ridden. The back brake still functioned.  So, I rode the thirty kilometers back — but at snail speed. Each time I turned, the flopping brake either smacked against the wheel and dragged against the concrete.

The snapped brake. Took this picture to show a mechanic.
The snapped brake. Took this picture to show a mechanic.

Once home, I tried to figure out replacements. My go-to mechanic works in Wujin, where I bought the bike when I lived the College City area. Obviously, I didn’t want to ride another 30 kilometers and damage the thing even further.  Eventually, I realized that Lippo Plaza had eBike shops. This is the shopping center directly across the street from Wanda. This also means walking distance from my job and apartment.

Unfortunately, NKNY has no presence there. I checked Baidu Maps, and I realized NKNY shops were nowhere around this part of Changzhou. So, I walked from shop to shop, looking to see if any of them sold what were, essentially, heavy electronic motorcycles. Once I did,  I looked at all of their brakes to see if any of them shared the exact same brand and part number as mine. Sure enough, the LVNeng one did.

Thankfully, the guy running the place there offered a lot of help — without knowing a single word in English. Once you have a good translation app, transacting comes easier. Only, that requires both you and the shopkeeper knowing how to use such apps. More recently, I had speed problems and tried using an NKNY shop. That older mechanic didn’t even have a smartphone and communicating bike problems became all the more difficult. So, lesson learned. Next issue, I’m going back to the LVNeng guy first.

LVNeng across from Wanda Plaza
LVNeng across from Wanda Plaza

Sylvia Plath and The Daddy Statue

Marble heavy, a bag full of God,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

big as a Frisco seal

 

and a head in the freakish Atlantic

— Sylvia Plath

Plath’s work as a poet has always struck me. There is usually a knack for a surreal turn of a phrase. The above lines come from “Daddy,” where a the language — the rhymes and the melody of the words — sounds childish. The content, however, is more a grown woman’s voice contemplating killing her father. Or, in some aspects, wanting to kill the memory of her father.  Brutal themes like this carry mostly all the way through her collection Ariel.

I used to think of this poem, not because I have daddy issues like Plath’s, but more because of a sculpture that used to be in Downtown Changzhou. It used to be the Future City shopping center next door to the Injoy Mall. A year and a half ago, Future City used to be empty, desolate. None of the shops were leased. There were just statues of a fat dude playing golf. Turns out, the area wasn’t a ghostly bit of real estate. The area was still being developed. The shops there have been slowly filling in. As shopkeepers moved in, the statue I used to like to look at vanished.

It was of a nude woman playing a flute.  On her pedestal, she sat semi-cross legged. However, one leg dangled over the side of the pedestal. Surrealistically, the leg became longer and fatter. Her foot always sparked the memories of reading “Daddy.”  Sure, the foot had more than one toe, but it always reminded me of the “Ghastly statue” line.  Overtime, I used to imagine that this was the speaker, the woman in poem. She was playing beautiful sounding music, but she was still deformed. And that’s how I would describe most of Plath’s work. Beautiful, but deformed.

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Lamian Stretched Noodles

IMG_20160217_122347Navigating Chinese food can be difficult at first. There is the whole “picture menu” versus “no picture menu” issue to deal with. But as one learns to read Chinese, things eventually become easier. For instance, mala tang involves no menu at all. There are other food options to consider if you are new to a city.

Lanzhou 兰州 noodle shops are pretty much universal in China and in Changzhou. It’s a form of quick food that is easy to find, partly because it’s very popular with Chinese people. It’s also a type of Halal eating, or what some people call “Chinese Muslim Food.” Simply, Chinese dishes that follows Islamic culinary law. The chief thing, of course, is the religious ban against pork as “unclean.” Lanzhou cuisine also prominently features beef or mutton.

Of the many menu options, Lamian 拉面 is the easiest to find. The noodles involved have been rigorously pulled and stretched. If you see a chef twirling and twirling dough, he or she is likely making this style of noodle. The dish itself is fairly simple: noodles, meat, and broth. It can be a little spicy, but it also depends on the establishment and the cook. Some are spicier than others.

There are two ways to adventure into these noodle shops. First, you can ask a Chinese friend to take you or recommend a place. If you are by yourself, glance into the restaurant and take a head count. If it’s busy, the food is likely well prepared and probably wont give you food poisoning. If the joint seems perpetually empty, then skip it by all means.

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.

Digital Watch Pic
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.

 

Lost in Luoxi

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An moated park closed to the curious.

Changzhou’s airport is located in a far flung part of western Xinbei. Today, I got it into my head to actually ride there on my bike — I have never been there before.  All of my airline travel has been through Pudong International in Shanghai. Funny thing, though. I never made it to the airport. As always in life, I got sidetracked.

In this case, it was in Luoxi. Once you leave the downtown  / Wanda area of Xinbei going west on Huanghe Road, you pass a number of factories. The first township you will pass through would Xuejia. A colleague of mine lives there.  If you keep going, you will pass more factories and open space. Eventually, the next township would be Luoxi 罗溪镇, and that’s near Changzhou’s airport.

In trying to get there, I had been riding for an hour and half on low speed. Still, I was getting concerned about the state of my battery. I really don’t know my true limitations on this bike, yet. So, I resolved to stop at the first thing that looked interesting.  In this case, “interesting” ended up being a little “desolate.”

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Uprooted trees needing to be replanted.

It was a cluster of places, actually. One of them was called Tibetan Spring Garden 藏春园.  It’s actually hard to figure out whether it’s abandoned or under construction.  I did see construction workers smoothing out concrete as well as other development. But there were facilities here that looked older, and most of them were locked.

For example, there was an island park with a moat around it. These moats also came with gazebos with places to sit and gaze at the — well, frankly — murky water. Some of those gazebos were topped with slightly rusted sculptures of birds. Each bridge to the island remained locked.  There were other places too, like a series of sculptures of important men. A long, winding concrete drainage-ditch looking canal had attracted the attention of one guy and his fishing pole. I had to wonder what he was fishing for. I imagined it had to be carp. They can live in very dirty water, after all.

The desolation carried on with other strange details. Here, I saw dismembered, chainsawed trees that had been uprooted and relocated from other parts of Changzhou. They were just trunks and truncated branches with no hint of  green. I also saw lots of divots in the ground where trees used to be. These were filled with rainwater and floating brown leaves.  Some trees were laying on their sides, with their roots bundled but exposed. They looked placed there for replanting, but nobody had gotten around to it yet.

Yet, you do see people here. Like me, people were riding bikes. Not many, but you did see locals walking around as if this were a public park. My colleague from Xuejia provided a bit of insight. She told me she originally came from this part of Changzhou, from Louxi. “There was a restaurant there. I don’t know if it moved away.” As for me, I didn’t know whether I saw deterioration or rejuvenation. Someday, I will go back and see.

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At least one person thinks this is a good fishing spot.