A Salad Bar Downtown

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Some people have told me that salad bars are all over Changzhou, and recently, armed with Baidu Maps and the characters 沙拉 shālāI started to hunt down these other salad places. Turns out, many of them are not salad bars in the real sense — they are small little holes in the wall that pretty much cater to Meituan and other Chinese food delivery apps. These are not places where the ingredients are on full display and a patron can pick what they want.

So far, I’ve found and enjoyed Salad Stuff in Xinbei, but recently, I found a new actual salad bar. While I don’t think the place is as good as Salad Stuff, there are a few things going for it. First, Green Salad is in a really good location — Yangliu Alley just off of Yanling Road in Changzhou’s city center. The Zhonglou Injoy Mall and Bar Street are not that far away. The selection of both meat and vegetables is very good. You can choose between chicken, duck, pepper beef, steak, seafood, and more. They have the standard set of veggies and dressings to choose from. While this is a salad bar, they also make money through delivery apps. A friend used to order lunch from here without many complaints.

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While that is well and nice, there are a few things that are drawbacks here. My biggest problem with the place is their printed ordering menu. When you come in, you are supposed to grab it and tick off your ingredient choices. This menu is riddled with English language errors that are utterly confusing. For example, “Mixed Greens” is beneath the Chinese characters for “cucumber.” That’s just one example of many. Plus, something oddly named “screw powder” is also on the menu. Another issue is pricing. If you pick “tomato” you are only rewarded with a few meager slices, which seems unfair seeing that you could buy a whole tomato for what you are being charged.

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This place is fairly new, and it has been open for about two months now. So, while there is some room for improvement, it’s good to have another option — especially if you are downtown and don’t have the time to go to the salad bar in Xinbei.

The Voice from the Grave

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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.

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Western Beer Beef Steak

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Western Beer Beef Steak is a chain of restaurants with several locations throughout Changzhou and other cities. Some are more schmaltzy than others. Male staff wear cowboy hats, and the walls are adorned with pictures of rugged American cowboys — with thick mustaches. It’s weird to just go into these places to laugh at the strange ambiance.

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As for the food, it’s passable. It’s your standard set of cliched western food: steaks, pork chops, and more. Still, it’s still just “not quite.” For example, last time I ate there, I was served lamb chops on sizzling metal plate. Those lamb chops came with a sunny-side-up egg on the side with a few potatoes. The sides I got were also not so impressive. I had mashed potatoes with meat in them, and not to mention potato wedges with chili, sausage, and cheese on them.

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Loaded mashed potatoes is something I haven’t seen in Changzhou all that often with the exception of the now-dead Belahaus, but messy french fries are. Daniel’s, for one, serves what is called “Chilli Cheese Chips” in Xinbei; it’s very good. I dare say it’s currently the best in Changzhou when it comes to that particular dish. Chocolate’s German Bar, down in Wujin, also has something similar. At one point, Burger King had them. Belahaus, when they were in business, had them, too.

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There are two selling points to this restaurant. First, it’s relatively cheap. While the steaks are not the type you will not find in a high end restaurant, you have to realize that you are not paying high end prices. Also, Western Beer Beef Steak falls into a category like Pizza Hut. While it’s not a great restaurant, it’s an easy to find chain, and it’s a decent place to eat if you are in a place you do not know, and therefore do not have a lot of dining options.

The Truth About the Qingfeng Skatepark

img_20160925_165831Changzhou has a skatepark, and it looks like something BMX riders and skaters would ride in the X Games. It has transitions, flat banks, and rails. It even has a mini half. It can be found in Qingfeng Park in Zhonglou. The park in general is accessible from the city center via a doubledecker bus.

Sounds great, right? Before anybody grabs a skateboard and runs out there, there’s something one should know. The whole thing is useless and unusable. First, the skatepark is fenced in, and access is restricted. Even if they let you in, the ramps and banks are unsafe to ride. Patches of rust heavily dot almost every surface. So, it’s basically a useless piece of urban blight now. The Qingfeng Park manager has also treated it as a place to store scrap metal.

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Return to Headless Buddha Alley

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Where the Ukraine Meets Scotland and Latvia

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G-Super is a new high-end supermarket in the Zhonglou’s Injoy Mall. It’s in the basement, and they offer a variety of internationally imported items. While there are a variety of unique things in this store, three things stood out the last time I went there.

First, a friend pointed me to something curiously branded as “haggis flavored” potato chips. Haggis is a Scottish delicacy where spices, ground organ meat, and other ingredients are encased into a sheep’s stomach before boiling it. To some, it sounds revolting, and I used to swear I would never even try haggis. However, truth be told, I have eaten much weirder things in China, now. The Mackie’s of Scotland chips I had really didn’t have that strong of a flavor to them. The chips themselves were lightly dusted with the haggis-flavored seasoning.

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These chips were just a side to the main course of the dinner I just ate. G-Super also sells Amberfish, a Latvian brand of canned and jarred fish. Essentially, I had a tin of smoked sprats. These are tiny fish that are larger than anchovies but smaller than most sardines. Obviously, the heads were removed before the fish were packed into the can. However, the tails were still on. That’s fine, because the tails are edible. I started eating these straight from the can with crackers. Eventually, I switched to a fork, and before I knew it, they were all gone. Quite delicious. They were much more tasty than the haggis chips. While Amberfish is a unique find, this product is not exclusive to G-Super. At least one other, smaller import shop carries their products.

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To wash this all down, I had a carton of Galicia — a Ukrainian brand of fruit juice. My selection blended strawberry and apple juice together. I picked this up not only because I was thirsty, but out of linguistic curiosity. At first, I thought Galicia was a Russian brand. Besides the name, all the lettering looked like Cyrillic. However, when you have friends and acquaintances from Eastern Europe, you learn pretty quickly that many of your assumptions about parts of the world are actually wrong. The Ukraine also uses Cyrillic, but their alphabet includes the letter “i” and Russian does not. Recently, I also learned that Belorussian also has a letter “i.”

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Language issues aside, these are not the only three unique things G-Super has to offer. Since this is in downtown Changzhou and an imported goods store, you can expect the prices to be a little high. The best way to get to this super market is to go through the Injoy entrance next to Haagen Dazs, take a right, and find the escalator going down.

 

Historical Attractions to Come

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Much of Changzhou’s history and heritage is an intellectual one. For more than a thousand years, this city has produced scholars who did well taking the grueling imperial exams. Even more, there have been luminaries from other parts of China who have passed through Changzhou — the poet Su Dongpo, for example. Many of these people lived in the same part of the city, too.

Qingguo Lane is a long, old alleyway connecting Jinling and Heping roads in downtown part of Tianning. It used to be a time saving shortcut when walking. Interestingly enough, there were historical plaques on the walls in Chinese and in English explaining what things were and who lived there. That was about the extent of it, however. None of the former residences of linguists like Zhao Yuanren or Zhou Youguang were open to the public, for example. Zhou helped create Pinyin, by the way. It would make sense to have the place open as a tourist attraction.

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And that’s what seems to be going on with Qingguo Lane. Access to this alley has be blocked off for a long time, now. Construction and renovation has been ongoing. For a time, I couldn’t quite figure out what exactly was going on there. Then, one day, I took a stroll on the opposite side of the canal Qingguo is adjacent to. I wasn’t able to see much except some of the more decrepit structures have been rebuilt. I did catch a glimpse through the window of one former residence though. I saw a statue of what I suspect is Zhou Youguang. This strengthens and bolsters my suspicions that the alleyway is being turned into a real historical attraction. So, this is definitely something new. Only, I haven’t been able to figure out when the expected completion date will be.

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Introducing Real Jiangnan

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There are two magazines about China in English that you can find around Changzhou. One is City Weekend. It covers Shanghai, and you can usually find it on the magazine racks at Starbucks. The other is Open Magazine. This one you can usually find at hotels and western bars and restaurants. The focus of that one is Suzhou, but in recent months, they have broadened their editorial focus to include Changzhou and Wuxi. I know this, recently, because I have agreed to write an ongoing column for them.

So, my monthly pages in Open will be called “Real Jiangnan.” For those who do not know, Jiangnan is a region of China that consists of parts of three different provinces. Changzhou, Wuxi, and Suzhou are all in the Jiangnan region. There will be a slight difference, though. Magazine articles and blog posts are not the same thing. Typically, the content on this blog ranges between 300 to 500 words. Things written for Real Jiangnan will be much longer, because the reading experiences between print and internet are much different. Also, I have agreed to not post any of those Real Jiangnan essays here. They are exclusively at Open. So, if anybody is curious, seek out a copy. They are free at their points of distribution.

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These Were Not Autons

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1744737
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1744737

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mala Tang vs. Mala Xiang Guo

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“See, this is mala tang.” I pointed to the characters. At the time, my friend and I were hungry and we were on the third floor of the shopping center next to the clock tower where Nandajie intersects with Yanling Road in downtown Changzhou. We both were hungry, and we thought we were about to enter an pick-your-own-ingredients spicy soup shop. We went in, and it wasn’t that. We got bowls where our vegetables had been fried.

As it turns out, my mistake is a common one for Chinese language newbies. 麻辣烫 are the characters for málà tàng. 麻辣香锅 are the characters for málà xiāng guō. 麻辣 málà means “hot and numbing.” 烫 tàng is soup. 香锅 xiāng guō is “fragrant pot,” I think. As for the cuisine, they are very similar. You pick your ingredients, and you hand them to the cashier. They weigh your selections, charge you a price, and then they hand it to a cook. It’s the cooking process that is different.

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So, enough about the Chinese language, right? Was the food any good? I sort of liked it, but my friend didn’t and started picking out bits of red pepper, hunks of garlic, and other spices. She even wondered if the frying base liquid had meat broth in it. My friend also had an excellent point about the restaurant itself. Some of the spoons were not clean. As for the staff, they were using the same tongs for meat and vegetables. If you a are a vegetarian, this is a huge concern. The staff were also in the habit of setting the dirty bottoms of steel bowls on top of the ingredients. One staff member didn’t exactly have a good attention to cleanliness. For example, when a quail’s egg was accidentally dropped, she would either throw it into your bowl or back into the ingredient’s bowl. Those dropped bits of food hardly ever went into the trash. Since it was my first time with this type of Chinese food, I found myself intrigued, but I wouldn’t try it at that third floor eatery at Nandajie again. Actually, I would want to find a higher quality establishment, first.

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