The Truth About Lishes

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“It’s like there is a comma implied in there, somewhere,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, once. “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink.”

You know, stick in a comma to imply a connection where one really, really shouldn’t exist. Of course, the idea of a drink made out of beef and cheese is beyond revolting. The above photo was one of the sillier instances of Chinglish I have seen in Changzhou. And, since I have a long work history as a college English teacher, I can’t help myself. I have to take pictures, which sometimes makes some of my Chinese friends a little nervous. After all, they are proud and patriotic. They can rest assured of a few things.

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Beef Cheese Drink is now gone for good. This sign was at the front of Future City shopping center and near the Zhonglou Injoy Plaza. For a time, the sign lingered, but it became even more of non-sequitor. The shop below briefly became a small ice cream parlor — which just heightened the absurdity of the marquee saying Beef Cheese Drink. Why sell ice cream and keep the meat reference from the previous lease holder? I was reminded recently, however, that the Chinese are not the only people to garble the English language. Americans have plenty of experience doing it in their own country.

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The sign says NOT SOAR DID

The above photo was taken in a Walmart stock room in Freehold, New Jersey. What the guy meant was “not sorted.” It was the yearly inventory, and the pallet of boxes was a hodge podge of things yet to be sifted, organized, and counted. The thing about that retail chain is that they will hire anybody with a pulse and a lack of a criminal record. That includes angry, bitter, and extremely disgruntled college writing teachers desperately trying to make money to pay a mortgage they were seriously behind on (me!). In a very multicultural state like New Jersey, that also means they employ a number of recently and not-so-recently arrived immigrants. Some of them can barely speak or write English. That includes people from the Middle East and Latin America, but also people from Eastern Europe, Russia, and many other places.

It’s easy to make the mistake of plugging English vocab into your native grammar and get nonsense. English speaking expats likely do that in their early studies of Chinese. I know of this language problem from when I worked as a writing tutor; I had to help ESL students find and correct patterns of error in their essays.

The truth is that Chinglish is just one of many lishes in the world. Some of them, like Singaporean Singlish, actually evolve into something that sound like languages / dialects of their own. But, over in the USA, and New Jersey in particular, I have seen and heard Spanglish (Spanish), Pinglish (Polish), Russlish (Russian), and more.  I did not create these words. The speakers of those languages have used them to describe their own facility with English. Many of them are self aware enough to laugh at their own mistakes. Because, you know, “Not only coffee, beef cheese drink” does sound a bit funny.

Wujin’s Secret Recipe is Partially MIA

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Some people loved the place, and some people didn’t care for the more fusion-oriented western dishes. However, Secret Recipe in Wujin served a special purpose. While the district is rapidly growing now and is heading on a good trajectory, expat dining options in the greater Hutang area were limited. In 2014, for example, you had Monkey King, Chocolate’s, Grandma’s Nook, and Jagerwirt. And, you had Secret Recipe in the Injoy Mall. That was it. I particularly liked the Malaysian dishes like Nasi Lamak. I also really enjoyed their curries, too.

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NASI LAMAK!!!

Recently, I was in Wujin and at the Injoy Mall. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Secret Recipe had gone missing. It looks like it’s being replaced with a BOY fashion store in progress. I lived in Wujin for two years, and their Injoy location was always a reliable option when I grew tired of Chinese or Chinese college cafeteria food. In a strange way, it feels like I am losing an old friend. However, to be honest, each time I ate there, I was one of very few butts in seats, and rent on the bottom floor of Injoy must be costly. It makes sense if this location closed because of a lack of traffic.

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A construction barrier where Secret Recipe’s shop front used to be.

But, that’s the weird thing. It’s not completely closed. They still have a display case selling their cakes. Right now, it’s like half of Wujin’s Secret Recipe disappeared. And honestly, I never ate their cakes. I went there for the Malaysian food and curry, and, at times, the “Irish” lamb shank with mashed potatoes and gravy. Irish people might go there and laugh at  its lack of Irishness, but I still enjoyed eating that dish. Though, I also know some people liked the desserts. A friend and former colleague who still lives in Wujin certainly did.

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Secret Recipe had three locations in Changzhou: Wujin, Tianning, and Xinbei. Only the Xinbei one in the Lafu supermarket remains fully intact, now. And, honestly, that one doesn’t have many “bums in chairs” either. I am existentially afraid for this restaurant on its own behalf. So, yeah, in a very silly way, I feel like I have lost a friend. But, if there has anything the last year of my life has taught me, it’s this: when you lose a close friend for whatever bullshit reason, try to make new ones. Your life will be better for it. Wujin Injoy’s Malaysian place has gone missing, but Injoy has a Thai restaurant, now. So, you can still go to that mall and still get curry. So, imagine me saying this with all the swagger I can muster: Hello, you!  You look nice! Beautiful, actually! Do you have a papaya salad?

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Pictures as Addresses

Petersburg! I still have the addresses
Where I can call on the speech of the dead.

–Osip Mandelstam

The above lines come from a poem entitled Leningrad, and it can be taken as an elegy. The dark imagery is suggesting that Mandelstam is critical of the Soviet legacy he finds in a city he deeply loved. It’s also evident, that as somebody else has pointed out, that the yearning voice is crying out for St. Petersburg, the older name, and the one that was restored in the 1990s. It’s certainly not pining away for Leningrad.

Yet, Mandelstam’s words here actually reminds me of Changzhou for a very specific reason. Generally, the older you get, the more you can summon the voices of the dead. By that, I don’t mean by holding a seance or doing hocus pocus black magic. Ghosts are memories of things, people, and places that have gone away for good. Simply having memories can be ways of summoning the dead. I was reminded of Mendelstam recently while going through my photo archive. I found these three pictures…

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This was a largely abandoned food street near Wenhaugong in downtown Changzhou. It was behind a large yellow building that had a hotel and was home to a number of businesses — an English language training center for kids being one of them. While these pictures certainly look bleak, this area was once a busy food court called 大排档 Dà páidàng. This area is where I tried duck blood soup and few other “new to me” Chinese dishes that were delicious. That building / food court now looks like this…

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You can usually tell when a building is slated for demolition. I used to go inside this building all the time. A friend of mine runs the earlier mentioned language training center that used to be on the sixth floor. Three years ago, the insides of the place used to be almost fancy. Then, it’s like people stopped caring. Lights would not be replaced. Renovations stopped.  Peeling wall paper wouldn’t be replaced. TV equipment would be stripped out, and so on and so on. They likely knew this place was slated for demolition.

In a sense, it makes sense that this building would be torn down. After all, across the street is where a new, modern subway station is being constructed. This hub will be the central station as it’s going to be the interchange of the future two lines. It seems logical that there would be new, and modern buildings around what will become a new city center with the focus shifting away from Nandajie. Yet, it’s not the decrepit building that reminded me of Mandelstam’s lines. It’s the very concept of old photos. In a way, they can be a sort of example of the “addresses” he writes of.

A Non-Salad Vegetarian Dining Option

 

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Back in America, there are vegetarian restaurants that can duplicate the taste and texture of most meat dishes by using soy, tempeh, and other bean-based protein staples. So, as you can imagine, there were and still are such things as faux sausages, fake cold cuts, imitation chicken, and so on. One restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, even went so far as to create a faux lobster that you had to break open with a hammer — you know, to replicate the experience of eating a real one. Even some of the most hardcore vegans in that city, back then, thought it was the height of absurdity.

I was reminded of this bit of silliness while eating lunch with a friend in Xinbei. This place is completely vegetarian friendly, and that attitude is reflected in the place’s English name / slogan. It’s not very subtle: “Be A Vegetarian.” The Chinese name is 丰系人良.This restaurant’s existence may come as a pleasant surprise to those who are still mourning the loss of Salad Stuff in the Xinbei media tower complex. It has usually been thought that being a vegetarian in Changzhou is to be faced with limited options. This place, however, can be seen as a welcome alternative to those tiring of eating salads all the time.

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Some of their set meals feature the sort of faux meat you would find in vegetarian cafes in America.

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And others are just straight up veggie dishes, like the above mushroom medley. Some of the food here is even vegan friendly. There is also something for a vegetarian’s meat eating dining partner.

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The yellow curry beef here is good in a light, sweet sort of way. The other thing here, now, involves the trendiness that is Wechat.

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There is no paper menu. You have to scan a QR code to get to one on Wechat.

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Obviously, this means there are pictures of the food. Plus, if you wanted to translate the Chinese, you could simply take a screenshot and feed it into Baidu Translate on your phone.  This set up allows you to pay with your Wechat wallet.

With good quality food, extremely reasonable prices, and lots of convenience, this place is worth multiple visits. It can be found on Daduhe Road after it intersects with Huishan Road going eastwards. Essentially, its on a east-west street parallel with the southern part of Hohai University, and it’s not too far of a walk from Xinbei Wanda Plaza.

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Elegant Nanjing Embroidery

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Silk has long since been intertwined into Chinese culture. There is the functional use of it in high end couture and fashion, and then there is the use of it to produce cultural objects and art. Such is the case with embroidery — which like many other things in China, has a rich history going back more than a thousand years.

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Like any art or craft, Chinese embroidery can be separated into different categories. One of which is native to Nanjing. It is often refered to as Nanjing Yunjin, with the Chinese characters and pinyin being 南京云锦 Nánjīng yúnjǐn. The characters 云锦 refers to clouds. As they are a common motif on this style of brocade, but the style can be used to dragons, religious imagery, and much more. These designs are stitched by hand and can take many years to complete. The attention to detail is that exquisite. Also, since gold and silver lining is involved, the resulting brocades become extremely expensive and highly valuable.

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The Wujin Museum in the Yancheng complex has a temporary exhibit of such brocades that runs to the end of March. There, a visitor can see first hand such fine attention to detail.

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Polish Nut Wafers and Few Other Things

 

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As previously noted, the Import shop on Xinbei’s Chaohu Road is currently the home of Russian chocolate, Polish green apple yogurt, and American Spam in Korean packaging. On a return visit, I found three more unique things on the shelves there. Let’s start with the Polish item that had me excited.

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No, not the granola. As it turns out, Emall on Beidajie Road downtown has that, as it does with more flavors of the Polish yogurt Import stocks. The item next to is type of wafle orzechowe, a Polish person told me after I showed them this picture. Basically, it’s a nut wafer. However, it doesn’t seem to be a brand in Poland itself. However, since the packaging itself is in English and not Polish, this friend and I agreed that it’s likely something made specifically to export — much like Australia and Fosters beer. I couldn’t resist and bought a bag. So, you can say I’ve now eaten my first Polish nut wafer in Changzhou.

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Unlike some other Polish wafer snacks, this has the wafer acting as a chocolate coated shell. The interior is a hazelnut creme. So far, I have only eaten about three of this. I have been a good boy. I didn’t shove all of them into my face all at once. There were only two bags, so the store may only have one left. And, as it goes with these types of blog posts, I can guarantee that products such as these were on the shelf when I visited. If they go out of stock, there is no assurance that the import store in question will reorder them. So, besides this. What are two other things at Import that I missed last time?

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There are multiple flavors of Bulgarian fruit juice. I saw two separate brands, but after looking closely at the packaging, I realized that both came from the same company headquartered in Sofia. The third thing I found wasn’t from Eastern Europe at all, but rather from Vietnam.

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Unlike the Polish nut wafers, I was not as enthused to try these and actually didn’t buy any. Durian has a complex flavor. Some absolutely love it, and others detest the fruit, its taste, and it’s smell. I am somewhere in the middle. I don’t hate it, but I’m not willing to put forth the effort to acquire a taste for it. Bahn pia is a Vietnamese specialty pastry that can be compared to a moon cake.  So, this could be summed up as “Durian flavored Vietnamese moon cake.”

Import is located, as stated earlier, on Chaohu Road in Xinbei. That’s the street on the north side of Wanda. The store itself is a quick walk west from Wanda.

 

 

Baota Temple in Jintan

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Baota Temple is a Buddhist attraction in Changzhou’s western Jintan District. It is located near a revolutionary martyr’s cemetery and Gulongshan Park.

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There are a number of the usual attractions to be seen — altars and dedicated spaces to kneel and pray or to light candles and burn incense.  One of the more specialized spaces is an intricate hall of luohans.

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The hundreds of statues here are both colorful and detailed. While Buddhist temples usually have some depictions of luohans, this one is more of the epic scale that can found at Dalin in eastern Changzhou. That temple however, has Buddhist saints with more exaggerated features — literally, the arms and legs are much longer than at Jintan’s Baota.

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One of the more unique things here are the little statues of kids in monk’s garb.

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And, of course, if a visitor climbs to the top of the pagoda, they can get a good panorama of Jintan and the surrounding parks. Since this temple is in an out of the way location from the intercity bus station, it is best to pair a visit hear to Gulongshan Park, which is hilly and a good place to take a woodland walk. The day I visited, nobody at Baota charged an admission fee.