The Real Changzhou Beer

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This is a no-holds barred death match between two Changzhou beers.

 

If you would like to get a stern lecture, tell a drunk Australian that their country makes great beer. Then, cite Fosters — not Little Creatures — as an example of a great Aussie brew. They will inform you that 1) it’s not made in the Down Under, and 2) depending on where you buy a can, the rights are actually owned by Heineken or Miller. Fosters is Aussie in name only. There is a parallel that can be drawn to Changzhou, here.

Tianmu Lake Beer claims to be from Liyang City, which is part of greater Changzhou. The claim is that the beer itself is made from Tianmu’s water. So, while it’s made locally, it does have a claim to being a local beer. However, its actually owned Chongqing Brewery, which was is basically Carlsberg. The Danish brewer bought an ownership stake because it wanted entry into the rapidly growing Chinese beer market. So, Tianmu Lake Beer is NOT locally owned.

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Psst! Hey, you! That bottle of Tuborg? It’s brewed and bottled in China by the same company that owns Tianmu Lake Beer. So, it’s not actually an import. That’s why it is so easy to find. 

 

There is also nothing unique about Tianmu Lake Beer. It’s bland, it’s watery, and it tastes just like Snow and most other Chinese beers. It comes in with a 2.5% alcohol level, so if you actually drink a bunch of these, you would feel more bloated than drunk. That is likewise true for Snow and a lot of other Chinese beers. They tend to be flavorless. The truth is this: Changzhou recently got a better beer, and it has a greater claim at being truly local. 

Riguli is launching a line of craft beers. Right now, they offer an urban wheat beer, and they have IPA coming out very soon. So, what about this wheat beer? Any good? Well, you can easily say it’s 10,000 times better than Tianmu Lake. But then again, every craft beer made in China is better than Tianmu Lake.

The easiest comparison would be to Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale out of Chicago. Both that and Riguli’s 0519 Urban Wheat Beer have a smooth, easy-drinking taste while still maintaining a complex flavor profile. If I was forced to compare the two, Goose Island is still the better beer. Riguli is still very enjoyable. You can draw a very subtle connection between the two by way of labeling and branding. The numbers can be taken as a homage and a nod to Goose Island. In Chicago, 312 is a phone area code. In Changzhou, the area code on landlines would be 0519.

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Riguli 0519 at OK Koala in Xinbei. I don’t know if other bars are stocking this.

Both beers have another distinction. European wheat beers, especially German ones, have a very powerful taste. Some people, myself included, have developed an aversion to those wheat beers over time. As a flavor, I have found that people either like it or dislike it with no middle ground. Both Riguli and Goose Island does not taste that way, and both are proof that you can’t judge a beer on the word wheat alone.

Since Riguli is still in its launching phase, it does not have wide distribution. Personally, I tend to drink it while at OK Koala in Xinbei. They have a wide and international selection of craft beer. However, since this is China, the easiest way to buy Riguli is through their store on Taobao.com.

 

Silver Valley of Mingxin

Living in Wujin is not bad. You just happened to live in one of the most boring parts of Wujin.

— A friend and a very long term Changzhou expat.

Everytime I return to Wujin, I am reminded of how it is constantly changing and is actually beginning to look profoundly different from when I moved there. After two years, I decided to pack up and move to Xinbei. So, every time I go down there, I’m reminded of the above quote. I will not mention her name, but let’s just say it rhymes with Mikki Spaff. This is especially true when I go to my old stomping grounds of College Town.

When I moved there, a lot of storefronts around my vocational college were empty and devoid of life. Now, most of those shops have filled in. However, one big thing reminded me of how the area has been changing. This was a few days ago, before I sprained some ligaments in my foot (again). Consider this…

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I normally would not be celebrating the opening of yet another shopping center in Changzhou. Good lord, the city has enough already. Some of them have been abandoned and have laid mostly empty for years now. However, this one makes sense.

It’s at the intersection of Mingxin and Wuyi Roads in the College Town. This is where the B1 and B16 turn north and head towards down town. The name seems to be Silver Valley in English, and it had a bit of a soft opening. Besides a Pizza Hut, a supermarket, a cinema, and a few other shops, a lot of the stores here are empty. However, if the rest of the area is any indication, those shops will eventually fill in over time. Why? Think about this area for a moment.

There are six institutions of higher learning here. There’s my former employer, Changzhou University, and four others. When spring or fall semester is in swing, this place is crammed with thousands upon thousands of college students. You figure there would be more here to cater to them and their money. I have always argued that College Town has been under served in terms of development. Remember, I partly left out of boredom and needing a new challenge.

When I first moved to Changzhou, this shopping mall was a huge hole in the ground surrounded by a construction barricade. Three and a half years later, it seems to have undergone a soft opening after the construction has finished. However, there is something more particular to day to day living that this shopping mall brings to Mingxin.

It’s the supermarket. Now, anybody who has lived along Mingxin knows this sounds like a dumb statement. Before Silver Valley, the area already had four. What’s the difference of having a fifth?

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Easy answer. It carries things that the other four didn’t when I lived in the area. A bottle of western booze used to require a trip to RT Mart or Tesco. The same could be said for cheese, butter, cat food and a few other foreign items. Yeah, I know Wujin has Metro now, too. However, College Town is really the southern most part of the city before you start getting into all the industrial parks and the more rural areas of Wujin. Yeah, Metro has a lot of what somebody needs, but sometimes having the convenience of just going down the street and saving some time on some very basic items is nice comfort, too. That’s why having a shopping center here makes perfect sense.

Liyang’s Game of Thrones Styled Story

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Ancient Chinese history is filled with brutal court intrigues among generals, politicians, heads of state, fox spirits, and more. This is particularly true when you consider that, over the course of time, China has been splintered into several countries. That means, basically, that the Game of Thrones tales of double, triple, and quadruple crossing people, allies, and enemies can become easy to find. More regal courts means more opportunities for people betraying each other. Just look at the history of Chinese poets; the whole “I am in exile, drunk, and miss my home” is a common literary trope. Why? A lot of poets were also government officials that ran afoul of somebody and had to leave. It’s the story of Li Bai, and it’s the story of Su Dongpo, for example. 

The more somebody travels through China, the more they can see this if they start paying attention to local lore and legend. I realized this once in Liyang. While this place is not a district of Changzhou as a municipality, it is considered part of Changzhou as a prefecture. In short, it’s its own city, but it’s technically still part of CZ.

Over in Phoenix Park 凤凰公园 near Liyang’s urban center,a statue commemorates something called “The Gauze Washing Virgin.” The stone sculpture stands in the middle of a pond, and four large stone panels — with etched illustrations — serves as a backdrop. The story, according to a bilingual sign, can be paraphrased this way.

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A young woman is washing textiles in the river. Eventually, a man wanders into her life. He’s weak, he’s starving, and she saves him. She feeds him and shows him some hospitality. While doing so, she recognizes him as Wu Zixu 伍子胥.

This was a figure from the Chu Kingdom’s court during the Spring and Autumn Period. Chu was a larger country to the west of Liyang and Changzhou. On the run, Wu Zixu fled Chu and ended up in the Wu Kingdom. (To be noted: the Wu family name 伍 and the Wu kingdom 吳 are different WU characters in Pinyin. Also, by the way, unintended rhyming is hard to avoid when you are using Chinese names.) The state of Wu was comprised of areas that are currently associated with Suzhou, Wuxi, and Changzhou.

Anyhow, this young woman saves this guy’s life. Yet, she realizes that she now possesses a deadly secret. She knows who he is. More importantly, she likely realizes somebody is after him. According to the sign at Liyang’s Phoenix park, she picks up a big rock, throws herself into the river, and drowns to protect his identity.  If she dies, his secret dies with her.

 

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Wu Zixu, now in exile, goes to become an official in the Wu Kingdom’s court. He eventually prophesied the end of the Wu Kingdom due to treachery, but he still lost his life in the same type of Game of Thrones type of intrigue that caused him to flee the Chu kingdom in the first place. According to Wikipedia, he was asked to commit suicide, and before he did so, he told the then-king to gouge out his own eyes.

All of this story is just a small detail in a small park — in a town more known for eco tourism around Tianmu Lake and the Nanshan Bamboo Forest. However, it’s lore like this that actually gives town like Liyang true character.

 

 

Istanbul Cafeteria is NOT Istanbul Restaurant

Unfortunately, whether it is comments on this blog, Wechat messages, conversations at a bar, I have gotten this a lot over the past year or so:

I read a post you did about eating doner kebabs and Turkish food, and I tried to find the place. It doesn’t exist! Google Maps had me wandering all over Xinbei Central Park!

Google and Baidu Maps sometimes can’t be trusted. I have had a long history of looking for things those apps say exist but actually do not when you investigate further. However, to people relatively new to Changzhou and China in general, they may not realize about their cell phone maps. So, allow me to unpack the issue.

Istanbul Restaurant exists. I know this. I had lunch there, recently. It’s on Taihu Road 太湖路 in Xinbei. It’s walking distance from Wanda Plaza’s BRT station and is near the media tower. The exterior looks like this….

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Instanbul Cafeteria was a kebab stand this restaurant tried to open in Xinbei Central Park. Both shared the similar food items, but he shack location in Xinbei Central Park had a much more limited menu. For a number of reasons I do not know, Istanbul Cafeteria shut down and closed shop. That was more than a year ago. However, the shack is still in the park awaiting a new renter.

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However, it should be noted that Istanbul Restaurant and Istanbul Cafeteria are NOT the same thing. You can find the restaurant on the Chinese language Baidu Maps, but it’s not on English language Google Maps. However, Istanbul Cafeteria still appears on these maps when you search for the restaurant. I know, it can easily be confusing, but trust me, Turkish Food does exist in Changzhou, and it is worth finding.

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Photos of Changzhou Station’s Prior Lives

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Changzhou’s central station is not what it once was in bygone eras. I discovered this, recently, through a series of photos on display near the station, but in an easy to miss location if you are not hunting for them specifically.

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This is something I found while doing legwork on a different writing project. I had become intrigued with the city’s network of canals, as it is one of the oldest surviving landmarks still around from the city’s antiquity of more than a thousand years. During this bit of fieldwork, I found a threesome of small memorials dedicated to the train station itself. This is across the street from the south plaza.

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On wooden walkway next to the canal, there are three photos in glass cases. The appear to be laser etchings on sheets of brass-colored metal. These display windows are set into the staircases that lead down to the canal’s walkway. As one can see from the above photo, they do not photograph very well.

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The only way to get discernible details was to get my phone close to the glass to cut out as much glare and reflection as possible. Of course, it’s hard to reproduce the entire photo this way.  The above photo seems to be from circa 1907. Besides the crowds, the station itself seems rather modest and is only a building or two.

 

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The next shot shows the second incarnation from the late 1950’s and 1960’s. I do have to say, it is really hard to fact check these photos online. I had trouble finding the real photos these metal sheets are based off of.

 

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The third and final plaque suggests something more modern and geometric in its architecture. This would be in the 1990’s. However, as most of us who have traveled through Changzhou’s downtown station, it most certainly doesn’t look like this anymore.

Who knows what the train station will look like in the future. The south plaza — where some would get tickets to board the slow trains — is currently under renovation. Parts of the south plaza has been absolutely gutted to make way for something new. Who knows, maybe is 20 to 50 years, there will be a fourth installment into this pictorial history showing our current station as a relic of the past?