A Skatepark in Xinbei?

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Recently, a small skate park has popped up in the Found City shopping plaza across the street from Xinbei Wanda. This is actually in the inner part of the plaza, and is currently in front of the equally new Ellen’s Bar. It’s fairly simple with a few obstacles like two rails, a launch ramp, and a few others. There are two quarter pipes at each end, too.

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I’m not sure exactly what is going on, here. Could this be linked to an upcoming event? A few months ago, Vans did a skateboarding demo in Wuxi. Regardless, in the time this little skate spot has been in Xinbei, I haven’t actually seen anybody riding it. I would have tried, as I do have a board. However, I’m a middle aged guy that easily prone to foot injuries these days. Some of the signage seems to suggest it’s legit and lays out terms of use.

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There are only two sports I tend to be a fan of: professional wrestling and skateboarding. So, I hope the above place is legit. However, I have to speak with a little bit of skepticism. Up till now, Changzhou has had two big skate spots. Over in Qingfeng Park, there is a X-Games styled place that even has a half pipe. Yet, the obstacles are rusted, it’s unsafe to ride, and it’s closed to the public. Down in Wujin, there is a concrete set of banks set up like a snake run. A few years ago, I had actually spent an afternoon riding it. This is in the park next to the Holiday Inn near the Wujin governmental complex. Last time I was there, layers of dirt had made that place unusable.

The other issue, really, is Foundcity. From time to time, things pop up there, remain unused, and then vanish. I remember an attempt to set up a outdoor gocart track, for example. So, as I said. Count me as skeptical. As somebody who appreciates skating, I really want this place to be used and still in Xinbei within a couple of months. However, I will not be surprised if this vanishes, too.

How to Get to the Shanghai Foreign Languages Book Store

I really dislike it when people tell me to just buy what I need off of Taobao or DangDang. Then again, I have been known to be a very stubborn and grumpy dude sometimes — and this is coming from a guy who, back in New Jersey, actually shouted at a bunch of kids and told them to get off my lawn. However, getting back to the my point, shopping and browsing a physical retail space can be enjoyable for some people. This is especially true when it comes to buying books. Perhaps I am a bit of a literature nerd. Okay. Fine. Point taken. Still, there is a sense of adventure when you walk into a store and you let a book unexpectedly find you.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of places to do that in Changzhou, currently. What you can find are mostly just educational texts in Xinhua Bookstore branch locations. Changzhou foreign folk have been told the top level of Banshan, downtown, will eventually have have big non-Chinese selection of texts. However, that still has not come to pass.  While this city is growing, there are still some things that you still have to go to Nanjing, Suzhou, or Shanghai if you do not want to use the Internet.

Books in English are definitely one of those commodities. Thus far, there is one particular bookstore in Shanghai that I have frequented. Sure, there might be others, but this one has become a habit for its wide selection and a relatively easy location. It’s in The Bund, and I often mix my Shanghai book buying with equally enjoyable culinary investigations that involve sandwiches.  Whatever your reason for a Shanghai day trip, Here is how to get the foreign languages book store.

Get from Changzhou to East Nanjing Road. 

There are two ways of going about this. It depends on which train station you are travelling from. If you are going to Shanghai via Changzhou North, you will end up at Hongqiao. Two subway lines reach East Nanjing Road from here. Trust me, Line 2 is the quickest. The trains from downtown Changzhou will take you to Shanghai’s central station. There, you will have to take Line 1 to People’s Square and switch to Line 2.

Find Exit #3 At East Nanjing’s Metro Station

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The bookstore is only like three blocks or so from East Nanjing Road, and there are many routes one could actually take. I am suggesting this one because it involves the least amount of turns. Plus, I hate walking on East Nanjing’s Pedestrian Street. There are too many swindlers, panhandlers, grifters, and pimps there that either want to sell me a watch or “a massage with extra romance!”

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Exit 3 takes you through part of the basement of Hongyi, which is a shopping center. Once you are up and out of the station, the pedestrian street will be on your right. A smaller street will be on your left. Walk down the street. Do not turn afterwards. Stay on this street.

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Find Fuzhou Road 福州路

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As I said, you should be walking a straight line. You haven’t turned. You should pass through any intersection with Hankou Road 汉口路 on your way to Fuzhou Road.

Turn Right and Find Your Destination

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Once you find Fuzhou Road, turn right. You will know when you are in the general vicinity. There are other book stores around here. One is dedicated to art and photography. Most of the stuff sold there is in Chinese with slick colorful pictures, but they do sell beautiful Taschen volumes. If you are into art, this is one of the biggest international art book publishers. If you see this particular establishment, you have actually passed the foreign languages book store, but not by far. Your target destination is pictured below.

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If All Else Fails, Show A Cab Driver This

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A Mysterious Chinese Fragrant Pot

A common mistake some foreigners make is thinking their Chinese friends are all experts when it comes to their native cuisine. I will admit that I have been guilty of that in the past. There are many errors to this way of thinking. For example, which Chinese food? It’s a huge country with many different regional cuisines. Once you factor in local delicacies, you can live a lifetime of trying a new dish everyday and still not have gotten to everything China has to offer an adventuresome eater.

In the end, some dishes are harder to research than others — even in Chinese. The restaurant 筋牛坐筋头巴脑香锅米饭 Jīn niú zuò Jīn tóu bā nǎo xiāng guō mǐfàn has been very difficult to figure out. Let’s start with the name, as half of it is easy to miss-translate into Chinglish. Following the rule of translate the easy stuff and leave the specifics in Chinese, I would call it Jin Tou Ba Fragrant Pot and Rice — or just Jin Tou Ba as a short form. The official sign outside the place says “Ribs, Head, and Brain.” I don’t feel comfortable saying that, so for me, it will be just Jin Tou Ba going forward. The other option would be the place’s actual Chinese name, Jin Niu Zuo.

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The frustrating thing is I really like the food here, but none of the Chinese people I ask know anything about this restaurant or the style of food. That’s weird, because every time I go here, the place is busy. I even asked my students at Hohai, and even they didn’t know. Hohai University is national institution and draws students from all over China. I often joke that while I am their English teacher, they are my Chinese cultural instructors. To use an extremely Chinese expression, it’s a win-win situation. Not one of my students said, “Oh, I know Jin Tou Ba!”

Okay, so enough of the personal mystery. What is the food actually like? The closest comparisons would be malatang 麻辣烫 and malaxiangguo 麻辣香锅. Even that comparison is not entirely accurate. Malatang is a soup, and Malaxiangguo I think is a spicy stir fry. The point of comparison with all three involves self service.

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Jin Tou Ba has a similar set up, but it results in a beef stew. A diner walks in, grabs a bowl, tongs, and selects from meat, vegetables, and dumplings. Then, they must choose from a series of pots of braised meat. A lot of those choices are organ meat like tripe, but the first pot is essentially braised beef. The woman behind the counter weighs your selection, gives you the price, and then asks your preferred spiciness level. I tend choose weakest option above “not spicy,” but you can get Sichuan levels of heat if that is desired.

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The quality of the food is very good. Jin Tou Ba has become a reliable and convenient lunch or supper option for me, as of late. The braised beef has always been tender and not over cooked and chewy. All of that is served with a simple side of white rice. However, I like that they have a hot pot condiment station. I always prefer mixing minced garlic and scallions into sesame seed paste (think, tahini).

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Changzhou currently has two of these places. One is on the pedestrian street at Xinbei Wanda Plaza. The other is in the basement of Injoy Plaza downtown. My average meal here has averaged somewhere between 40 to 50 RMB, but I have always left full and satisfied.

I still haven’t figured out what this food actually is. I have now sort of given up on figuring this puzzle out. It comes more from a memory of my mother. She had been experimenting in the kitchen, and I had been poking her creation tentatively with a fork. “Stop analyzing your food, Rich, and eat.” Sometimes, I just need to do exactly that.

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Wujin’s Hell Razed

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I have made an effort to track down many of Changzhou’s Taoist and Buddhist places of worship. This comes not only from a point of curiosity, but also a genuine interest to understand Chinese culture. I have been wowed by some of the intricate iconography. I have also on occasion found myself transfixed by truly gruesome and brutal depictions of the Chinese underworld. They are very similar in both Taoism and Buddhism.

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I have seen the Buddhist version of hell at Wanfo Temple in northern Xinbei — up by the Yangtze and one of the huge industrial ports. The Taoist version was in western Wujin, out where the former Qishuyan district used to be. Of the two, the Taoist one at Bailong Temple felt more creepy. The above picture is of a dimly lit narrow corridor.  Grotesque statues depicting demons torturing the damned were behind very dusty glass.

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However, if anybody ever wants to see this, they are currently out of luck.

 

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This desolate hallway used to be built into the Western-facing wall of Bailong Temple. However, I recently returned there with a friend. We were collaborating on a magazine article. I noticed a profound difference in my surroundings while I was there.

 

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Sections of Bailong Temple have been demolished. The above picture is related to the picture of the statue in the pool. In that picture, you see a white wall. This is actually where that white wall used to be, now. That desolate hall showcasing a Taoist gallery of horrors is now gone, too.

 

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In many respects, this is actually not surprising. Nearly all temples I have been to in Changzhou have had some sort of renovation and construction in progress. It’s just that a huge part of Bailong has been razed, and parts of the temple have been blocked off. The same could be said for the nearby Dalin temple and the area in general. There is likely a very long term development plan in place to build this area as tourist destination. I can’t cite any proof. I can just say that I have seen, with my own eyes, A LOT of construction and going on here over the past year or so.