For the Love of Spare Ribs

Simple foods can be simple comforts. This is especially true when you are a foreigner living in China. I have been here four years now, and I still haven’t begun to try all the different dishes and snacks to be had in the Middle Kingdom. Recently, I found a new-to-me lunch item that is now in my standard rotation of cheap eats in Changzhou.

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Grill stands seem to be very common. Two of the more prominent characters in the above picture are 排骨páigǔ — ribs. However, these places offer a variety of meat-on-bone options.

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So, the selections usually include pig’s feet, shanks, and other things. I can honestly say, I am not a fan of pig’s feet. Or eating feet in general. Thankfully, one of those aforementioned options includes a type of chicken wing I have never tried before.

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This is 鸡翅包饭 jīchì bāofàn, or basically a stuffed chicken wing. I think it might have originated in Hunan, but I see this everywhere. It’s a boneless chicken wing that’s been stuffed with glutinous rice. At this particular shop, it ran about 10 RMB for one. I enjoyed it, but keep in mind anytime I encounter street food, I always say 不辣 (bù là — not spicy)  when they offer to season my food. Originally, I thought the idea of stuffing a chicken wing was slightly weird, but I remembered chicken corden bleu is a thing in western culture. That’s essentially putting cheese and ham into a breaded chicken breast. Oh, and I love me some chicken corden bleu! So, I should be game for trying something tangentially like it. While I found this snack interesting, it just doesn’t compare to what these grill stands really have to offer.

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Pork ribs. Pure and simple. Now, these are not the same as ribs you would find in the American south — especially a place like North Carolina. That would be smoky, sweet, and tangy. These are also not the famed ribs you would find in Wuxi, either. Those would just be sweet in taste without any attempt at smoky or tangy flavors. Both American BBQ ribs and Wuxi ones are sauced, and these are not. It’s just simple spare ribs on a grill going for 25 RMB for four bones. So, where can you find simple and yummy pork ribs?

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Everywhere. The above screenshot is a Baidu Maps search for 桥头排骨 qiáotóu páigǔ,and that is just one chain that does a flaming grill with various meats. There are others. The one I have been going regularly to isn’t even part of that chain, and it’s at the Xinbei Wanda. I seen these rib stands in other cities, too. And that’s a relief, really, I have always been looking for excuses to not to give McDonald’s or Burger King my money when I need to eat and am on the go. These places are also great one you don’t know Chinese all that well. The meat is on display. You don’t have to say anything. Just point at what you want grilled, and it will be grilled.

Waiting for Rabbits in Wujin

Wisdom proverbs and idioms are huge part of Chinese culture. Parents often quote them to children as a way of motivation, and sometimes people say these expressions under their breath to reassure themselves before taking action. Inevitably, when a person is trying to learn to understand and appreciate Chinese culture, coming to know these expressions is also important. These idioms don’t just show up in conversation or in books, but they are often the subject matter of public art — especially sculpture in public parks.

A person can easily find this in Wujin. The Yancheng area is not only home to an amusement park, a zoo, and a bunch of buildings made to look like the China of old, but there is also a very big parking lot there.  Near that part of Yancheng, there are a few statues depicting some famous Chinese expressions. So, here is one of them.

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守株待兔

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This means to “wait by a stump for rabbits.” Basically, a lazy farmer one day watches a blind bunny run into a tree stump and break its neck. The farmer considers himself lucky, and he takes the dead animal home turns it to a very filling dinner. Instead of going back to work the next day and plowing his field, he decides to wait for another rabbit to come by and run into the stump. For some reason, he think that just sitting and waiting will bring him free and easy dietary protein. In the meantime, his field is not plowed, and it eventually does not grow any crops. This idiom can be taken as a chide against think people can get by without doing any hard work.

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This particular idiom is thousands of years old and goes back to the Warring States period of Chinese history. Han Fei 韓非 wrote an essay entitled “The Five Vermin.”

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In this polemic, he spoke out against the things that he thought led to bad governance.  Han Fei’s writing belongs to a “legalist” tradition. His work has been said to influence Qin Shihuang as the first emperor of a unified China as well as several more rulers throughout Chinese history.

Manhattan Gets a Central Park

Noticing things that were not there before is a common part of city life, and this is especially true when that city is in China. Construction and development is a nonstop business here. Sometimes, shopping centers are built, and they they lay mostly empty for while the storefronts are slow to fill in. This is the case with the Risesun Manhattan Plaza in Xinbei. Currently, it’s most known for having a statue of Marilyn Monroe that exposes her panties.

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Actually, you have to walk behind the statue to see Monroe’s underwear.

Construction barricades are still in the area near this plaza, but a bunch of them recently came down and revealed a new park. This is on a plot of land adjacent to the shopping center. Whether it’s coincidence or product of urban planning, it bares the name of Central Park. Remember, the plaza has “Manhattan” in the name, and that borough of New York City is home to the greatest city park in America. So, does this new Central Park in Xinbei resemble the one in the Big Apple? Um, no. Not even close.

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This tract of land is home to lot of colorful planters with stone mosaics.

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Since this place is relatively new, there are patches of dirt that have yet to be covered with sod or seeded with grass. A lot of the trees that have been planted still have wooden supports to keep them upright. And, it seems one building is still under construction.

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While new, the place still seems unfinished and is still a work in progress. China gets some criticism for its relentless building of shopping center and apartment complexes. In Changzhou, at least, it’s always nice to know that open green space is always part of that urban planning. The new Central Park next to Risesun Manhattan Plaza is an example of that.

Max & Salad Lives!

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A year or two back, it seemed like salad related places were sprouting up across Changzhou. It was likely a fad, and like all trends, the sudden spread of salad shops came to an end. For a while, it seemed like Max and Salad was one of the casualties. It used to be located in the basement of downtown’s Injoy Plaza. Then, one day, there was a lock on the door. It’s a typical restaurant closure — one day it was serving patrons, and the next it wasn’t.

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A few weeks ago, I discovered that it hadn’t really gone away. It was simply relocating to a smaller, cheaper space on the exterior of Laimeng. The difference between this place and, let’s say, Eco or Evergreen, is that this is a true salad bar where you can pick your ingredients.

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The set up is the same as before. You choose what you want by grabbing tokens that correspond with ingredients on display. These tokens have internal RFID chips inside. Once you have made your selections, you hand your pile of tokens to the cashier. She runs them over a scanner, and an order for your own, special, unique salad is generated. Obviously, you pay after that. The other places have set menus. They are good, but they do not allow you to indulge in whatever whims you may have in created something personalized. The other thing is this: Evergreen is a locally owned, and Max and Salad is a chain with locations in other Chinese cities.  Either way, some vegetarians and vegans might be glad to know one of their dining options didn’t exactly just go away for good.

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As stated earlier, this is on the exterior of Laimeng and on a side street that is very close to Nandajie. It’s not that far from where the old Base Bar used to be, and the Band of Brothers DVD shop is across the street.

The 59 to Mengcheng

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Riding the 59 public bus reminded me that Xinbei is way much larger than what your average expat may think. This is a route that begins at the downtown train station and terminates in Mengcheng. This village is so northwestern in Changzhou, the city boundary with Yangzhong is actually not that far away. It’s actually closer than Xinbei Wanda Plaza would be.

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While going north on Jinling, this line eventually turns west onto Hanjiang and eventually ends up on Huanghe Road for a long stretch. In the process, it passes through Xuejia and the many, many factories between that town and Luoxi — where Changzhou’s airport is located. However, it must be noted that the 59 is not really an effective means of transportation to the local airport, as it turns north before getting near enough to the terminal. Because of the heavy industrial presence along Huanghe Road, this bus can also become absolutely crammed with factory / plant commuters during rush hour.

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So, what exactly is in Mengcheng? On this visit, I didn’t find much. It’s essentially small town China on the far fringe of Changzhou.

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There is a very tiny public park with a semi decrepit building.

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There appeared to be one Christian church and two temples in the area. However, one of them looked very closed to the public, and the other I passed on the bus. It was too late in the day to hop off and take a look. The final ride today was at 6:15pm, and I didn’t want to get stranded in a place where getting a cab would be difficult.

From a foreigner’s perspective, the only real value of the 59 is if that person has business in Xuejia. This is a smaller urban center to the west of the greater Wanda / Dinosaur Park area. I know this because I once consulted with a language center near Xuejia’s KFC.

Recent Snowmen

In a thoroughly unscientific poll of one German guy, it hasn’t snowed this badly in Changzhou in at least ten years. For those of us who have lived in this city for awhile, it goes without saying. Some years, we don’t get any snow at all, and if we do, it’s just a dusting. In this regard, I liken Changzhou to a place like North Carolina. It’s so rare, that when it does happen, people freak out a little — unlike people in Maine, Michigan, or New Jersey, where blizzards of a least one meter of accumulation do occur. One of the more interesting things I found this snowstorm is this: people took to the streets and expressed their creativity in crafting snowmen. One could argue they rarely had the chance to do so over the past couple of years. Here are some snowmen I have run across over the past few days. Oh, and the creepiest one is at the end.

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