Some Urban Art in Zhonglou

As somebody who enjoys looking at art, there is a special place in my heart for graffiti — especially murals. It does have cultural resonance across urban America, but it’s especially the case in New York City, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. For example, Asbury Park (where I used to live before coming to China) definitely doesn’t feel like a city; it’s a beach town, but the ocean front features a fair share graffiti. A lot of it has remained over the years and is just part of Asbury Park’s individual character.

This is a phenomenon not necessarily seen in China as much, and that is most definitely the case for Changzhou. There is one part of the city, though, that has had it’s fair share of it over the years. It’s the undersides of the bridges on both sides of Jaingsu University of Technology in Zhonglou.

My most recent visit to reminded me of a fundamental truth regarding urban street art, but I’ll get to that point after a few pictures. These are a selection and is by no way a comprehensive compiling.

The greatest compliment you can pay a graffiti artist is to take pictures of their work. Urban street art, especially in the USA, can be a highly temporary thing. For example, the pieces currently beneath the two canal bridges near JUT are largely not the same as when I first found these two spots years ago. First of all, graffiti is against the law — the artist is vandalizing somebody else’s property. So, colorful tags and murals can often disappear when authorities whitewash and paint over them. But that’s not the only threat. Often, the biggest nuisance to artists are actually other artists.

In this particular culture, deliberately painting over somebody else’s work is considered the highest sign of disrespect. Doing stuff like this in urban America can lead to actual fights and other crime — never mind that the art itself as actually illegal.

Somebody painted the black mask on the original above and ruined it. Trust me, I know what this piece used to look like. Thankfully, I do have pictures of this area from a few years ago in my photo archive. The travesty of the above makes me actually want to go back and find those pics to see what was. But here is another truth: years from now, this area will likely mutate again and look different again or may even have all the pieces removed. Such is the nature of this type of art.

These are NOT Lanzhou Shaved Noodles

Some staple vegetables and fruits easily have cross-cultural appeal. To that end, consider the tomato. It can effortlessly show up in multiple cuisines. For example, I grew up eating noodles in a tomato-based soup as part of my mother’s Italian-American home cooking. That was minestrone. It is not by coincidence, then, that one of my favorite dishes in China would be 刀削面 daoxiaomian — a reliable staple at Lanzhou noodle joints across the Middle Kingdom. It’s simple: if there are tomatoes and noodles involved, I am more than likely going to like the result. This was confirmed for me recently while dining in the basement of Global Harbour in Xinbei. I was having lunch at the above pictured 啊利茄汁面 aliqiezhimian. It’s a place that specializes in noodles and vegetables served in a tomato broth.

On their menu, the above is 茄汁牛肉面 qiezhiniuroumian. No, a soup lover might like at this and ponder, well, how is that different than Lanzhou shaved noodles (daoxiaomian)? And that would be a legitimate question. For some tomato soup is tomato soup is tomato soup! Who cares? Well, let me show you the math here.

Let’s start with the most important part: the noodle. Lanzhou shaved noodles are thicker, denser, and more chewy. These are a little bit lighter without going to the thinness of spaghetti, stretched noodles, or vermicelli / angel hair. On to the next component. . .

The beef is different. Lanzhou shaved noodles usually employs it as paper thin slices, lean slices. If you go to a Lanzhou joint that has the hongshourou variety, that’s just a type of beef that’s usually been braised in a soy sauce or something like it. The meat is still in some sliced variety most time. This place in Global Harbour has it cubed. The cut of beef has the same consistency of something that might have been braised, but the cubed orientation makes you think you’re actually getting more chewable meat. I have always felt that Lanzhou places are usually skimpy.

Lanzhou shaved noodles have a larger variety of vegetables. Besides some errant meng bean spouts and bok choy, the main vegetable here are mushrooms. (And to nerds that want to argue that mushrooms are type of fungus and not a vegetable, I will counter with this question: Who cares? Technically you are right, but who really cares about your hair splitting?)

For some reason I have yet to figure out, mushrooms and meat are perfect companions. They beautifully compliment each other. I think it has something to do with the texture of both and how they can soak in a good marinade. If you want more vegetables with tomato broth and noodles, Lanzhou shaved noodles may be better for you. I do love a plethora of vegetables floating in my soup, but I just enjoyed the boiled-down simplicity of this of this a lot. I am not saying one is better than the other; I’m just explaining why I liked this and would have it for lunch again sometime during a future revisit to Global Harbour. Yeah, and about that shopping mall.

There is no map location I can drop for it. If you enter the characters 啊利茄汁面 into Baidu Maps, you will get the above, deserted store front in Wujin’s college town as the sole representative. The Global Harbour location does not even come up, so it seems that this is the only iteration of this franchise in Changzhou — if you go by Baidu Maps results. Rest assured, it’s in the “B District” of that absurdly large mall, and it’s on the basement level nearest to Global Harbour’s subway station. While I highly enjoyed eating this, I also have to stress that I would only go here for lunch if I am at this plaza for other reasons. It’s solid, but it will not take your breath away, culinarily speaking.

Changzhou Station Over a Century

If you think about it technically, the Changzhou Railway Station in Tianning has a history that’s longer than the People’s Republic of China. Planning for the Shanghai-Nanjing line actually dates back to the end of the Qing Dynasty. This was a time when China was opening to the west and trying to catch in terms of industrialization. According to the Baidu version of Wikipedia, this planning began in 1898. The relatively small, first iteration of the station was built in 1907, and it had two platforms. Once the Qing fell, Chinese founding father Sun Zhongshan actually did a whistle stop to wave at cheering crowds as he made his way to Nanjing. There’s a memorial hall in Changzhou dedicated to this. I thought it might be interesting to see a pictorial evolution over the years. Some of these are photos of photos I took at the Changzhou Museum, and some of them, I took personally — specifically the last three.

My First Beef Wellington

Ignorant American: British food is absolutely and totally gut wrenching disgusting!

Average Brit: Well then, it sounds like you’ve never had a proper beef wellington!

I would imagine that this snippet of conversation could have happened in High Wycombe, West Ruislip, Upper Heyford, or the greater Oxford area, but then again, that’s the part of the United Kingdom I know the most and have a personal connection to. That’s were I lived. In this instance, the Ignorant American is likely a armed service member or one of their dependents. It’s likely the 1980’s and they just ate at a Wimpy burger and are quite sad and on tearful crying bit that it’s not McDonalds or Burger King. (Trust me, I had to deal with these spoiled countrymen while spending part of my youth there and, later, my university vacation life in Buckinghamshire.) American corporate fast food really didn’t start invading Europe until the 1990s.

The Wimpy bar is coming back… and could soon be in a high street near you

To the average non-Brit, some UK food can look disgusting. Beans on toast? I once showed a picture of that to a Chinese friend, and they retorted, “Is that vomit on toast?” Yes, the optics are not optimal, but I would never turn away a plate of beans on toast — especially if there’s a bit of cheese sprinkled on top. If we are talking about the optics of so something not being optimal, there is always eel pie.

I have never tried this. I don’t think I could, either. In all my years in China, I sampled a number of things — usually in hotpot — that I would say I normally wouldn’t eat in America. Organ meat would be chief among that. For me, the above is roughly about the same has Zhou Hei Ya duck — it has eyes, and I don’t like eating things that stare at me.

Getting back to the idea of a proper beef wellington, I realized recently that in all the years I lived in or visited the United Kingdom, I have never tried it. Not once. And here is something else crazy: I sampled it for the first time in Changzhou. For a while, I thought this was something that you could maybe dine on in Shanghai or Nanjing, but not here. Well, apparently you can.

Houde Steak is located in the new Cultural Plaza in Xinbei. This whole area is in a greater cluster that also includes the stadium, the city government, the theater, and the museum. Houde is not your typical Chinese steak place that sells a slab of inedible rubber on a sizzling iron plate. No, Houde serves good cuts of meat that’s been minimally plated with like one carrot, one tine bit of broccoli, and one cube of potato.

So, it was here that I lost my beef wellington virginity. The below cost about 198 RMB on the menu. Obviously, this is one that I cut in half.

The theory of a wellington goes as follows. A chef sears all the sides of cut of beef. Then, that gets rolled in pate. Afterwards, it’s re-rolled in Parma ham and subsequently wrapped in pastry dough. It goes into the oven and gets baked. Of course, I’m likely oversimplifying everything. I can testify, though, that it’s juicy and delicious when done right, and Houde has seem to have done this correctly. But then again, Houde’s wellingtons (I’ve tried it more than once) are the only ones I’ve actually had. So, I don’t know if it’s proper or not. I do have the rest of my life to thoroughly and scientifically try other ones and see for myself. I’m assuming spending the rest of your life questing after the most proper wellington would not be a bad endeavor.

As four Houde, despite the minimal plating, there are other issues to consider here. I could not find a location for this place on Baidu Maps, so I’m unable to post that. Just go to the basement level of the Changzhou Cultural Plaza and you’ll eventually find it. Also, the ordering system involves scanning a table QR Code, and annoyingly enough, the menu itself is totally in Chinese with no English. You have to go off the pictures, or you can feed screenshots into a translation app like I did. All that being said, I’d go back again, and I have several times.