All posts by richristow

Strange, Infantile, and Vulgar in Liyang

If one is easily offended by Euro-style statue nudity, read no further.

Liyang sometimes feels like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is the majestic bamboo sea, the pristine Tianmahu Lake, and the delicious fish head soup that is famous throughout China. That would be the Dr. Jekyll aspect of Changzhou’s county-level city. That is what is shown to you on postcards and media blitzes meant to pump tourism into the region. The Mr. Hyde part — that would be darker aspect, for those not versed in the Robert Louis Stevenson classic — would be Liyang’s downtown. Sure, a friend of mine suggested being smitten by this thought: It has at least two Starbucks! But so does Jintan — and that district has large parks and cultural attractions near their downtown. Like in walking distance. This was brought into focus for me based upon a recent visit.

Above is a picture of Pingling Plaza. It’s one of the older shopping plazas in Liyang. A friend of mine who actually lives in town did correctly point out to me that the city now has shiny brand new malls by way of a Wanda and a Wuyue. However, those were not next to my hotel, and I remembered that Pingling had a Thai restaurant that I wanted to try last time I was in town. Only, Pingling Plaza is open for business in name only.

Roughly about 90% of the plaza is being gutted and remodeled. Most of the place is inaccessible. I quickly gave up on my search for the aforementioned Thai restaurant. I did try to see what else was open. But, I was met with this.

Nothing says “go away” more than blocked off escalator. But, you know what? I was undeterred, and there was a working elevator behind me. I ascended! This is what I saw.

So, let’s see? What we have here looks like a training center, a Chinese-style pizza shop, and lot of noise made by hammers, saws, and jackhammers. The limited access and all the noise means that these businesses are not getting a lot of casual foot traffic. I mean, the only way to get here is to take the elevator — or the stairs. How do they stay in business, besides hardcore dedicated customers? But, this is not the weirdest thing about Pingling Plaza. Dejected by the realization that I wasn’t going to get to try the Thai restaurant I saw last time I was in town, I descended the floors and left. Out into the rain. I walked around Pingling Plaza and noticed this.

So, somebody with an infantile imagination took a black sharpie and decided to add something to the anatomy of these statues. The statues themselves are actually quite common place in this end of China. Greek and Romanesque figures are pretty normal outside spas and restaurants vying for chic vibe. Of course, I accuse the vandalizer of being infantile, but then again I am writing about this because I thought it rose to New Jersey levels of silly weirdness. Who is truly being infantile here, the graffiti guy with the magic marker or the guy that decides he needs to take a photo of it? The answer is likely both.

This whole blog post sounds like I am being harsh and critical of Liyang. Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not? Despite any negative connotations this may bring up, I am looking forward to my next visit there. Liyang is technically Changzhou, but it has a local culture of it’s own. It is, after all, an independent county-level city and not a district in Changzhou the municipality. That whole trip consisted of being rained out and stuck mostly in a pre-booked hotel. So, maybe the next time I will see the good the downtown has to offer.

Not Japanese Street

Living on Hanjiang Road is such a privilege, and over the years I have rented an apartment there, it has easily become my favorite part of Xinbei and Changzhou in general. Want good sushi? Walk across the street! Want Indian food? Walk across the street! If you like Japanese food, living in this part of Xinbei is pretty much being spoiled. I realized this recently after I had to leave my apartment for a few nights due to my landlord needing to fix my ceiling. I took a room in the Haiyang Hotel across the street from Wanda. Now without access to a kitchen, I decided to walk across the street and grab some dinner.

I decided to try out one of the Japanese restaurants there. There are two to five eateries dedicated to this cuisine on Wanda’s pedestrain street. Randomly, I walked into one seeking a simple beef curry. To be fair, over time, I had tried some of the other shops, but they tended to be more ramen focused. The place I strolled into was an expansive menu place that you would easily find on Hanjiang Road.

But before that, I had some chicken meatballs.

And a diced up lamb chop.

And then, the aforementioned curry I had been craving. So, what did I think? Honestly, I was underwhelmed to the point where I realized that I was taking living on Japanese Street for granted. The portions were stingy. For a place that does both noodles and raw fish, there was not a buffet / all you can eat option. Ordering small portions ala carte can lead to hefty tabs to be paid off. Everything I ate had tastier options on Japanese Street. That’s not to say the food was bad — it did scratch a Japanese itch. I just realized that the places on Hanjiang Road were merely better.

Love in an Odd Place

August is the season of Qixi. Every year, this day is the traditional Chinese Valentines — whereas the day in February is a cultural import. Then, there are others; a friend of mine likes to complain there are many “Valentines” that were created by Chinese women conspiring to get more chocolate, flowers, and attention every year. I don’t know about that. He is married to a Chinese woman, and I am not. And instead of actually having a date on Qixi, I decided to take a bus to Jintan and walk to a small lake. What can I say? I’m sort of an emo dude sometimes. Besides, a nice bit of a water is always nice to look at when you want to contemplate things and stuff.

Yeah, but I didn’t get to contemplate things and stuff. Most of my trips to Changzhou’s westernmost district have been to wander around the downtown area and the parks next to it. This time, I decided to go south of the bus station and the district’s Wuyue Plaza. This whole area is either under construction, or the land is open and awaiting development. When I finally got to Qianzi Ecological Park, I noticed a smaller, sillier park within it.

Themed parks or sections of a park is not anything really new in this end of China. However, this one was gaudy in an aged-and-weathered looking way.

Then, I perhaps saw what has got to be the silliest thing in Jintan. Then, I perhaps saw what has got to be the silliest thing in Jintan. A public bathroom with loved inspired architecture. The theme did not carry into the bathroom. I know. because I personally inspected and used said restroom. Then, I perhaps saw what has got to be the silliest thing in Jintan.

A public bathroom with love-inspired architecture. I checked — the men’s room, of course — to see if the theme carried on with the internal decor. It didn’t.

For the Love of LeBron and Tacos

So, what does tacos, Changzhou, and LeBron James have in common?

If you asked me this question yesterday, I would have been totally clueless and perplexed. I might have even shot you a rather pissed off look. I may have ripped some hair out while seething. However, now I know the answer. What do they have in common? There’s a dude in Wujin who apparently loves eating tacos, and LeBron James is his hero.

He has a shop, Taco James, on Wujin Wanda’s pedestrian street that is not that far from Shane English. All the decor is related to either Kobe or the Lakers. In Changzhou, the rumors of potential tacos tends to spread rapidly, and I was surprised I had never heard of this place. Turns out, the owner told me that he opened only a month ago.

As I said, Wujin Wanda Plaza walking street, but hidden behind an escalator. And do I see guacamole on that stand-up billboard?

So, enough of my jibber-jabber. Are the tacos any good? Before I answer that, I am going to say what I said the last time I posted about tacos: the debate over what is or isn’t an authentic taco bores me to death, as I am only concerned whether or not what I am eating tastes good.

I tried two types. One beef and one chicken. The toppings are not set on the menu. There’s a separate menu of “sauces” to pick from, and this allows you to customize. So, I chose salsa and sour cream — yes, actual sour cream.

The ground beef and chicken both seemed seasoned satisfactorily. Now, somebody might look at the above photo and wonder if a flour tortilla around a corn one might be overkill. Actually, it isn’t. Actually, it’s quite brilliant. Hard-shell tacos sometimes tend to crumble and fall apart while you are eating them. The outer soft tortilla keeps everything together should the corn shell shatter while you’re munching.

Here we have chips and salsa. The salsa is legit. If there is one complaint that I had on this surprise, first, accidental visit, it is this.

Yes, a cartoonish LeBron James eating a taco is the mascot / logo. That’s not my complaint. That is actually quite cute and charming.

The menu has absolutely no English, so you have to use the camera option on your translation app. The above is fairly simple: beef, chicken, steak, and shrimp — in that descending order. The separate sauce menu got a little mangled on my phone. Plus, the owner has poor English skills. Talking to him requires a little bit of patience and using a voice translator on your phone. And don’t get me wrong. Despite the language barrier, he seems like a very cool guy, so in a very friendly way, I did suggest that if he was interested selling foreign food to foreigners, a bilingual menu would be a very good idea. Regardless of that, I am looking forward to going back. Are these the best tacos in the world? No. Of course not. But Changzhou is a veritable taco desert, and Taco James satisfactorily scratches this food itch in my book. That’s alright by me.

Wujin’s Turkish Place

Wujin in 2020 is so not the Wujin of 2014 and 15. That’s when I lived down there, and your western food options basically consisted of Monkey King, Jagerwirt, or Chocolates. Kaffa opened, and that gave a bit of scope to a part of the city were “foreign” mostly just meant Japanese or Korean cuisine. Back then, a reason to go to Xinbei was actually quite salivating, because that’s where Changzhou’s one and only Turkish eatery existed. Going up north meant you could actually have hummus and a doner kebab at Istanbul Restaurant. Years ago, I used to dream up excuses to come to Xinbei just eat Turkish food. Well, times do change.

Eventually, I moved to Xinbei, and I actively have taken Istanbul Restaurant for granted. Recently, Wujin got a brand new Turkish eatery called Pistachio. And in an ironic turn, I actually dreamed up an excuse to go to Wujin just so I could go there and try it out. So, how did it go?

Well, here is a feta cheese plate with a wrinkled olive floating in a dipping sauce. That is meant to sound more descriptive than sassy. Also, if you consider that feta is one of the rarer cheeses in Changzhou, this is actually appealing. One of the only places I’ve actually found real feta has been in Metro, and that was in a jar of oil with olives and spices.

Pistachio has most of the traditional dipping sauces. The hummus was particularly good. But, the biggest test of a Turkish place usually comes down to the doner kebab meat.

I went for a beef and cheese fold over, and it was pretty good. However, this brings up an obvious question. How does it compare to Istanbul Restaurant in Xinbei? I would rate the two as pretty much the same. They’re both good and one is not better than other. However, it should be noted this opinion comes after only an initial visit and trying a main dish that is on both menus. All I know is that next time I am in Wujin, I am going to be highly tempted to return to Pistachio.

A Mysterious Letter L

Years ago, I created this blog when I bought an ebike. The idea was to wander around Changzhou and figure out what stuff is and then write about it. So, this literally entails sometimes saying, “I’m going to see what is down this street,” and then cruising down said street. Lots of times nothing comes of it. I did this recently on the above road. It seemed weird to me because much of this particular road has walls on both sides, and it zigzags through undeveloped land.

Near one or two small housing complexes, there are these vegetables on the side of the road. Microfarming like this is more common than what one might think. Typically, this occurs in areas of a lower socioeconomic status. Oddly enough, there are signs everywhere telling people not to plant vegetables. The soil is being treated.

That makes sense to a degree, because once I hit this bridge over a canal, the walls on the sides of the road stopped, and small industrial parks started popping up. And then, that’s when I found a tiny park, and this weird bit of public sculpture.

Abstract art is pretty common when it comes to public sculpture in this town. This had me scratching my head because it’s shaped like a big L. Towards the top, there’s what looks like a red revolutionary flag with another L in yellow. Using Pleco on my phone, I looked up the Chinese. Those characters are 腾飞,and that basically means soar, fly swiftly upwards. A secondary meaning has “make rapid advance; develop rapidly, take off.” The back of the pedestal has nothing but the date this was erected — 15 years ago. So, I have absolutely no clue as to what this is supposed to be. I just know I haven’t seen anything else like it in Changzhou.

Yummy Nanyang Curry

“I used to think curry was disgusting until I did business in Singapore. My eyes were opened, then.”

— One of my Chinese friends with the English name of Andy

This is actually something I have heard often from many of my Chinese friends, but it comes in certain variations. Yes, Singapore knows how to do a good curry. So does Thailand, India, and Japan. Which country is better at it is a matter of taste, and it becomes an unsolvable question. It’s like asking an American who makes better pizza; New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey Folk will argue to the bitter end that Chicago deep dish sucks and is not real pizza. (And to my friends that love deep dish, I am sorry, it is disgusting, and we will never agree on the matter. I apologize in advance! Can we talk about something else?) Chicago folks will respond in kind. Californians need not enter the discussion, because the Chicago people plus the Mid-Atlantic east coasters will team up and scream, “Why put raw tuna on a pizza? That shit’s supposed to be on rice and then dipped into soy sauce with wasabi!” And then a pointless shouting match ensues.

Andy’s attitude is emblematic of a Chinese attitude I have seen towards curry. It’s Asian-foreign food, and we’re not very good at it. Why should I care? In most cases, I would agree. A lot of the Chinese attempts at curry I have tried have turned out bland. This is especially true when you compare it to aforementioned curries from other Asian countries. Recently, though, I have found a place in downtown Changzhou that is well worth a visit. A friend of mine with a YouTube channel had been personally recommending it for a long time. “My god,” he said, “That place is an institution. It’s been around forever.” I came here in 2014, and my YouTuber pal has been around longer than me. So, I trust him without question. However, it was only recently that I took him at his word and gave the place a try.

Nanyang Curry is located on the third floor of Nandajie. That particular pedestrian shopping street has been suffering for years, now. A lot of the stores there are shuttered. Roughly about half of this commercial plaza appears closed. Yet, even in that environment, this place draws a lunchtime and dinner rush that has people sitting on stools and waiting to get a table. There are other eateries on the third floor that simply does not get the same traffic. So, how’s the food?

As of this writing, I have only tried the Japanese curry options. This was mostly to have a point of comparison — I live on Japanese Street in Xinbei, and I go to the restaurants there quite often. While Japanese curry is not the same as Indian when it comes to spice levels, there is a kick to every spoonful. Nanyang doesn’t have that. It also doesn’t come with a fried egg draped over a ball of white rice. So, maybe it’s not exactly authentic? But, honestly, I don’t care. The curry here is awesome, even if it is mild by Japanese standards. Maybe this relates to fusion elements? The “authentic” curries I have had on Japanese street have been skimpy when it comes to vegetables, and Nanyang’s dishes are crammed with potatoes and carrots. Call me an American as much as you want, but if there is a vegetable I can’t get enough of, it’s potatoes!

The real signature here is the fried pork. Breading and frying a cutlet of meat and pairing it with rice and curry is nothing new. Nanyang has done this the best that I have ever tried in Changzhou. The more “authentic” places on Hanjiang Road (Japanese Street) feature tougher, chewier cuts. Plus, they have been breaded with panko crumbs before being cooked. That’s understandable. Panko is a go-to norm in Japanese cooking. Nanyang’s pork cutlet tastes more German schnitzel — the breading is different, and the consistency of the meat feels like it has been tenderized. This particular menu item is something I actually now crave while downtown for business or pleasure.

As before mentioned, Nanyang Curry is on the third floor of Nandajie. The menu is 100% Chinese text without pictures. So, you have to be able to read a menu to dine here. You could get around that by using Baidu Translate on your phone or inviting a Chinese freind to come with you. Once you get beyond the language barrier, this place is a “must visit.”

Remembering Li Gongpu

On July 11th, 1946, Li Gongpu 李公朴 left a movie theater in Kunming with his wife. Agents of the nationalist Kuomintang government shot and stabbed him. He died in the hospital the next day. His wife was also killed during the assassination attempt. Days later on July 15, Li’s friend Wen Yiduo delivered an intense eulogy at a memorial service in Li’s honor, and later that day, Wen was also killed.

This story tends to be well known in Chinese history, but not much of it is actually written about in English. Typing in “Li Gongpu” into Google doesn’t lead to a lot, but if you type in the Chinese characters for his name 李公朴, you can find some rudimentary information on the Chinese version of Wikipedia that can be fed into a machine translator.

So, who was this guy? He was one of the early leaders of the Chinese Democratic League, who alongside the Chinese Communist Party, agitated against the nationalist government. Like many other figures of the time period, Li went abroad for his education. In particular, he studied politics at the then-named Reed University (now Reed College) in the state of Oregon, USA. During his time in America, he also spent some time working in an Alaskan fish cannery and wrote about what he saw there.

Originally, he came from Jiangsu Province. He was born in Huaian in 1902. Eventually, his family moved to Wujin. His former residence is still there, and it stands on a street that his given name: 公朴璐 Gongpu Road. Down the street a little, there is also an elementary school named in his honor. For years, his former residence remained closed. At the same time, a memorial hall had also been erected, but every time I had tried to visit it, that had been closed. Recently, I had zipped by the place on my eBike and noticed the door was open. I availed myself of the opportunity.

The place is relatively tiny, and all of the signage is in Chinese. However, a little bit of time with Baidu Translate on your phone can fix that — especially since it can be argued that there is more information here that what can be found in English on the Internet.

This little memorial all is off of Changwu Road in Wujin. Unlike the halls for Qu Qiubai or Zhang Tailai, it is relatively small and easy to miss. That being said, the life and death of Li Gongpu is a part that makes up the greater history of Changzhou.

Xue Bao Craft Beer Takeaway

In recent months — even before COVID-19 had disrupted everybody’s lives — it seemed like Xinbei was getting a steady trickle of new places that serve beer. Not all of them were technically bars. This is definitely the case with Xue Bao 雪宝. Two very good friends of mine found the place, and they preceded to berate me on Wechat for not answering my phone — all while sampling the beer the place had to offer. Turns out, teaching a class was not a good excuse on my part. Eventually, I did check the place out.

Xue Bao brews three types of craft beer. This includes 沃斯乐黄啤酒 which basically tastes like a basic lager or pilsner. There is also 艾丁格白啤酒,which is a white beer. Both names sound like words from a western language that have been transliterated. 艾丁格 sounds an awful lot like Erdinger, a more than hundred year old brand of German wiessbeir. The third option sounds more decidedly Chinese: 桂花小麦,aka osmanthus wheat. Osmanthus flowers are part of a regional tradition in this end of China. Suzhou, for example, famously makes wine out of it.

While my two rowdy friends — an Aussie and an Albertan Canadian — were enjoying their drinks while seated on plastic chairs, Xue Bao is basically a takeout business. Each of the three options are sold by the liter and in bags with handles. As for the beer itself, it is okay. It’s neither awesome nor disgusting — it’s okay. The brew itself is relatively low in carbonation, and out of the three flavors, the osmanthus wheat has the most unique identity. Of course, it would be slightly unfair to compare Xue Bao to western micro brewing — say, Zaphler’s over in Zhonglou and Canal 5. After all, craft beer is still a relatively new phenomenon in a country that has an extremely long tradition of making baijiu and yellow wine. Xue Bao, as my Albertan friend opined, “get’s the job done for what it actually is.”

Xue Bao is located on Daduhe Road 大度河路 in Xinbei. This is the road that is directly south of Hehai University’s campus. It is also in an easy walking distance from Wanda Plaza.

Near Cuizhu Station

Cuizhu Station 翠竹站 is one stop north of the Changzhou railway station on Line 1. The characters 翠竹 refers to “emerald green bamboo” — according to the Pleco Dictionary app on my phone. If you look around the station, it’s kind of hard to see why this subway stop has this name.

Well, there are thatches of bamboo here and there around the subway station, but none of them currently live up to the descriptor “emerald green.” That implies something lush, and the bamboo here is not. This would be in a tiny green space. Despite the moniker, this would definitely not be a reason to get off the subway here. Actually, there would be two more practical reasons.

Changzhou has three Auchan supermarkets, and Cuizhu is home to the Tianning one. The other two can be found in Wujin and Zhonglou. Truth be told, Auchan really isn’t what it was a few years ago. Back then, I would have rated it a firm second behind Metro. Times change, and the selection quality has gone downhill. However, I’m speaking more from the perspective of a lunch meat and cheese buyer. G-Super in the basement of Zhonglou Wuyue has easily taken Auchan’s spot as one of Metro’s credible competitors when it comes to imported foreign goods. That’s not to say Auchan has gone useless over the years; I have just come to rely on it a lot less for my personal shopping needs. Again speaking personally, there is one other reason why I have taken the subway to Cuizhu in the past.

Nike has a factory outlet here. For most of the years I have lived in Changzhou, I have done a lot of my shoe shopping at Decathlon. This isn’t because I necessarily like their shoes. I am a man with large feet, and finding footwear that fit me in a retail setting is next to impossible in the end of China. Besides, those shoes were always incredibly cheap, but they tended to last about two to three months before the soles started developing cracks.

Not only are Nike shoes more comfortable than Decathlon’s, the factory store here has competitive prices. Along the back wall, one can find clearance shelves and prices that do not make you feel like you are being gouged over a signature western brand.

If one shifts their attention back to the metro stop, however, one other thing comes to mind. There are currently only two entries and exits. One is obviously on the side of the street Auchan and the Nike store call home. The other is next to a walled-off bit of undeveloped land. While nothing is currently there now, it would be easy to assume the same wouldn’t be true 10 years from now.