Category Archives: Shopping

A Bit of Russia, Poland, Korea, and America in Changzhou

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In America, Spam is a bargain basement canned hog meat that only extremely poor people eat. The thought of eating it is so unpalatable the word got borrowed by computer programmers for junk email, pointless texts, and useless forum messages posts. Why? Both those and the real Spam were essentially unwanted items.

Think of it this way. If you gave a girl a bouquet of roses and a gift basket of Spam on Valentines Day, she would sniff the flowers and blush. Then, she would look at the Spam tins and become confused. Then, she would like become angry at start throwing the metal cans at your face and head — all while screaming “I hate you! Please die!” She would have rather had gourmet Belgian chocolates and not American mystery meat.

However, opinions about Spam are not the same outside the USA. If you such a gift to a South Korean, they would be touched and honored. They would not try to bludgeon you to death with said Spam tins. Why? Spam is a common holiday gift South Korea. South Koreans love this pork product more passionately than Americans. This mystery meat has a special history in this country. Quick synopsis: it has everything to do with the Korean War. The American military supported the south. As part of that cultural exchange, the US was introduced to taekwondo. South Korea was introduced to Spam. So much so, local housekeepers on American military installations would try to steal it when sneaking around pantries.

Two paragraphs into this blog post, and somebody might say, “Interesting. Really. But what does this have to do with Changzhou?” I found a place that actually sells Spam.

 

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This is obviously being imported with a Korean sense of mind, not an American one. The fonts on the labels are in both English and Korean. This was not one of the only “Scarce in Changzhou” thing I saw here. There was also …

 

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Green apple flavored yogurt from Poland. This is only the second place I have seen this brand. The other location wasn’t that far away, and it was in a small shop part of Xinbei Wanda Plaza.  And honestly, this shop was the only place I have ever seen…

 

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Russian chocolate. A very famous brand, I was told. And that was by an Eastern European who was not Russian.

So, where is this place? Please allow me to be circular and repost the first photo, again.

 

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This is in Xinbei. Behind Wanda Plaza, and to the west. There is Chaohu Road that separates Wanda from the other shopping center across the street. If you follow that for like two minutes, you will see this shop. It has no English name. But, at least, you see the word “Import” in English.

Three Comfort Foods at G-Super

Being a vegetarian or a vegan is challenging in Changzhou, but so is being a diabetic. Starch is huge part of Chinese cuisine and as easy to find as the bowl of rice that comes with a meal. Sugar free soft drinks are practically non-existent other than the two types of Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. I never really thought about this until my father came to visit two years ago. Now that he’s pondering a return to Changzhou next year, I have gone back to wondering what is or is not diabetic friendly in this city. Sometimes, this means wandering into a imported goods grocery like G-Super and just wandering around.  Usually, whenever I do that, I tend to find unexpected things. Here are three of them…

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As somebody related to a diabetic, I know sugar-free junk food is still junk food and not the most healthy thing to be eating all that often. However, in moderation, a snack is still a nice comfort to have, and things like the above mocha wafers were something easily taken for granted in the USA. Oddly enough, the Reese’s peanut butter wafers above them are just as rare. I have seen Reese’s cups in places like Tesco before, but this is the first I have seen their chocolate covered wafers in Changzhou. Unlike the Voortmans candy, Reese’s is definitely NOT sugar free.The other two things I saw recently at G-Super have nothing to do with diabetes. Actually, both can be classed as unhealthy junk food.

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Chorizo is easier to find than what one might think. Metro has sold the Hormel version of it in the frozen food section. Auchan has something similar as a prepackaged lunch meat. G-Super has the above pictured one, but it’s the first and only time I have seen this particular brand of Mexican sausage.

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String cheese is also not that rare a find. In Changzhou, you used to be able to find the Bega brand variety at Carrefour, but all three of those French grocery stores packed up and left. This is the first time I have seen anybody carry Wisconsin Premium mozzarella sticks. These actually taste better than the Bega ones. Wisconsin Premium is pretty common in Changzhou. Metro carries their blocks of cheddar and other types, and Walmart sells their bricks of mozzarella. G-Super also has the largest variety of individually wrapped, snack portions of cheeses that I have not seen elsewhere.

G-Super can be found in the basement of Zhonglou’s Injoy Plaza.

Way To Delicious in Hutang

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There are a number of small little grocery stores that specialize in imported goods throughout Changzhou. Way To Delicious is a chain of them, and Xinbei has two of locations not all that far from each other. One is on the same street as the media tower, and the other is down the road from Dinosaur Park.

Wujin used to have one across the street from Tesco on Heping / Changwu Road. Burger King is in the same complex. The 2 and 302 buses used to pass by. And then, it disappeared. I thought it went out of business, but as it turned out, it didn’t. It just simply relocated to another part of Hutang — specifically, the South Town neighborhood. This is a pair of streets that runs between large housing communities that has everything from small restaurants to a tiny museum dedicated to Hutang’s history. These streets connect Huayuan and to Wuyi Road and is not that far from the shopping complex Jagerwirt calls home. The B11 passes it on Huayuan and the B1 passes it on Wuyi.

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Way To Delicious, as a chain, can be unpredicable at times. For example, one of the Xinbei stores carried Polish plum juice when the others didn’t. It seems that the Hutang location is similar. There, I saw Russian wheat bread that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There was also Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — which I have only seen in Xinbei’s Metro — and a range of gluten-free snacks. These stores are only worth the trip if you live near them. Plus, there also doesn’t seem to be a guarantee that specialty items will be restocked once they sell out.

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One Day Left on Dragon Fair

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“The goal of Dragon Fair,” one of the organizers told me, “is to give Changzhou an internationally themed market event. Over the years, the city has become much more cosmopolitan, and I think that is something that really should be celebrated.”

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This outlook can be directly seen in not only in the goods being sold here, but the food as well. Vietnamese, German, Thai, Russian baked goods, and so much more food can be had here. Xinbei’s Istanbul Restaurant was in attendance with some of their Turkish desserts and their belly dancer, for example. This also includes long-time Changzhou veterans like Summer, to newer bars like OK Koala serving imported drinks. A shopper looking for high-end and organic dried fruit and honeycomb can even peruse a booth here.

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While international in design, the fair seemed to be pulling in interested people from the foreign community as well as a lot of curious Chinese locals.

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The draw, one has to say, though, is definitely the food. Changzhou’s culinary landscape has been steadily growing, and the fair certainly did well to showcase diversity. Wujin’s Chocolate’s Bar was on hand with warm mulled wine, German sausage, and very, very good sauerkraut. Changzhou has also had newer and lesser known attractions like the Vietnamese restaurant downtown, and a new Thai hot pot restaurant in Xinbei. These are places that really deserve a visit and your money. In retrospect, I am kind of frustrated with myself for not taking more food pictures at the stalls.

Chocolate's German sausage and sauerkraut for 20 RMB.
Chocolate’s German sausage and sauerkraut for 20 RMB.

 

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Saigon Maison’s beef noodles and Chicken dish. Both were 10 RMB each. Yum.

 

Sunday, December 4 is the last day of Dragon Fair. If you go, you might see a nameless, and rather hapless, city blogger dressed up like Santa Claus. How he let himself be persuaded for the job is a tale for another time. Even on the threat of torture, he would not divulge the times he would be masquerading as Father Christmas. So, you might see him, you might not. Think of it as a gamble. And, that’s irrelevant and beside the point, anyway. There is great food to be had, here. Plus, in the run-up to Christmas, unique gifts for loved ones and friends can also be found.  Dragon Fair is currently located on the basement level of the absurdly large Global Harbour Mall in Xinbei. It is easily accessible by taking a B1 bus north. The mall has it’s own BRT station. The event ends at 8pm.

Where the Ukraine Meets Scotland and Latvia

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G-Super is a new high-end supermarket in the Zhonglou’s Injoy Mall. It’s in the basement, and they offer a variety of internationally imported items. While there are a variety of unique things in this store, three things stood out the last time I went there.

First, a friend pointed me to something curiously branded as “haggis flavored” potato chips. Haggis is a Scottish delicacy where spices, ground organ meat, and other ingredients are encased into a sheep’s stomach before boiling it. To some, it sounds revolting, and I used to swear I would never even try haggis. However, truth be told, I have eaten much weirder things in China, now. The Mackie’s of Scotland chips I had really didn’t have that strong of a flavor to them. The chips themselves were lightly dusted with the haggis-flavored seasoning.

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These chips were just a side to the main course of the dinner I just ate. G-Super also sells Amberfish, a Latvian brand of canned and jarred fish. Essentially, I had a tin of smoked sprats. These are tiny fish that are larger than anchovies but smaller than most sardines. Obviously, the heads were removed before the fish were packed into the can. However, the tails were still on. That’s fine, because the tails are edible. I started eating these straight from the can with crackers. Eventually, I switched to a fork, and before I knew it, they were all gone. Quite delicious. They were much more tasty than the haggis chips. While Amberfish is a unique find, this product is not exclusive to G-Super. At least one other, smaller import shop carries their products.

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To wash this all down, I had a carton of Galicia — a Ukrainian brand of fruit juice. My selection blended strawberry and apple juice together. I picked this up not only because I was thirsty, but out of linguistic curiosity. At first, I thought Galicia was a Russian brand. Besides the name, all the lettering looked like Cyrillic. However, when you have friends and acquaintances from Eastern Europe, you learn pretty quickly that many of your assumptions about parts of the world are actually wrong. The Ukraine also uses Cyrillic, but their alphabet includes the letter “i” and Russian does not. Recently, I also learned that Belorussian also has a letter “i.”

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Language issues aside, these are not the only three unique things G-Super has to offer. Since this is in downtown Changzhou and an imported goods store, you can expect the prices to be a little high. The best way to get to this super market is to go through the Injoy entrance next to Haagen Dazs, take a right, and find the escalator going down.

 

These Were Not Autons

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1744737
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1744737

If you were to say, “Store window mannequins were running amok and shooting people in the street,” people might think you were a bit loony. For the most part, they would be right. But, it did happen a few times — on a TV show.  The Autons have been a part of Doctor Who going back 1970 when Jon Pertwee (the third doctor) faced off against them in the serial “Spearhead from Space.” Essentially, a disembodied consciousness is able to control plastic. As a result, shop window mannequins come to life and chaos ensues. These nasty Autons have returned to the show from time to time, but the good doctor always saved the day in the end.

I was daydreaming about this once, while wandering around a huge market in downtown Changzhou. Culture City 文化城 stands between the downtown train station and Hongmei Park. It consists of intersecting streets and large warehouses. One section is nothing but books, but other parts offer the type of display refrigerators you can find in bars and convenience shops.

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Most importantly, Culture City has a massive amount of furniture than can be found for a bargain. This is what had brought me here. A friend had recently moved, I went there to see if I could price a desk chair for them. Most of the furniture is indoors, and on the second floor of a warehouse. It almost seems endless. There are stacks of desks, chairs, book cases, empty retail modular shelving, and more. Oh, and yes, mannequins. There are lots and lots of faceless mannequins.

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Once I left the main corridors, I found myself roaming through narrow paths of between wood and particle board. Sometimes, it seems every time I rounded a tight corner, I came face to face with those smooth, naked, and genderless pieces of plastic. Sometimes there were crowds of them huddled together, other times, one would just be sitting cross-legged on shelving.  One “child” was armless while still wearing a bicycle helmet and a necklace. In a stranger juxtaposition, a bunch were lurking not that far from an antique Taoist shrine.

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Given that I have an extremely overactive imagination, I started laughing and trying to think of all the short story plot lines I could come up that included haunted mannequins. That’s when I remembered the Autons and Doctor Who. It just goes to show: no matter how silly the premise in science fiction and horror, somebody else has likely thought of it first.

So, with that in mind, I pushed the Autons and the good doctor from Gallifrey out of my mind. I resumed looking for a chair for my friend. Even with my extremely limited Chinese, I was able to get one seller to offer something wooden for as low as 50 RMB. Of course, that day I was just there to look and not buy.

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Three Important Words When Getting a Haircut in China

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When you are a foreigner, getting a haircut in China can be a truly frightening thing — even when you are a guy, and you really don’t care as much about your appearance as your female friends do. You are more than likely at the mercy of a person with sharp scissors who doesn’t understand English or any word you are saying. They will do what they damn well please. Many snips later, and you may leave with a high-and-tight shaving that could pass muster with U.S. Marine Corps regulations. Even worse, you may end up with a male Chinese hair style that even western punk rockers with gelled-straight-up mohawks would look at with utter confusion.  Let’s just put it this way: during my first year in China, I didn’t get a hair cut for like more than six months. Scraggly and slightly curly bangs hung down to my chin, and I had a penchant for wearing very old dress pants I had sawed off at the knees with a serrated steak knife. That was to make impromptu shorts, of course.

You look like a homeless! Several my Chinese friends told me. Some of them laughed. Some of them were concerned. Some of them were very much both and didn’t know what to make of me. Yes, I did look like a bum. I didn’t feel that way. Still, it didn’t matter. No matter what, however, I looked like a complete idiot back then. My adamant refusal to get a hair cut or even shave just made it worse — like I was some wanderer in a scorched and post-apocalyptic wasteland where jars of dirty water were traded like a highly valued currency. As in: Can I have two pounds of ground rat meat? I can trade you three jars of muddy water! Oh, and I can trade you this battery I pulled from a car somebody shot with a machine gun and lit on fire many years ago?

China is no apocalyptic wasteland, and my day-to-day life certainly doesn’t involve bartering for rat meat as a dietary source of protein. I no longer feel so fatalistic about things, and that is good. Very good.  Well, I’m trying to change. Honestly.  I am. Those scraggly and sawed-off dress pants shorts? I threw them away. I also no longer maul trousers with a steak knife to make shorts in the first place. I shave more often! Sometimes, its a severe struggle just to try to act everybody else. And, most importantly, I no longer have an irrational fear of Chinese barbers. I know how to get a haircut.

Three Chinese words have helped with that. They are 一点点. In Pinyin its: yi dian dian. In my own strange and made up  pronunciation system, its  E D-En D-En. If you point at areas of your hair you are concerned about and say this, your non-English-speaking hair dresser will nod and not shave everything off your head with buzzing clippers. Trust me, that’s a good thing.

Three Things at Emall Worldwide

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Emall Worldwide is an imported goods shop near the old Parksons complex on Beidajie Road. Honestly, it carries a lot of the same goods other import shops carry, but here are three products that make the place unique.

It carries cans of chickpeas and jars of beet root. Chickpeas are not always on the foreign goods shelves in many of the large, international supermarkets in Changzhou. If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, it can be a staple food. I know it was for me during the many years I didn’t eat meat. Carrefour used to carry them, but all three of their locations shut down over the last year. I do see them at Auchan at times. The jarred beets are more of a unique find. The only other place in Changzhou — that I know of — is Metro.

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As for the third thing, I’m not sure having it in Changzhou is a good thing. Four Loko is one of the nastiest alcoholic drinks America has ever produced. It’s an alcopop — well, sort of. For those who have never heard this word before, it’s a recent coinage for a soft drink or soda that has alcohol in it. For example, Jack Daniel’s makes a premixed whiskey and cola. As for Four Loko, it’s like somebody noticed how many people like to mix Red Bull or Monster with vodka. So? They created a highly caffeinated energy drink that punches you in the face with 12% alcohol. It tastes absolutely disgusting. Even worse, it has actually killed a few people, and it became highly controversial in America. There were even lawmakers and protesters trying to get Four Loko banned. It faced a few lawsuits as well. Eventually, Phusion, the company producing the drink, agreed to stop making it. So, I don’t know what is sitting on Emall’s shelves. Is it leftovers from 2014? Is it being produced only for export to countries that don’t know any better? Is it a new beverage concocted under a different, less dangerous recipe? Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m never going to buy it. I’m writing this more as a buyer beware.

America produces so many good beers and hard drinks. It’s a shame that Samuel Adams and other craft beers are not widely imported here. It reminds me of when I moved to Changzhou and went grocery shopping for the first time. I saw retail endcaps celebrating cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and started laughing hysterically. Many Americans hate that cheap, bargain-basement swill, but in China its exotic. Go figure.

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Discount Eyewear in Xinbei

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Summer in Changzhou can not only be depressing hot and sweaty, sometimes the glare from the sun can be too much. Of course, it depends on the health of somebody’s eyes. Some need sunglasses more than others, and some are always in the market for glasses in general. Regionally speaking, it helps that Danyang is a neighboring city. It’s one of Zhenjiang’s satellite cities, and it’s well renowned for manufacturing glass lenses. While Danyang is only 15 minutes away by high speed train, you actually don’t have to go there for bargain hunting.

Changzhou has eyewear markets featuring Danyang lenses. Xinbei has a particularly large one. It’s on the third floor of the Lippo Plaza shopping center. This is the mall on the other side of the street from Wanda Plaza. If one were to go in there, they would find a lot of empty shops. The place looks like its better days have passed. The escalators are all turned off. Still, there is plenty of commerce going on here. The eyeglass market is merely the biggest thing there.

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Nandajie’s Vape Shop

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“If cigarettes are heroin,” I said, “than vaping juice is methadone.”

“That’s a shit comparison,” a friend said. “Don’t go there.”

I still stood by the analogy then, and I still do. What I meant was this: e-cigarettes can be seen as a sort of replacement therapy. It’s meant to help reduce the health risks of nicotine addiction as one slowly transitions off it completely. Sure, some do not quit completely and simply exchange the method of delivery. Plus, e-cigs do not come with the carcinogens and tar that tobacco does. However, this is not meant to advocate one way or another on this issue.

I have been smoking since I was 13 and living in Belgium. Over the years, my habit has grown exponentially where I don’t feel comfortable admitting how many packs a day I was up to. It was that much. Living a life behind a computer as a English graduate student, a college writing instructor, and as a writer and editor over the last twenty years hasn’t really helped. Yet, this post is not meant to be about me, either.  Still, allow me to make this point. I have decided, recently, that it’s time for try, once and for all, to kick cigarettes for good. That’s where the above mentioned friend offered his help.

He took me to a vaping shop downtown. His help was twofold: first, he can speak Chinese, and second, he is very knowledgeable about the world of electronic cigarettes.  There, he was able to explain to me what atomizers do, and more. I eventually left there with the right gear and a complimentary bottle of nicotine liquid. As for my attempt to kick tobacco, it’s still a struggle. However, I can say the amount of smoking I have done has been decreasing. It will just take time.

As for the vape shop, it’s located on the bar street downtown. It’s where a Subway sandwich shop used to be. One of the large dance clubs is also nearby. As for the shop itself, the woman running it has no English abilities. So, it’s either speak Chinese or, like me, go there with a friend who can.

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