Category Archives: Xinbei

The 50’s Purpose

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Sometimes, public bus routes are like riddles. They usually exist for a reason. Some are quite easy to understand, and others are not. Bus #50 actually was actually quite easy to figure out once I got off at its Zhonglou District terminus.

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This municipal bus depot also acts as an intercity coach station with destinations in places like Jurong and elsewhere. Sure, it’s not like the hub downtown and next to the high speed rail station. In many cases, places like this are also stopping points on coaches heading out of town. In trips to both Liyang and Yixing, the intercity buses have stopped in other city locations to pick up more travelers, for example.

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Ok, that’s well and fine. So, what’s the purpose of the 50 municipal bus?

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It connects an intercity coach station to Dinosaur Park, which is the other terminus. Dino Park is a major source of tourism revenue for both Changzhou and Xinbei. In theory, people in smaller cities to the west could get off bus here and switch to a public bus that would take them to Dinosaur Park and a potential hotel reservation in the area. That’s well and fine. Why would a Changzhou resident use this bus, besides the convenience of some of the stops in the middle of the route?

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Zhonglou’s Decathlon is the second to last stop. Changzhou only has two of these sporting goods stores. During my years in China, this retail chain has actually meant a lot to me. I am a tall guy with big feet. A lot of brick and mortar stores do not carry sizes 46 or 47. Decathlon does. Also, my Taobao situation is a bit screwy, so if I want to try on shoes to see if they actually fit me, this place has always been reliable. I will ride a bus in the name of convenience and not bothering Chinese friends to order, receive, and return footwear for me.

Changzhou’s other Decathlon is in Wujin. Quite honestly, both are pains to get to when you live in Xinbei, but the one in Zhonglou is easier. I boarded this bus actually at Xinbei Wanda Plaza, and that seems to only other major landmark this line services. For the most part, the 50 is not a scenic ride.

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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.

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.

Brightly Colored Mother’s Love

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Who says my heart of a grass seedling

Can ever repay her warm spring sun?

–Meng Jiao, from Traveler’s Song

Meng Jiao 孟郊 clearly loved and cared for his mother. The above lines — taken from this translation of “A Traveler’s Song” — convey that as do the rest of the poem. For a large part of his life, he refused to take the imperial exams, but he eventually relented once he reached middle age. A civil service job, he reasoned, would allow him to financially support her as she grew older.  This eventually led him to a ministerial position in Liyang — a city to the south that is part of Changzhou’s prefecture. There, he dithered around among streams and forests while composing poems.

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“A Traveler’s Song” (遊子吟) was one of those poems he wrote while living in Liyang. It’s a short bit of a verse. It speaks of a son about to set off to travel, and his mom is sewing his clothing for him before he leaves. The poem doesn’t mention where the son is going or how long he will be gone. It’s just the departure is impending, and that both the son and the mother will miss each other.

Generality can be a blessing and a curse in poetry. It largely depends on the linguistic skill of the poet in conveying emotion. This poem, in the variety of English language translations I have read, uses generality and vagueness rather well. It gives a reader just enough information while allowing them to read their own life into the lines.

For example, Meng Jiao’s poem remind me of my own mom. While I was in college in West Virginia, my parents still lived overseas — The Netherlands for a year, and then the UK until my father retired from the US Department of Defense. I came to visit for a few weeks every Christmas and New Years. Eventually, I would have to get back on the airplane and fly across the Atlantic. I wouldn’t see them again until summer, when they would come to the US to see my brother, sister, and myself. There was always talk of time and distance every time my Mom and I parted ways.  Of course, plenty of other readers around China and the rest of the world have had no problem understanding this poem. It is one of Meng Jiao’s most famous works.

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It is always interesting to see how a famous piece of literature transcends written text and takes on a life out in the world. “A Traveler’s Tale” is actually part of the decorative lanterns at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei. A large chunk of the colorful art on display have more generalized holiday themes. However, there is a portion close to Hehai Road that recreates Changzhou history.

I found this recently because a friend and I went on a stroll specifically to look at the lanterns and laugh at their gaudy silliness. We both sort of stopped and lingered at the Meng Jiao display, because, well, part of it looked a little creepy.

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At the time, we both didn’t know what we were looking at. The reddish marks on her face look a little like bruises. I didn’t quite know what to make about the black smudges around the both eyes. Now that I have had time to think about it, it’s the limitations of the medium when it comes to this sort of public art. Spring Festival lanterns easily look childish. The vibrant, bright colors have something to do with that. However, if you look at Meng Jiao’s mom, and the nearby recreation of Su Dongpo, they have a difficulty in conveying age.

Of course, I am nit picking. The point Spring Festival lantern displays is to do exactly what my friend and I did — walk around and smile at them. There is plenty of time to do just that. While the western holiday season is coming to an end, the run up to Spring Festival is just beginning.

 

Western Breakfast at CF Cafe

There are two reasons why I would ever eat Pizza Hut’s food. They can receive orders in English if you call them for delivery. Also, they do scrambled eggs and French toast breakfasts up until 10:30. Given Pizza Hut’s wide reach, that’s highly convenient if you are traveling through unfamiliar places in China. In Changzhou, however, there are some places that offer a western styled breakfast with higher quality food. CF Cafe is one of those establishments.

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The food here has always been of high quality. Their cakes, breads, sandwiches, and pizza are all worth the trip. However so are their breakfasts, and the prices are roughly the same as Pizza Hut. As implied earlier, the quality of their offerings are much, much better.

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This is scrambled eggs with salmon. It came with a fried tomato and a salad with Japanese style dressing. This cost about 45 RMB. For me, salmon is a very rich-tasting fish. There is only so much of it I can eat in one sitting. The portion here was just about the right amount. While I enjoyed this, I liked the next dish even more.

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The baked beans and the tomato makes me think this is a more British styled breakfast than American, but that that’s really splitting hairs. So this is basicaly scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms. Other sides include a breakfast sausage and potatoes. This runs about 55 RMB. That’s roughly similar to what I normally pay at Pizza Hut. Maybe it’s 5 RMB more, but I will gladly play the difference.

These two options are not the only breakfast choices CF Cafe has to offer. However, this category of food is just another indication of the quality you can find here, whether you are seeking breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

CF Cafe is located in Taihu Road in Xinbei and is across the street from the media tower and complex. It’s walking distance from Wanda Plaza and it’s BRT station.

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.

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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Papa John’s Opens in Xinbei

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Papa John’s is an American corporate pizza chain, and it can easily be compared to Pizza Hut and Mr. Pizza in China. However, it does not have the foothold and market presence. In Changzhou, for example, Pizza Hut is extremely easy to find, and their many locations can be as numerous as KFC. The Korean Mr. Pizza comes in a distant second with number of locations. Papa John’s is now entering the corporate pizza game in this city with a new location in Xinbei.

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The place recently opened in a newly remodeled and small shopping center up Tongjiang Road in Xinbei. It is right next to a KFC and a hotpot place. You could say, perhaps, that it’s in between Wanda and Monkey King Pizza, which brings up another point.

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Cheesy Sausages
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Super thin crust with Papa John’s trademark pepperoncini

Should places like Monkey King, OK Koala, and CF Cafe — local Xinbei places that also serve pizza — be afraid of the competition? Not really. Koala serves bar food, and CF Cafe and Monkey King are more high end. Food nerds like myself will always prefer those places because of the originality they bring to their cuisine. Papa John’s menu is more of a reminder of Pizza Hut and Mr. Pizza. The prices are roughly the same, too. Corporate pizza, however, is usually better than some of the locally owned Chinese places who may sweeten or spice things up when they absolutely shouldn’t. At any rate, it’s always good to have more dining options than less. So, in that spirit, welcome to Changzhou, Papa John’s.

The 36 to Hell and Back

Hell, and the doorway to it, can be found in Xinbei. Somebody could accuse me of being facetious, and they would be absolutely, 100% correct! I am not talking about a mythological nether region where the souls of the damned are tormented. Actually, I’m talking about a statuary recreation of an underworld that is part of Chinese Buddhism. The torture meted out in this version of hell can be particularly brutal, but the saving grace is that the damned can pay their karmic debt and eventually be reincarnated. In Buddhism, people are not meant to rot in such a place for eternity.

This display can be found at Wanfo Temple. There was a previous Real Changzhou post about this place more than a year ago, but  that was more of explaining what the place was and what it culturally meant. Back then, I found it while riding my ebike in Northern Xinbei. Recently, I figured out how to get there on the public bus.

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Going north, I boarded the 36 at a stop in front of Xinbei Wanda Plaza. However, there are stops at points south of here. The 36 originates at the downtown train station and terminates in a part of Xinbei that’s just a couple of kilometers from the city line with Yangzhong. For a large section of the journey, this bus travels north on Tongjiang Road before turning.

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Eventually, I found myself in a small town called Weitang 圩塘镇. Instead of giving the street name, I would just say if you see the chimney from the industrial port along the Yangtze River, it’s time to get off the bus.

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Walk in a straight line towards that smoke stack. Sometimes, it will be hidden behind a building, but you can still see evidence of it on a clear day.

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The walkway might become a bit narrow, as you will end up walking through a working class neighborhood of desolate concrete. However, if you keep walking straight, you will not get lost. And trust me, I have been lost in this neighborhood before; it’s labyrinthine and it’s easy to make a wrong turn. So, I can’t stress how you only have to walk a straight line from the previously mentioned bus stop.

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A ticket runs about 10 RMB. Also, there are old ladies nearby that will want to sell you ceremonial incense. I skipped it this time, but a prior time I came here, a packet ran me about 10 additional RMB.

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As soon as you see something that looks like Guanyin dispensing mercy to troubled souls, you have almost found Hell.In the background of the above picture, you can see the entrance to the hall.

 

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The above picture doesn’t really do justice the gruesome detail on display here. So, consider this as an advisory. Graphic depictions of violence shall follow.

 

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The above three photos are just a minuscule sampling of what is here. A potential visitor should know that this a real religious site and not a wax museum like Madame Tussaud’s in London. The amount of carnage and brutality on display here may seem outlandish, but this is a place where I have always heard monks chanting in the background — every time I have been here. Christian cathedrals in Europe have been treated like tourist attractions, but visitors are still expected to treat the place with some sense of solemnity. The same could be said for Buddhist temples in Changzhou, China, and elsewhere in Asia.

English at Xinbei’s Number 4 People’s Hospital

My body oscillates. Over the years, I have seen my belly expand and contract. This depends on how much exercise I am currently doing and how much I love the empty calories beer provides. My love for cheese and crackers is another underlying problem. A gender stereotype suggests that men do not care about their weight and never obsess over it.

This is simply not true — especially if you once were a wrestler or were otherwise engaged in a combat sport that required competing according to weight classes. I used to be a junior heavyweight, and that required me weighing no more than 189 pounds or 85.7 kilograms. High school wrestlers are infamous for doing stupid things to cut weight, and that includes wearing a trash bag under your sweatsuit and skipping rope in a steamy locker room shower. It’s desperate, because you have a match and only two hours to shave off a pound or two before official weigh-ins.

For me, these were formative years. Sometimes, what you do in high school sticks with you for the rest of your life. Being horribly self conscious about my weight is one of those things. Looking in the mirror and cursing at the size of my belly is another. Or, since I am learning Chinese, 我是一个胖子 Wǒ shì yīgè pàngzi! Of course, the wrestler in me is reminded that size of my stomach is relative to how much time I have put in at the gym.

Yet, the worst thing you can ever do is throw yourself into cardio and weights with too much enthusiasm and not ease into a regimen. You can hurt yourself. This is more so the case once you start aging, and your body is not indestructible like it was in your teenage years.  For this reason, I wanted to talk to a doctor before taking advantage of the year long gym membership I just bought.

Specifically, I wanted to get checked for a hernia — for real reasons I will not get into. Now, this brings up one of the challenges of being a foreigner in China. The language barrier is a real thing of concern for some. Sure, you can always task a Chinese friend to come with you, but a lot of my Chinese friends are platonic women I have worked with as an English teacher at one point. As a male, getting checked for a hernia requires dropping your pants and exposing yourself in the most vulnerable way. To put it this way: would a woman ever want a casual guy friend to translate for her during a trip to a gynecologist? Of course not. It is a real privacy issue.

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But, so is the language barrier. What is a person to do? Some hospitals are trained to deal with this and have international departments or help desks. In Changzhou, that would be Number Four People’s Hospital in Xinbei. They have English speaking nurses that will accompany you during a visit. If you think about it, this is a lot better than tasking a Chinese friend. These nurses are medical professionals and can be more accurate when conveying your concerns to a Chinese-only doctor.

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I am not saying this hospital is perfect. The location can be extremely frustrating if you live in Wujin. It’s north of the Foreign Language School and Trina, as well as Changzhou’s North train station. There are plenty of other places a person can seek out medical help. In 2014, I contracted laryngitis, and I received expert treatment at a Wujin hospital near the College Town. The international department at Number 4 is more for people who want to go it alone or want a little more privacy. It’s also one of the most convenient answers for people brand new to Changzhou and want to interact with health care professionals in English.The cost to check in and talk to a doctor is 35 RMB. The price goes up with whatever tests ensue.

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As for me and my most recent visit, I am fine. No hernias. In fact, the doctor said the issue that is bothering me could be fixed with less sitting behind a computer for absurdly long hours and more exercise — which is the exact reason why I wanted to get checked out. I have a resurgent beer belly that needs to be tamed and then terminated. Time to get to work!

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Chinese address is in the above Baidu Maps screenshot. This is one of the reasons why I post Chinese maps and not screen grabs from Google. Google Maps will not help when interacting with a cab driver. In this case, Number 4 People’s Hospital is not in a convenient location and a potential visitor may have to take a taxi here. This will likely be different in a few years when the subway is completed. But for much of the foreign community in Changzhou currently, it is in an out of the way place.