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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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.

 

Inside the Changzhou Clay Art Club

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The Changzhou Clay Art Club is truly a multipurpose space. I have passed by this place for a year or two in the back of Qianbeian in downtown Changzhou. This is a tiny little historic district next to where they are building the Wenhuagong / Downtown Metro Station. It’s on a back street and near a few small cafes and tailor shops. I have had a hard time locating an address or a map location. Not too long ago, I got to see the inside of the this arts and crafts club.

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It has the feel of a sculpture gallery. The owner, actually, is a not only a skilled sculptor himself, but he is also works for Tianning Temple. Some of the religious themes have carried over into his private work on display here. Many of the pieces are available to purchase, so the Clay Art Club also functions at a place where one could get decor to spruce up a living space.

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However, I did state earlier that the place works as a multi-use space.

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It also functions as an arts education center. However, I got to know this place for the first time for a fundamentally different reason.

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There are two rooms available here for hosting events. Two good friends of mine recently held a farewell party here. They were two of long term residents who had lived in Changzhou for many, many years. For personal reasons, they opted to return to Australia. They will be dearly missed.

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.

Not as Gourmet as the Name Suggests

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There are places throughout Changzhou that make me scratch my head and wonder what they were like in their heyday — you know, if and when they were ever used for their potential. It seems that when new retail and commercial spaces are built, business doesn’t grow into them. Simply, businesses move from the old places to the new. As a result, some places look derelict.  The Nationwide Bridge Gourmet Plaza 怀德桥休闲美食广场 in Zhonglou seems to be one of those places.

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It’s a sunken food court just across The Grand Canal from downtown’s Injoy Plaza. It’s where the B1 BRT route crosses over the bridge and turns towards a Wujin trajectory. For years, I passed this place on the bus and my ebike. I thought it was deserted. Recently, I indulged my curiosity and walked down and took a look around the place.

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Despite some appearances, the place is not completely dead. In many respects, it reminds me of some of the old retail areas in Wujin: mostly abandoned, but a few shops still hanging around to give the space some semblance of life.

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A few pictures up, you can see the outdoor area. It’s an-open-air circle. Some of the storefronts are dusty and locked, and others are open. As the English name suggests, the business here is food. There are some busy kitchens here. That seemed very odd, because for all the food being prepared, there really wasn’t any diners sitting around eating. Turns out, there is a perfectly plausible explanation.

I got caught up with walking around some of the more dark and spooky back corridors here. However, after being around this area for like 20 minutes, I realized that was foot traffic into and out of this place. No, not diners. Meituan and and other delivery app drivers.

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This area obviously existed before Wechat and delivery apps came into prominence. If I had to guess, this sunken plaza was not originally envisioned as a potential hub for take-out kitchens. There is a huge gated housing estate nearby. This likely was a much busier food court than what it currently is. Obviously, those days seem far long gone, now.

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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.

How to Get to the Shanghai Foreign Languages Book Store

I really dislike it when people tell me to just buy what I need off of Taobao or DangDang. Then again, I have been known to be a very stubborn and grumpy dude sometimes — and this is coming from a guy who, back in New Jersey, actually shouted at a bunch of kids and told them to get off my lawn. However, getting back to the my point, shopping and browsing a physical retail space can be enjoyable for some people. This is especially true when it comes to buying books. Perhaps I am a bit of a literature nerd. Okay. Fine. Point taken. Still, there is a sense of adventure when you walk into a store and you let a book unexpectedly find you.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of places to do that in Changzhou, currently. What you can find are mostly just educational texts in Xinhua Bookstore branch locations. Changzhou foreign folk have been told the top level of Banshan, downtown, will eventually have have big non-Chinese selection of texts. However, that still has not come to pass.  While this city is growing, there are still some things that you still have to go to Nanjing, Suzhou, or Shanghai if you do not want to use the Internet.

Books in English are definitely one of those commodities. Thus far, there is one particular bookstore in Shanghai that I have frequented. Sure, there might be others, but this one has become a habit for its wide selection and a relatively easy location. It’s in The Bund, and I often mix my Shanghai book buying with equally enjoyable culinary investigations that involve sandwiches.  Whatever your reason for a Shanghai day trip, Here is how to get the foreign languages book store.

Get from Changzhou to East Nanjing Road. 

There are two ways of going about this. It depends on which train station you are travelling from. If you are going to Shanghai via Changzhou North, you will end up at Hongqiao. Two subway lines reach East Nanjing Road from here. Trust me, Line 2 is the quickest. The trains from downtown Changzhou will take you to Shanghai’s central station. There, you will have to take Line 1 to People’s Square and switch to Line 2.

Find Exit #3 At East Nanjing’s Metro Station

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The bookstore is only like three blocks or so from East Nanjing Road, and there are many routes one could actually take. I am suggesting this one because it involves the least amount of turns. Plus, I hate walking on East Nanjing’s Pedestrian Street. There are too many swindlers, panhandlers, grifters, and pimps there that either want to sell me a watch or “a massage with extra romance!”

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Exit 3 takes you through part of the basement of Hongyi, which is a shopping center. Once you are up and out of the station, the pedestrian street will be on your right. A smaller street will be on your left. Walk down the street. Do not turn afterwards. Stay on this street.

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Find Fuzhou Road 福州路

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As I said, you should be walking a straight line. You haven’t turned. You should pass through any intersection with Hankou Road 汉口路 on your way to Fuzhou Road.

Turn Right and Find Your Destination

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Once you find Fuzhou Road, turn right. You will know when you are in the general vicinity. There are other book stores around here. One is dedicated to art and photography. Most of the stuff sold there is in Chinese with slick colorful pictures, but they do sell beautiful Taschen volumes. If you are into art, this is one of the biggest international art book publishers. If you see this particular establishment, you have actually passed the foreign languages book store, but not by far. Your target destination is pictured below.

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If All Else Fails, Show A Cab Driver This

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