Tag Archives: 常州市

Cruising Cuihong Road

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I could literally feel heat waves radiating off the streets. Once the breeze shifted, it felt like I was slowly punching through pockets of hot air. Ahead of me, a truck sprayed the hot road down with water, and that just made the air above the concrete humid and slightly hard to breath. You could easily say today was a hot day in a string of hot days, but then again, it’s also July. Changzhou and this part of China sometimes gets uncomfortably hot. I can only take some comfort that parts of the Middle Kingdom are much worse this time of year. However, it has put a bit of damper on my ebike travels as of late. I don’t handle the heat very well; it sucks the energy out of me and just makes me want to sleep all day.

I was not even halfway towards the former Qishuyan district before I just turned around and started heading home. On the way, I did take one detour. I still felt like wandering, and a side street promised a lot of shade. This ended up being Cuihong Road. This small street connects Cuizhu Park with Feilong Road in Tianning. Cuizhu is basically a small green space between Zijing and Hongmei.

One could easily argue that there isn’t much to see on this road. It cuts between two older residential neighborhoods. Many of the shops here look like many of the other shops throughout Changzhou. I even encountered a statue of a woman tucked into a small parking lot. A rope had been attached to her hand, and basically, she was being used in a vast network of clotheslines for drying laundry.

Looking around, I was reminded something I have always told people. I think the local Chinese can handle blazing heat a lot better than many westerners. Here, on this small, seemingly lazy road, shirtless old men sat around smoking cigarettes. A couple of workers with pick axes were tearing up the street, and woman busily organized and categorized fruit in her shop. Another woman and her small son walked by, hand in hand. The mom made sure her sun stayed under her shady parasol.

Me? I was sweating profusely and wearing a wet shirt that already had some white salt stains. So, I just took it as further proof that I really dislike hot summers. I promptly went home to my air conditioning and computer — where instead of writing, I looked up UFO conspiracy theories on YouTube.

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Istanbul Restaurant is Slightly Vegan Friendly

Changzhou isn’t the most accommodating place for vegans or vegetarians. Some dishes may look like it contains only vegetables, but quite often pork stock may be used while the dish is being stewed or stir fried. Quite often, people with special dietary needs are often stuck with either Kaffa in Wujin or Indian Kitchen in Xinbei. So, when a restaurant changes its menu to include something friendly to vegans, it should be commended.

Such is the case with Istanbul Restaurant in Xinbei. Yes, the place is more well known for donor kebab dishes and other Turkish specialties. Upon my last visit, I noticed that some of the menu pages have been pulled out and replaced. Three of the new items are indeed vegan friendly — as in not only is meat not involved, but diary has been excluded as well.

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This includes a warm white bean appetizer. The legumes are served in a thin and light tomato sauce with bits of garlic. Another side dish includes cold green beans with onions in a lemon based sauce. Plus, there is now an entree of saute mushrooms with green peppers and rice. This, like the white beans, comes in a tomato based sauce.

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There are still salads available from the older menu. Also, the red lentil soup hasn’t gone anywhere. Of course, there is vegetarian pide (Turkish pizza) for those who can eat dairy and gluten. If there were one thing to be constructively critical about,  its that some of these menu items tend to be a little pricey compared to portions of what is actually being served. And while it might not be the most awesome vegan food around, it is still a new option in a city where the pickings are slim at best. After all, Changzhou is not Shanghai, and western options are more limited, comparatively speaking.

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Istanbul Restaurant is conveniently located on Taihu Road 太湖路 and in walking distance from the Wanda Plaza BRT stop. If you pass Zoo Coffee, you have walked too far.

Knocked Off, Knocked Down History

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The fast pace of economic development in China does come with a real cost. It’s not all that hard to find evidence of this online in prominent newspapers like The Guardian. Alarmingly, it’s been reported that the last twenty years of economic expansion has lead to more cultural destruction than that of the Cultural Revolution.  In many ways, this can be seen directly in Changzhou. Simply put, there does not seem to be as much to see here than in an much larger cities like Shanghai and Nanjing. And some of the things that “look” historic have actually recently been built and have nothing to do with antiquity. The Yancheng historical development around the Wujin Museum and the Spring and Autumn Amusement Park fits as a prime example.

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In Changzhou, simply put, a person doesn’t have to go that far to see whole swaths of demolition prepping the way to some new construction project.  For example, you can find a statue of Chairman Mao in a shattered landscape. There is one place, however, that seemed rather telling. Along Laodong Road 劳动路 in Tianning, there is a demolished compound. A textile factory used to be there. But, as I wandered around the rubble, I found a stone historical preservation marker. To use a cliche, it stuck out like a sore thumb in a wasteland. It’s like a strange irony. What the marker denotes as historic has been rendered into rubble. The buildings remaining looked drab, gray, and dreary.

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Once I got off my bike and started walking around, history was hard to locate or find. And, I wasn’t in the mood to literally “dig it up.”  A lot of the remaining buildings looked structurally unsound. I peered into some of the derelict factory spaces, but I had enough sense to not actually enter them. Accidents can and do happen to people who are silly enough to go into construction or demolition zones. With that in mind, I left.

However, later, over a cup of coffee, I searched for the place on Baidu Maps. I even entered the marker’s keywords 大成三厂旧址, and according to my smartphone app, the place doesn’t exist. So, that leaves me with this question: will a replica of the original historical site will thrown up, or will the historical marker also be removed, making way for another shopping center or high rise residential complex?

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Texan Only in Name

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Houston Theme Bar has got to be one of the weirdest restaurants in Changzhou. It’s located on the third floor of the gigantic Global Harbour Mall in Xinbei. The last and only time I went there, it was also one of the most useless places, too. The whole place strikes one as a Chinese attempt at a western style bar and restaurant. However, the only thing actually Texan about it is its name. Oh, and the host that seats you is wearing a cowboy hat.

However, the weirdness really does start at the door. Under the name, “Houston Theme Bar,” you see the host’s reception desk. This desk prominently features the Union Jack flag of the United Kingdom. Once the host leads you into the restaurant, you see even more of the British flag. The Union Jack has been upholstered onto many of the chairs. Oddly enough, you also see the Italian flag on some of the other chairs. Now, how do two European countries exactly fit a “Houston Theme?”

All of this weirdness could be forgiven if the food was actually good. I wouldn’t know, however, because I didn’t eat anything. Once I sat, I was handed a menu that had both pictures and English text. That seemed promising, but it went promptly downhill from there. First, I ordered a hamburger, and I was told they were out. Then, I ordered Vietnamese spring rolls, and I told they were out of that, too. Lastly, I tried to order a fish sandwich, and they waiter confessed they were also out of that. To employ a baseball metaphor: three strikes and you’re out. I grabbed my backpack, stood, and left. Not having what your menu claims to have — it’s usually the sign of a very badly managed business.

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A Statue of Street Cleaners

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There is one municipal employee in Changzhou that is perhaps the easiest to find — street cleaners. If you think about it, it is probably one of the most thankless jobs in the city. Even in humidity and high heat, these people are out picking up cigarette butts and other errant bits of trash on roads and sidewalks.

There is a statue dedicated to these workers. It’s located at a cheng guan — municipal code enforcers — headquarters in Wujin. There is another statue of the cheng guan nearby. Like that one, the street cleaners are depicted in a strange sort of buttery yellow. The chinese on the statue reads as 奉献, which loosely translates as devotion.

Chinese Dishes at Willow Street

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“I like this place,” a Chinese friend said, “because the food is good, and it’s relatively cheap.”

She was speaking of Willow Street 样柳巷,· a Chinese restaurant not far from downtown’s Injoy shopping mall and the BRT station that serves it. She had taken me out to belatedly celebrate my birthday once I had returned to from USA. Since she knew I was genuinely curious about trying new foods, she also chose Willow Street because the it serves food local to southern Jiangsu province. As a result, the dishes turned out to be not that spicy. Also, if an expat wants to eat here, they should either be able to read Chinese or take a Chinese friend with them. The menu is all text and no pictures.

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One dish, my friend said, was native to Changzhou. This consisted of thin strips of tofu in a slightly thick clear broth. Bread-like dumplings filled the soup out, but a lot of the contrasting flavor came from strips of congealed duck blood. As I have also liked to point out, blood in Chinese cuisine often has the consistency of tofu, but with a stronger flavor. Duck blood tends to be strongest, most metallic tasting of all of them. However, it was not over powering in this soup. As I said, it provided contrast. That said, for a tofu soup, it certainly makes it not very vegetarian friendly.

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“I don’t know how to translate this other than chicken on a pole,” my friend said.

And when it was served, it was exactly that. Chicken on a stainless steel pole. Perhaps the oddest thing about this was how it was served. Once cooked, the wait staff brought it to our table to look at. I wondered how we were supposed to eat it, because it was literally a small chicken — with head and neck intact — impaled on metal pole. A bowel of smoking dried ice in water was there purely for dramatic effect. Before I asked how we were supposed to eat it, it was taken away and the chicken was chopped up. The head and neck were absent once this was actually served. Despite how weird it looked, the chicken itself was well cooked, juicy, and quite delicious. I reminded me of roast or rotisserie chicken I have eaten in back in America.

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We were also served a pork dish. It seemed rather simple. The exterior was slightly charred for a crispy texture, and the meat itself reminded me a little of pork belly. Stripes of meat and fat came with each thick slice. However, it lacked the saltiness that sometimes come with pork belly. So, that made me think it just looked like that cut without it actually being this. The coolest thing, however, was the presentation here. The meat sizzled on a tin foil cooking surface. The flame itself, however, was inside of white stone container with black Chinese calligraphy.

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Two of the other dishes consisted of a very simply pumpkin dish. Sometimes, pumpkin is a lot like sweet potato. You don’t have to do much to it make it yummy. It’s just delicious in its most simple form.

The other dish used cassava, which is interesting since that is a plant that grows more in tropical and sub-tropical climates. The last I had ever heard of cassava used as food was when I lived in Bermuda a very long time ago. At Willow Street, cassava flour had been used to make gelatinous cubes that had been served with ground pork. Actually, this reminded me a lot of mapo doufu —  just substitute cassava cubes for tofu.

On the whole, Willow street struck me as a very good Chinese restaurant where good flavor and taste didn’t come with a high price tag. It was a great place to spend some time with a dear Chinese friend.

This Can’t Be Korean Pizza

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I once puzzled over a friend’s Wechat food pictures. He had posted some snapshots of oven baked chicken at Don Chicken in Xinbei, but that wasn’t what attracted my attention. Actually, it was something on the periphery — bisected by the edge of the photo. It looked like pizza, and and it looked like it was crammed with toppings. So, I asked, and my friend simply replied, “Korean Pizza.”

So, any time the word “Pizza” is mentioned to me, my brain goes into spastic overdrive with all the question words of “Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How.” I blame New Jersey for this mental imbalance where the word “Pizza” is concerned. I have eaten at Don Chicken before and found their food quite good. So, I opted to try. And?

And, I didn’t like it. At all. First of all, its just a doughy pancake fried in oil. The menu listed two options: kimchee and green onion with seafood. I opted for the seafood. All that entailed was a few tiny shrimp mixed into fried green onion shoots. Omelette style egg took the place of cheese as a topping — if you are to follow through with the pizza comparison. And the result? A profound meh!

I didn’t hate it, but I found no reason to order it again. Don Chicken does so much better with its signature chicken dishes. This “Green Onion and Seafood Pancake” is just downright not worth the time as a singular lunch item. I say this as somebody who enjoys Don Chicken. However, this particular menu item is rather mediocre and easy to live without.

For the Love of Lotus Blooms

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Besides peaches, lotuses are perhaps one of the more culturally significant plants in China. It has a particular resonance within Buddhism, and they flower can take on multiple meanings as both a symbol and a metaphor. A lotus, for example, grows out of mud and muck — and that can be taken as a sign of rising purity.

One can ponder all of this significance, or one can just enjoy looking them. Lotuses are fascinating plants, the blooms are lovely, and the seed pods sometimes look downright alien and extraterrestrial when compared to simpler flowers.

In all of Changzhou, there is one park that is especially dedicated to this flower. It’s in the northern end of Zhonglou and near the border with Xinbei. It’s called He Yuan 荷园 — which translates as “Lotus Garden.” It certainly is an appropriate name, because lotus grows very thickly here.

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The park is laid out in such a way to give visitors many different ways to view both white and red blossoms, as well as a few other plants. A large pond lays at the center, and there are many wooden walkways. Around the edges of the place, there are also twisting and secluded stone paths. These seem to be preferable on very hot days, because these walkways afford a lot of shade and benches to sit on. One of these walkways leads to a second story viewing deck that allows a visitor to get a more panoramic vista the water and greenery.

I spent about two hours, in the middle of a hot July day, trying to find the most perfect specimen to snap a picture of. Only, it didn’t take me long to learn that I wasn’t the only one doing that. He Yuan was filled with people with cameras doing exactly the same. Some were just people and their cell phones striking dynamic poses with selfie sticks. However, more serious photographers with expensive zoom lenses were also wandering around, trying to find the most perfect lotus blossom to take extreme closeups.

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It was the first time, however, I also saw this park as crowded as it was. All other times, it seemed empty and largely ignored. But, then, I realized I had first found this place at the wrong time of year. When the lotus flowers are not blooming, there really isn’t much to see except barren stretches of still water.  When winter comes, the only real suggestion as to the park’s purpose is a metallic sculpture of seed pods.

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Massage Differences in Jersey

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If you want to hear or speak Mandarin in New Jersey, the best thing to do is get a massage. Such differences are fundamentally different in Monmouth County than it is in a city like Changzhou.

First, there are all the prostitution stereotypes to contend with. Massage places and spas in China can sometimes be a front for such ellicit business ventures. The more legit places tend to be cloaked Chinese traditional medicine. Typically, these places are either storefronts or whole building billed as “spa hotels.”

In New Jersey, it is not the same. Chinese styled accupressure places are typically located in shopping malls. Many of the customers go to the mall to buy one thing, and then getting work done on their back or neck results as an impusle buy. As in, “Ooh! I want a massage, too!”  The places usually tend to be very spare, and the only bit of decor might be reflexology charts. The other notable difference tends to the equipment. In Jersey, massage places tend to use specialized chairs that allow the massuese to focus on a person’s back, neck, and shoulders. There are also tables. Typically, most massage places in Changzhou tend to only use the table. Neither me nor my friends have more than a very few massage chairs — just the tables.

Interestingly enough,  I have only seen Chinese immigrants and green card holders working at these places. You never see a non-Chinese person. Only on one occasion did I get a massage from a second generation Chinese-American who could speak English fluently. In most cases, many of these workers can barely speak broken English beyond, “How many minutes” and knowing body parts. Conversation between parlor workers always tends to be in Mandarin.

It would be a mistake to think these types of Chinese-centric businesses are common across the USA. I have seen mall massage joints in West Virginia that employed no Chinese people at all. In many regards, this is just one, of many, examples of how multicultural New Jersey can be.

HaiDiLao as a Vegetarian Option

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Being a vegetarian or a vegan in China poses unique challenges. For all you know, a delicious broadbean or bok choy dish could have been simmered in pork broth. Once a person with particular dietary needs settles into a city like Changzhou, the hunt for potentially friendly eateries begins. There is one place, however, that can be a consistent convenience.

HiDiLao 海底捞 has a name that is kind of misleading. It makes it sound like a seafood hotpot. While you can order fish, it also just resembles a normal hotpot with ingredients like sliced mutton and beef. The last time I went there, the seafood options also seemed a little less prominent than my first visit. For example, there were no scallops available. Still, they offered the standard fish balls, as well as crab sticks and white-fleshed fish chunks. Like all other hot pots, there are also plenty of vegetables available.

However, there is another thing to consider. A diner can select what broth they can use. This has not been the case with every hot pot I have eaten at. The other great thing is that a patron can easily select non spicy soups. At my last visit, a friend and I had two options. One was a light water, ginger, and rice soup. The other was made from tomato. So, this is unlike the risk of ordering veggies and then seeing them served in meat juice.

The other thing to consider is the convenience. HaiDiLao is a chain, and there are locations all over Changzhou and even in other cities. In many aspects, it’s a friendly resturant when you are in a city you may not know all that well.

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