Tag Archives: Changzhou

The eBike Market of Old

oldebikemarket

More than three years ago, I went shopping for a new eBike. This was before this blog even existed. My desire was simple; I wanted something heavy duty that could go long distances. I wanted to be able to go places most other foreigners couldn’t as an effort to learn all I could about Changzhou. Part of my comparative shopping process brought me to a massive eBike market on Zhongwu Dadao. The above grainy cell phone pic was from that time.

Eventually, I did buy the powerful bike I wanted. Only, I didn’t get it there. I got three solid years out of that vehicle. In the end, it started falling apart. Besides, the city government was also about to change regulations and enforcement. Larger bikes were basically going to become illegal. This shift has likely had a profound impact on businesses that sell what was essentially electric motorcycles. I can only guess, because recently, I returned to that massive market. It’s a ghost of what it once was.

ebikemar1

What used to be a thriving place that sold electric bikes of all shapes and sizes is now desolate and empty. Three years ago, all of these store fronts were open.

ebikemar2

One could argue that regulations and policies could have had a shaping influence, but it’s quite possible that this sort of death of a place didn’t happen overnight. It seems other markets have been shrinking in size. The digital plaza near Jiuzhou New World Mall seems to have gone out of business the last time I went there. The cellphone markets on Youdian Road downtown are half empty. Even Computer City isn’t quite what it was a few years ago. Given the city’s continuing growth at a breakneck speed, one can’t argue that this is a sign of a bad economy. Still, it is an indication of a change in consumer buying habits.

ebikemar3

As for eBikes, the current shift in regulations and enforcement does mean one thing. The demand for super bikes clearly isn’t what it was a few years ago, and this old market is now — as I mentioned earlier — a ghost from the past.

Shawarma at Dinosaur Park

UPDATE: April 18, 2019. This place is no longer exists. The owner is looking for a new location.

It’s happened to me across many cities and countries: New York, Brussels, Utrecht, Oxford, and elsewhere. I would be stumble out of a bar, feel a bit peckish, and find a food cart. Street food can be an awesome thing, especially when it’s a gyro, kebab, or a shawarma. When it comes to that last one, I can now add Changzhou to that list of cities.

WeChat Image_20190405193539

A shawarma stand has become a very recent addition to the culinary scene at Dinosaur Park in Xinbei.  Last time I went, it was next to a guy who was frying up shrimp cakes — and that was next to KFC. The name is not in English, but the Chinese goes something like this: 德立士俄式的沙威玛  Dé lì shì É shì de shā wēi mǎ. That literally translates as something like “Russian Shawarma.”

scwar3

For those who don’t know, shawarma is slabs of meat skewered on a stick and then rotisserie cooked. It typically tends to be chicken — and other variations like gyro would have it as beef / lamb mixture. The Chinese do something similar with pork and baobing 薄饼卷肉. All three are basically meat and other stuff wrapped in flatbread.

So, what’s the verdict? I can only speak for the chicken and cheese option that I tried recently. It was awesome and I would recommend it to anybody. The chicken was juicey and tender, and the yogurt sauce mixed well with the cheese and veggies. The stand also offers tuna and vegetarian options, but I think I’m basically going to stick with the chicken and cheese for the foreseeable future. It costs about 27 RMB, and it’s filling enough to be a meal unto itself. The owner recently told me that he’s working on getting listed on Meituan and other delivery apps. So, that’s something to look forward to.

WeChat Image_20190405195504

The 8, From Temple to Temple

mmexport1551100217980
Tianning Temple, Downtown Changzhou

As has been stated in previous bus-related posts, most routes have a specific meaning in connecting destinations. The Number 8 city bus is no different. To put it simply, the 8 basically gives people in the former Qishuyan District (now the far eastern part of Wujin) access to Tianning Temple and Hongmei Park. Qishuyan is basically near the city line with Wuxi, and it has historically been linked to Changzhou’s part of the Chinese railroad industry.

mmexport1551100229938
The south entrance of Weidun. The 8 doesn’t actually pass this part. I sued this picture because it was more picturesque the the park admin building the 8 actually stops at.

The 8 does pass near some of the train-related plants and companies, but it also passes one of Qishuyan’s major greenspaces: Weidun Relics Park. There is a prehistorical museum here, but it has be shuttered every time I have been in this part of the city.  About ten more stops past Weidun, and you end up at this line’s terminus.

mmexport1551100228266

So, what is actually out this far? Not much. The area seemed pretty working class and industrial. For instance, there was this ongoing, slow, steady clanking noise from a decrepit factory next to the bus depot. However, there was something out here I wasn’t expecting.

mmexport1551100226341

Yeah, I know this picture looks just like a regular old rough slab concrete road. However, look at the big row building on the left side of the picture. That structure is actually concealing something.  Further into the background, you will see a gap in the buildings. I walked there.

mmexport1551100223034

Turns out, there is a temple out here, tucked away in seclusion. According to Baidu Maps, it’s Guanyin Temple 观音禅寺. It really isn’t open to the public, as all of the unpaved dirt will tell you. This area is not meant for tourism — at least not right now.

mmexport1551100224671

The buildings are basically look like new construction. So, to point out the obvious, here, it looks like a new temple is going up in Qishuyan. I find it interesting though, that the 8’s official terminal points are both temples. That’s likely not an accident, but I’m not going to hazard a guess as to why. For the most part, my estimate would be that this line primarily exists to get people in Qishuyan to Tianning and downtown in general, as stated earlier. Unlike most buses, the fare is 2 RMB on the 8.

mmexport1551102652238

The Temple Behind Xinbei Wanda

mmexport1549886175257

In China, Buddhist temples can be venerated spaces for worship, cultural attractions for tourists, and anything between those two concepts. In Changzhou, the most noteworthy temple would be Tianning with Baolin in Wujin coming in second. Sansheng and Dalin would be tied for third. However, not all of them are intended for tourists. Some really are just meant as religious centers where one can pray — or, if you are a secular agnostic like myself, go for some quiet introspection. If I were to make a Christian comparison, it would be this: “Local churches are not all cathedrals like Częstochowa or Lourdes.”

mmexport1549886161730

And, so, that would be an apt way to describe Longquan Temple in Xinbei. It’s a tiny little place of worship behind Xinbei Wanda on Daduhe Road 大渡河路. It’s not as epic as Tianning Temple downtown. However, according to it’s website, it’s actually a branch of Tianning. By that, I mean by Changzhou Buddhism as an organized religion.

mmexport1549886167206

The times I have been here — as I said, seeking quiet introspection — there has always been something else in the back of my brain. The hustle and bustle of Xinbei’s busiest shopping mall is mere footsteps away. But here? It’s relatively quiet. I wouldn’t be lying if I said there was an interesting juxtaposition to be had there.

mmexport1549886170781

 

Diversions at Dinoman Club

IMG_20190206_130453

Dinosaur Park is filled with gaudy kitsch, but that’s part of the charm, one would argue. As one of Changzhou’s only tourist destinations, there are also plenty things to do and plenty of places to eat at. Dinoman Club is one of those places, and it’s three floors with plenty of distractions to keep one’s self occupied.

IMG_20190206_130633

There are pool tables, a bowling alley, a haunted house, and more.

IMG_20190206_130721

It also functions as a KTV with private rooms. These can include mahjong tables, computers, and karaoke set ups.

IMG_20190206_130558

The restaurant is decent. The two times I ate here were for Spring Festival dinners. One was private, and the other was organized by the municipal government.

IMG_20190206_130747

IMG_20190206_130803

The first time I ate here, it was ala carte with a tablet-based ordering system. The second time — the government dinner — was a buffet, which leads me to think buffets are more for large, catered affairs. All in all, the food was decent, as I said earlier. But then again, this is Dinosaur Park. So, there’s got be some weirdness somewhere, and there was.

IMG_20190206_131110

A friend of mine said this would look awesome air brushed on the side of a van in the greater Alberta regions of Canada.

Laimeng’s Skate Park

I have loved skateboarding since I was like 12. I have a board, but honestly, I haven’t ridden it in years. To be honest, I’m in my mid-forties, and I somehow managed to put my midlife crisis behind me — although, I do own a couple fake leather jackets, and you can only pry those away from me from my cold dead fingers. So, why don’t I ride anymore? It has more to do with just getting old and the fact that gravity can sometimes hurt and the resulting ouchies and booboos will linger for days. I’m out of shape, and I do not have the resiliency if a 20 year old. It’s a fundamental law of skateboarding: you will fall down. You will wipe out.

Also, there really doesn’t seem anywhere to ride around in Changzhou. Qingfeng Park had an X-Games styled park, but the metal ramps became spotted with rust years ago and it became unsafe to ride. Foundcity Plaza in Xinbei also had a little park, but that’s long since gone. The only place left seems to be a concrete snake run in Wujin. So, I was excited — even though I really don’t skate anymore — to see that downtown’s Laimeng was putting a concrete course in its basement.

 

IMG_20190204_201032

 

It seemed like sheer simplicity. You have a few transitions, a slide rail, and some flat banks.

 

IMG_20190204_201010

 

Sounds good, right? If you sense a “but” coming, you would be absolutely correct. This park seems to be Changzhou skateboarding history repeating itself. By that, I mean the problem that troubled the Qingfeng X Games Park.

 

IMG_20190204_201108

 

It is unsafe and unfit to ride. I don’t know if they used a low-quality concrete for this, but the riding surface is riddled with potholes. The above photo shows one of many. However, the chalk outline makes me think that people know this and the park will be fixed. However, I do know that Qingfeng’s X Games Park had lots dangerous rust spots. Those were never fixed. So, count me as not optimistic.

Mikong: A Taste of Zhejiang

IMG_201901<img src=

Some regional cuisines are more closely related than others. For example, nobody in their right mind would ever say Chengdu and Changzhou’s cuisines are remotely similar. One is super spicy, and the other is sweet. However, you can find some commonalities between Jiangsu and Zhejiang. There is an emphasis on lighter, fresher flavors. Both tend to be on sweeter side, but out of the Zhejiang dishes I have tried, the sweetness tends to be more subtle.

A year or more ago, a Chinese friend introduced Zhejiang cuisine to me by taking me to 弥空的小确幸 Mí kōng de xiǎo què xìng. Based on Google Tanslate, a possible English name might be Mikong’s Small Fortune. Then again, it’s always risky to trust non-human machine translators. Also, the restaurant didn’t seem to advertise an English name, so I’ll just call it Mikong going forward. A different good friend and I recently wanted to grab lunch and do some catching up, and I realized that I hadn’t been back  to this particular place. I had good memories of the food the first time around, and so we settled on here as a place to dine. So, how was it?

IMG_20190118_212137
Yeah, it’s a picture of a refrigerator. It’s also the only interior shot of Mikong that I have.

The inside has a very cozy atmosphere, and interestingly enough, there was soft, jazzy English-language music on in the background. The location is also highly convenient for downtown; it’s across the street from the rear end of Wuyue / Injoy Plaza. Basically, it’s part of the non-historic side of Comb Lane. On the downside, you have to walk through another restaurant and climb a set of stairs to get to Mikong, but that almost gives it a secluded, tucked away vibe while essentially being in a highly trafficked part of downtown Changzhou. Enough about that, how about the food?

IMG_20190118_205404

The shrimp smothered in garlic was particularly good. This was a repeat ordering from my original visit more than a year ago. There is reason why I like this dish. I have always had a problematic relationship with shrimp in China — I don’t like the fact they are often cooked and served with their heads and eye stalks attached. In fact, I still haven’t figured out how to eat shrimp in China. There seems to be an art and skill level involved that is completely lost on me. At Mikong, the prawns are beheaded, and that really simplifies matters.

IMG_20190118_205437

Next up was a goose dish. It tasted good, but to be honest, the goose itself seemed to have too many bones. This led me to putting my chopsticks down and using my hands to inelegantly gnaw. The brown sauce it came in reminded me a little of slightly sweet “sort-of” curry. I often used it a dipping sauce for the remaining side dish.

IMG_20190118_205500

Lightly fried potato balls. This is just sheer simplicity. It is really hard to go wrong with potatoes that haven’t been overly fussed with. These three dishes led to a final bill around 160ish RMB. The friend and I left satisfied and thinking Mikong would be worth a return visit.

A Lost Town and Forgotten Temple

IMG_20190116_190319

Typically, a brown street sign in Changzhou denotes something of cultural value and significance. The above, for example, advertises something called Xucheng Temple and Ruins. It’s next to a narrow little street off shooting from Xiacheng Road in Wujin — this would be on the eastern side of the Science and Education Complex adjacent to College Town. However, sometimes in China signs are not all what they seem. In fact, if you followed this sign, you would end up in a wasteland.

IMG_20190116_194858

There is really nothing to see out here. But what about the sign? What about the temple? That would be this….

IMG_20190116_190625

Part of the temple is still there, but closed to the public. The front part, however, has been demolished. I know this because I had visited this area four years ago, and it looked different. The front door of the temple was still there. The road here not used to be shattered, and the nearby bridge lead to a rather creepy building where I heard a hoard of pigs screeching and scratching around. That creepy building is now gone, too.

How about the sign’s advertised “Xucheng Ruins?” Yup, that’s actually still there, I think. It has a historical preservation marker.

IMG_20190116_194940

So, that means something historical, right?

IMG_20190116_195003

Well, maybe — if you’re counting a mound of dirt and pile of stone slabs. In fact, this whole area is something of a seemingly barren and morose landscape. It’s like a memory that is fading away, but still somehow clinging on by its finger nails.

IMG_20190116_194832

The above is a marker for Shangdian Ancient Town 上店古镇, and the marker speaks about this. However, if you enter those Chinese characters into Google, nothing comes up, even in Chinese. There was once a Chinese language blog post about the town, but even now that is a broken link. As for Xucheng Temple, there is an entry for that on Baidu’s Chinese language version of Wikipedia, but that seems grossly out of date. The entry ends by mentioning that the area was declared a cultural site worth protecting in 2008. That hardly squares with how the area looks now. There is, however, one thing that has remained intact.

IMG_20190116_190349

That would be a grave site. The above is the tomb of Yun Nantian 恽南田, a noted painter from the Qing Dynasty. Yun Nantian has had worldwide fame and has had gallery exhibits held outside of China. He was a native of this particular section of Wujin. His specialties included caligraphy and painting flowers.

lotus2

All in all, something was here. Several years ago, Changzhou was accused of being a “ghost city.” This is a term often leveled at over-building and over zealous urban development. The term really isn’t accurate for most of Changzhou these days, and since that initial accusation five to six years ago, major construction projects have finished and many of the eerily quiet parts of Wujin have filled in. So, a ghost city? Maybe not, but some places still have the vibe of “ghost towns” — places that life once was and that have been quietly forgotten.

Qianlong in Changzhou

Emperor_Qianlong_reading

Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1711 to 1799) has many distinctions in Chinese history. He sat on the throne for sixty or so years, and he had one of the longest reigns. Instead of dying while in power, he gave up the throne out of respect to his grandfather, Kangxi. As a result, Kangxi’s time as Chinese Emperor is longer, but only by one year. Qianlong patronized the arts heavily, and he himself composed a lot of poetry. In world culture, he may actually be the most prolific writer of all time.

Also like his grandfather, Qianlong liked to travel and actually inspect his kingdom first hand. As a result, you end up seeing public references to him all over the Jiangnan region. Changzhou is no different. There are stone markers related to him in Dongpo Park in Tianning. This is basically down the street from Hongmei while on Yanling Road.

IMG_20181104_210720

During one visit to the city, Emperor Qianlong actually wrote a few poems mentioning Changzhou. The Emperor greatly admired Su Dongpo as a poet, and Dongpo Park is where the great writer and artist landed after traveling down the Grand Canal. A few hundred years ago, Qianlong actually wanted to visit that very same spot. These verses were carved onto steles — giant stone slabs engraved with calligraphy. That’s where one issue pops up. Chinese calligraphy, even when it’s black ink on white paper, can be hard to read. I showed a couple of pictures to some Chinese friends.

IMG_20181104_210748

They had a hard time making out anything. I have tried to see if I could locate these poems online, and I even used Chinese search terms like 乾龙常州市诗, and I still couldn’t locate the poems.Then, I realized my search terms had a Chinese typo. I think “Qianlong” in characters is 乾隆 not 乾龙. I think I might have located them, but it’s going to take a while to see if I can get these poems correctly translated somewhere done the line.

In the meantime, these stele carvings are an interesting little corner in one of Changzhou’s more charming little parks.

Screenshot_2018-11-04-21-59-13-89[1]

Celebrating American Car Culture in Changzhou

“The Changzhou public bus system is more than likely better than any bus system in America.”

When I say this, my Chinese university students usually gasp in shock. They become even more flabbergasted when I say the US is pretty bad at public transportation. If they counter by bringing up the New York City subway system, I remind them that New York City is always the exception and not the norm, and a lot of the subway stations often smell like a public bathroom — and I am saying that as a New Jersey guy that has always had a very large soft spot for The Big Apple.

Owning a car is not a sign of wealth or status, because even poor or broke people have to drive to get to work.  It’s just that they own a jalopy, wreck, hooptie, rattletrap, clunker, bucket of bolts, lemon, junker, or any other colorful noun that can mean “old car that breaks down often.” America, I always tell my students, has a very car-centered culture. Instead of opting for an intricate rail system, President Eisenhower initiated the construction of a network of super highways in 1956 that has defined America up to the current day.

So, it’s interesting that the Changzhou Museum has a temporary photography exhibit celebrating this aspect of Americana.

IMG_20181026_184505

It’s located on the ground floor of the museum.

IMG_20181026_184519

IMG_20181026_184537

There are some old black and white photos as well as some vintage illustrated posters.

IMG_20181026_184615

 

Plus, there are some contemporary shots on display. Not to mention this…

 

IMG_20181026_184641

This shot is particularly grainy. That’s because I took this picture with my cell phone (of course), and it’s basically of a TV screen playing a documentary. Some of the guys featured are true whackjobs.  Lastly, I sort of had to take a photo of the place I now love to hate….

IMG_20181026_190626

There is a wall of license plates from all 50 states. Not represented, it seemed, were Washington DC and territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and The Virgin Islands. Anyhow, it seemed like a quirky temporary exhibit. It runs until November 18th.

M

Screenshot_2018-10-26-19-29-11-98[1]
Map location for the Changzhou Museum