Tag Archives: College Town

Silver Valley of Mingxin

Living in Wujin is not bad. You just happened to live in one of the most boring parts of Wujin.

— A friend and a very long term Changzhou expat.

Everytime I return to Wujin, I am reminded of how it is constantly changing and is actually beginning to look profoundly different from when I moved there. After two years, I decided to pack up and move to Xinbei. So, every time I go down there, I’m reminded of the above quote. I will not mention her name, but let’s just say it rhymes with Mikki Spaff. This is especially true when I go to my old stomping grounds of College Town.

When I moved there, a lot of storefronts around my vocational college were empty and devoid of life. Now, most of those shops have filled in. However, one big thing reminded me of how the area has been changing. This was a few days ago, before I sprained some ligaments in my foot (again). Consider this…

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I normally would not be celebrating the opening of yet another shopping center in Changzhou. Good lord, the city has enough already. Some of them have been abandoned and have laid mostly empty for years now. However, this one makes sense.

It’s at the intersection of Mingxin and Wuyi Roads in the College Town. This is where the B1 and B16 turn north and head towards down town. The name seems to be Silver Valley in English, and it had a bit of a soft opening. Besides a Pizza Hut, a supermarket, a cinema, and a few other shops, a lot of the stores here are empty. However, if the rest of the area is any indication, those shops will eventually fill in over time. Why? Think about this area for a moment.

There are six institutions of higher learning here. There’s my former employer, Changzhou University, and four others. When spring or fall semester is in swing, this place is crammed with thousands upon thousands of college students. You figure there would be more here to cater to them and their money. I have always argued that College Town has been under served in terms of development. Remember, I partly left out of boredom and needing a new challenge.

When I first moved to Changzhou, this shopping mall was a huge hole in the ground surrounded by a construction barricade. Three and a half years later, it seems to have undergone a soft opening after the construction has finished. However, there is something more particular to day to day living that this shopping mall brings to Mingxin.

It’s the supermarket. Now, anybody who has lived along Mingxin knows this sounds like a dumb statement. Before Silver Valley, the area already had four. What’s the difference of having a fifth?

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Easy answer. It carries things that the other four didn’t when I lived in the area. A bottle of western booze used to require a trip to RT Mart or Tesco. The same could be said for cheese, butter, cat food and a few other foreign items. Yeah, I know Wujin has Metro now, too. However, College Town is really the southern most part of the city before you start getting into all the industrial parks and the more rural areas of Wujin. Yeah, Metro has a lot of what somebody needs, but sometimes having the convenience of just going down the street and saving some time on some very basic items is nice comfort, too. That’s why having a shopping center here makes perfect sense.

Xian Noodles in College Town

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Across the street from the Changzhou College of Information Technology, there is a small noodle shop. Now, noodle joints are definitely not uncommon in this city or China in general — and that may be the understatement of the century. This one has a menu that contains some Xian dishes, and that is what sets it apart from the others. Xian food is not a common thing here, but that’s if you exclude the widely available 肉夹馍 Ròu jiā mó, aka “Chinese Hamburger.” Don’t get me wrong. You can get that too at this noodle shop, but it’s not one of the more exclusive items. I used to always go here to get 臊子面 Sàozi miàn.

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This is a hearty noodle soup consisting of carrots, potatoes, tofu, shredded pork, bean sprouts, and more. The above picture is the hot and sour version. There is also a version that is less spicy.

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Either version is 10 RMB, which is, of course, extremely cheap for a filling lunch. Among the other things on the menu, they do have good versions of more common dishes not from Xian.

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This is 担担面 Dàndàn miàn. It originates from Sichuan, and it is in basically a “hot and numbing” spicy pork based sauce. This is more of a dry noodle dish and not a soup. As stated, this is very easy to find. It doesn’t change the fact that is still a good dish at the Xian noodle shop. It also goes for 10 RMB a bowl.

Zombie Spongebob

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To an extent, I can say I have seen Spongebob Squarepants turn into a zombie, and I wouldn’t be lying. But first, let me back up and explain something. I have lived in Changzhou now since 2014. For my first two years here, I taught English at a vocational college. At this college, they had stone traffic blockers painted like famous cartoon characters. Angry Birds? Yes. Baymax? Totally. Doraemon? Many of him. Pikachu? Yup! And then, of course, Spongebob.

Years later, and the weather has not been kind to Spongebob. I have since moved on from that vocational college and have moved out of Wujin completely and am now in Xinbei. However, each time, I have returned to that college, Spongebob has beginning worse and worse. Does he still look a bit too chipper? Yes. Does he also look he walked off the set of The Walking Dead and like he wants you eat your brains? Also, yes.

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Cian Still in Progress

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Most westerners tend to think the elderly are well taken care of in China. This is because the structure of family in the Middle Kingdom is much different than in west. Quite often, you see grandparents taking care of their grandchildren and often live with their children. This is not always the case. For example, what if you do not have children? Who takes care of you then?

China has old folks homes just like America and Europe do. Sometimes, they tend to be in Buddhist temples, however. It’s a growing trend, as China Daily points out — especially since the population of the elderly is growing due to now cancelled one child policy. This could also be why more temples are being built. This could also be why a great many current temples are having new additions being constructed. Most temples I have been to in Changzhou has some building activity going on.

One such ongoing project is Cian Temple on Wunan Road. This would be very close to the College Town area of Wujin. Wunan runs a parallel to Mingxin Road, where the southern gates of three colleges are located.  It’s essentially one street down. I first learned of the construction two years ago. I had just bought my first eBike and I had gone on my first bit of cruising and exploring. Since then, out of curiosity, I have returned there from time to time to see how the construction has progressed.

Screenshot_2016-06-11-21-05-55-04[1]Two friends recently went there, and one of them shared her experiences. As a result, I was intrigued as to whether the temple was finally open. So, I went there myself. The answer is “sort of.” It is semi-open. There is a hall with a giant gold Buddha. There are a few other places to pray. The place where people often burn joss paper to remember their dearly departed has definitely looked used. However, there are still buildings that are unused and empty. One of the main display halls still has active building with construction workers. My two friends didn’t see this, because they were given a tour by a monk. I just walked around, alone and unguided.

Doing that, however, came at the expense of a lot of information. My two friends got to see the old folks home and I didn’t. The rooms and facilities are all new. Even more, there is a vegetarian restaurant there too. However, it’s more like a cafeteria and the dining times are fixed for only half hour servings. Guests of the temple are welcome to eat there for a 5 RMB minimum donation. Essentially, you are eating with the old people who live there, as one of my two friends pointed out. The tables are segregated into male and female only, and there is no talking. One of my friends noted that the food seemed like light and easy vegetarian fare. Things like tofu and vegetables. Easy to eat again, but it comes at the expense of thinking you might be taking food from somebody else. It’s easy to see how somebody might be skeptical about going. It’s not a culinary destination.

As a religious attraction, it would be interesting to visit. The buildings are ornate with red and gold colors. The are a number of five headed dragons and other mythical creatures to be seen. You can also see a small statue of Wei Tuo 韦陀 and his middle finger. But the truth is this, as a cultural site it is not finished the way Baolin, also in Wujin’s Hutang area, almost is. All this means for me, personally, I will be going back in six months time to see how it has changed. It seems to be an ongoing story for me and  Cian Temple for years now.

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Accidental Duck Guts

IMG_20151116_122948Chinese people once laughed at me when I was eating. I was dining by myself at the time, and tears flowed over my reddened cheeks. Sweat beaded across my brow, and the corners of my mouth curled into a severe frown. From time to time, I had to put my chopsticks down, grab a tissue, and blow my running nose, hard. So, what had happened? Why was I weeping? Was I an emotional wreck? Had a beautiful woman just spurned me? Did somebody kidnap my cat and send me a ransom note?

Um, no. I had made a huge menu mistake with Chinese food. While dining at the Jiangnan People’s Commune 江南人民公社 across the street from the Changzhou College of Information Technology, I ordered what I thought was sauteed string beans. They looked that way on the picture menu. Dear god, they weren’t. They were stir-fried green peppers with lots garlic. Eating this dish brought me physical pain. So, why did I insist on trying to finish it?

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The Mao Zedong themed Jiangnan People’s Commune across from CCIT.

Stubborn, hard-headed pride. I ordered, it was served, and I was going to eat it. I wasn’t going to be that type of foreigner  that would squeal in terror and flee at the sight of culturally challenging dish. So, I sat there and ate half of it. Then, I pretended to be full, and I politely asked for a to-go bag. Once safely out sight of restaurant, I tossed that doggy bag into the garbage.  Why was being so polite? I ate at that eatery quite often, and I didn’t want to insult them. I didn’t want to be an ugly American. Yeah, it was totally a face-saving issue. Especially, if I was going to be going back in the following week for tried-and-true lunch options. One rule of life is this: don’t piss off the people who usually feed you.

Ever since this incident, I have had some delicious lunches and dinners at this particular place. But, I had one other epic ordering blunder. Again, it involved thinking “string beans” and being served something completely else.

In this case, the alleged “string beans” ended up being duck intestines — complemented by tongues and other innards. The name was 干锅鸭四宝, or “Dry Pot Duck Si Bao.” You see, I thought I was ordering something duck meat, because I saw the character 鸭. A Chinese friend later told me that 四宝 (four jewels) means a dish will have four types of organ meat.

I didn’t blanch in horror once I was served this. I have eaten weirder things in the name of respecting Chinese hospitality. Once, I had the rather Satanic sounding “lamb’s blood” in hotpot. I ate about half and found the duck tongues to be very chewy. Then, I left. I had long since stopped the fake “to go” shtick. I had eaten this place enough to know they really didn’t care, so long as I paid my bill.IMG_20151116_125505