Buffalo wings in China can be a culinarily frustrating topic. More often than not, chicken wings are classified as “Buffalo” on a menu, but they taste nothing like the cayenne pepper spiciness one would actually find back in America. A few months ago, on the basis of a tip from a friend, I managed to locate actual Buffalo wings in Nanjing, but that’s the capital of Jiangsu and not Changzhou. Essentially, I had given up on finding this particular dish in the dragon city. However, two possibilities have cropped up recently. I thought it might be interesting to give both a side-by-side consideration. Let’s start in the city center.
Burgeri is a restaurant I have known about for many months now. There were two things that kept me out of this place: 1) I hadn’t really seen anybody eating in there every time I walked by, and 2) I distrust Chinese owned places that do hamburgers — I’ve been burned way too many times. A Canadian friend told me that it was decent enough, and that he had noticed Buffalo wings on the menu. So, I gave it a try.
First, it should be noted that the white dipping sauce in this picture is ranch dressing and not blue cheese. These were largely okay. The sauce used is absolutely Buffalo, yet it will neither set your tongue nor your mouth on fire.
Honestly, Burgeri’s wings tastes like somebody imported only one jug of Texas Pete, and because it might have been kind of expensive, they started using the sauce a conservatively as possible. Back home, these would be very mediocre. However, I’m in Changzhou and not the USA, and the flavor is there — just at a lower intensity. There is little other competition, and so what would suck stateside is an exotic delicacy in Changzhou. So, if you want to eat something that merely scratches a culinary itch, Burgeri will will do that.
One thing has to be noted, though. Burgeri uses a QR code based menu where you scan your table and make your order. There practically is no waitstaff, and the menu is in 100% Chinese. The people running the place do not speak English, or at least nobody did when I visted. So, you have to make your dining selections through either shoving screenshots into a translation app or by trusting the pictures. Now, onto the next one: OK Koala.
In the name of full disclosure, I am like the furniture in this place: always there. The owner is a very, very close, personal friend of mine. If I didn’t say this, somebody could plausibly accuse me of bias. And if you are one of those people, knock it off. We’re talking chicken wings and not intrepid investigative reporting on weighty issues of international implications. Plus, I think I can be honest in letting the details do the talking.
While Burgeri’s wing sauce is likely out of a bottle, Koala makes their own on site. Also, the sauce is served separately. This is a very wise thing to do, as it allows the wing eater to control the heat level to their liking. If you want to just do daubs, you can. If you want to slather it on, you can also do that. Also, if one just wants the wings on not the sauce at all, it allows the diner just that. The other difference entails how Koala only sells wings and not drumettes.
Which place has better Buffalo wings? I am inclined to say Koala, but people can try both for themselves and make their own decision.
Let’s conjure up an American football fan. Let’s call him Jimmy Spizone, and he comes from Trenton, New Jersey. He loves the Philadelphia Eagles on absurdly religious levels. In his mind, any fan who opposes his beloved team deserves to be punched in the face! His green Eagles baseball hat is a particularly prized possession. This is not just out of loyalty, but he also thinks it brings him luck. Every time he’s successfully asked a girl out on a date, he’s been wearing that hat. That green hat is just something he doesn’t leave home without wearing.
Now, let’s say Jimmy can’t find a job in Trenton. It’s not that far of a stretch; lots of people in Trenton can’t find work. Trenton can be a very sad place, and because of that, he ends up in Changzhou. He has bachelor’s in business administration, so he ends up teaching at a language center and not an international school, college, or university. Everyday, he happily walks to work, and just like his life back in Jersey, he can’t leave home without wearing his treasured green Eagles hat. Only, China isn’t New Jersey.
Every day, people on the street stare at him in weird ways. Some of them, in a state of disbelief, take photos of Jimmy for their QQ and WeChat feeds. They also whisper about him behind his back. Whenever he goes to a bar and tries to chat up a beautiful Chinese woman, they laugh hysterically in his face. He gets royally pissed off one day at work and has a nervous breakdown.
Why is China being so mean to me? He screams at the top of his lungs.
His head foreign teacher calls him into his office and tries to put it to him gently. China is not at fault here. Jimmy is. And, so that leads to the question of why?
It’s the totally the green Philadelphia Eagles hat. Jimmy came to China not knowing that a profound stigma comes with wearing a green hat. It means your wife or girlfriend has been cheating on you. When it comes to such matters of infidelity, there are some places in Changzhou that go out of their way to document that and depressing feelings that come with it.
This place is in Laimeng, downtown. It’s on the top floor and is near a cinema — presumably, a place where people have gone on dates. It’s also where I took the above wall-of-green-hats picture. It is truly bizarre.
It’s a space where items from broken relationships have been collected and curated. Explanatory text in Chinese accompanies most of these things, and those blurbs detail the circumstances and extent of the heartbreak involved. Also…
There is just a lot of silly, and surreal weirdness. However, while walking through, I wasn’t all that shocked by the garishness. Actually, I have been to somewhere similar before.
They are actually all over Changzhou. The above Amap screenshot doesn’t include red dots for Jintan and Liyang. Searches on Amap also turn up possible locations in Nanjing, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Shanghai. Even possibly Zhenjiang! This phenomenon isn’t even uniquely Chinese. The first possible “Museum of Broken Relationships” popped up in Zagreb, Croatia. Given the pervasive nature of these “museums” in Southern Jiangsu, one thing is clear. Apparently, this is a big business. Entry is not free. The ones I have since been to range from 30 to 50 RMB a ticket.
If we could get back to Trenton’s totally made up Jimmy Spizone for a moment. Now that plenty of Chinese girls have laughed in his face over his green Eagles cap, he could donate it as a relic of his own broken heart. However, he wouldn’t. Once you are an Eagles fan, you are an Eagles fan till death. He now knows not to wear his treasured hat in public, but you’re only going to get it from him if you pry it from his cold, dead fingers.
Jim Cornette once said this about the new NWA Internet wrestling show Powerrr. Yes, you read that correctly; the name is spelled with three Rs. I blame the Internet phenomenon of purposefully misspelling things in the name of copyrights: Flickr, Fiverr, and so on. As professional wrestling organizations go, the NWA is one of the oldest there is in America. Then, Vince McMahon ran everybody out of business and had a defacto monopoly on sports entertainment for 20 years.
That has changed with the rising popularity of independent, alternative wrestling. A big part of that was the recent launch of Cody Rhodes and Tony Khan’s AEW on the cable channel TNT. That was to directly confront WWE. There have been other smaller promotions grinding niches for themselves. A few years ago, Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan bought the NWA with the idea of doing something new and different: studio wrestling. He likely paid a minuscule fraction of what it may have been worth 60 years ago — if you adjust for inflation. Only, studio wrestling is not all that new.
In the annals of pro wrestling, “studio wrestling” used to be a staple on TV. This was partly due to how cheap it was to produce. Basically, a ring was set up in a television studio, a small audience would be brought in, and matches happened. It was a more intimate setting than the arena shows WWE would later profit off of. There was a long, rich history of this type of TV program, but in the course of the 1980’s the concept ceased to be. As stated earlier, McMahon killed the territory system and ushered in a new, micro-managed, corporate era. As much as I love professional wrestling, there is something else about Cornette’s words that interests me.
“It’s so old it’s new again.” The 1980’s is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence. You see it with TV shows like GLOW, Stranger Things, and the current season of American Horror Story. Now, it’s popping up again with an Internet wrestling show made to look like it came from the 80’s. Nostalgia cycles are not a new phenomenon by any stretch. Here’s a frightening thought: 40 years from now, somebody will wistfully look back at 2019 and will make an entertainment product about it. While I am currently in my mid 40s, that scares the crap out of me.
This is well and fine, but why am I pontificating on this on a blog about Changzhou? Seriously? I highly doubt Jim Cornette even knows the city of Changzhou exists. Most Americans probably don’t. Well, the connection in my brain is because of this guy.
This is Zhao Yi, and he was from Changzhou. He was a poet, historian, and literary critic during the Qing Dynasty. His former residence is downtown in the Qianbeihou historic area near the Wenhuagong subway station
I had always been curious as to who Zhao Yi was, because I have been walking by this place for years. Just because there is a historical preservation marker doesn’t mean that it’s actually open to the public as a museum. The one time I did poke my head through an open door, it looked like people actually live here, still.
But let me be clear about something. I am not comparing the delightfully foul mouthed, tennis racket wielding, legendary wrestling manager from Kentucky with a Chinese poet of the 18th and 19th Centuries. As a juxtaposition, that’s just too far of a stretch — even though Zhao was considered unconventional by some of his contemporaries. Or am I just doing that?
None of Zhao’s verses has been translated into English. Given that I have an MFA in poetry — and a deep desire to learn Chinese — translating Chinese poetry into English seemed like something I would eventually try my hand at. Only, I was too afraid to take that leap. I did so anyway. Recently, I realized that I was being too ambitious with disastrous results. Maybe I should start by focusing on really short verses, I thought? So, I settled on this as my first real attempt:
This comes from a sequence called 论诗. That translates as “On Poetry.” The sequence itself can be classed as “meta poetry“ — poetry about poetry. Or so to speak, using the art of language sound to comment on that exact art. So, my first crack at translating just those two sentences led to this:
One’s life and vitality abounds and changes you;
Heaven’s workers daily vie for something new.
Advance 500 years into a future of new meanings;
In the end, a thousand years can still feel stale.
Before I get back to Jim Cornette, let me reinforce something. This is my first attempt at trying to translate anything into English. I’m hyper aware that I’m missing something or there is a nuance going over my head.
In know this because of three particular characters in the original Chinese: 天工人. If you stuff Zhao Yi’s words into Baidu Translate, you get “workers of the sky.” That’s just fantastical. It’s almost like something you would expect from Tsui Hark’s special effects bonanza “Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain.”
Google Translate stated that 天工人 meant “day workers.” That’s actually funny because of the proletarian bent of how that just sounds.
And thus, my first real conundrum of trying to translate from Chinese to English happens. The character 天is problematic because it can mean so many different things. There is no true equivalent in English. That character can mean anything from day to heaven and god and more. Recently, to some of my students, I compared it to how 宅男 and 宅女 are not adequate translations of nerd.The Chinese implies somebody who spends most of their time at home ala “house man” or “house woman.” In English, both nerd and geek have taken on positive, non-derogatory meanings. Both are words for socially awkward people, but those words also now imply expert. As in: poetry nerd, drama nerd, technology geek, and so on. As far as I can tell in my discussions with my students, the Chinese translation doesn’t have that “specialist” meaning attached to it.
So, allow me to get back to Jim Cornette. Both he and Zhoa Yi are talking about cycles of time. Cornette, whether he realizes it or not, is touching the nature of nostalgia and people who age. Things do get so old that they feel brand new again — and this is after two decades of being force fed Vince McMahon’s vision of what American professional wrestling should be. You also see this with music and how it falls in and out of fashion. At one moment, disco is vogue and at another, it’s abhorrent and kitsch. Zhao Yi is more devastating than Cornette. That nostalgia curve goes away, eventually, and it’s gone for good.
Everything is destined to become antiquated. Things not only age, but they become stale in their age. What was once innovative becomes passe and boring. Don’t believe me? Ask most of the high school students that are forced to perform Romeo and Juliet in front of their peers during their English classes — or the Chinese students who are required to memorize the poems of Li Bai.
There are exceptions, of course. There are people like me who actually enjoy dissecting Shakespeare’s metaphors. Or, who think it’s fun to conjure up a silly line connecting American pro wrestling to Chinese poetry. Either way, I found the challenge of translating Zhao Yi somewhat gratifying and stimulating, even if my version of his verses may not be the best. I look forward to trying it many more times with many more poets.
After a couple of years of steady construction and renovation, Qingguo Lane has finally reopened to the public. The city invested a lot of money in this, as the this whole area has been a central part of Changzhou history going back thousands of years. Many wealthy and influential families lived here. The little canal here is likely one reason: it connects to the Grand Beijing-Hangzhou Canal. This tiny artificial waterway was essentially like an on ramp to a mega highway in ancient China. Now, however, this whole area is meant to become one of Changzhou’s signature cultural attractions.
This idea was not lost on a lot of locals over the Labor Day holidays. The first two days of operation saw massive crowds who came to do a walk through. I was one of those people on a few separate days. The totality of what is actually here, and what is destined to be here years to come, is likely the source of several other blog posts. However, I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate that it’s now open. To do that, I’m going to have to show a few more photos and speak of a famous linguist.
The above comes from signage that’s located at the west and east entrances of Qingguo. Note the building with the characters 赵元任故居. The English translation of that would be Zhao Yuanren’s Former Residence. He was a linguistics scholar that eventually became an American citizen. He’s an important figure when you’re studying Chinese, and he’s also important if you are Chinese and studying English. Why? He wrote one of the earliest and most authoritative textbooks on Chinese spoken grammar in English. He’s important for a few other reasons that will make for a separate post at another time. So, recently, I went looking for his house.
It’s not really there. This is not a complaint; it’s more of an observation. Qingguo Lane has some cool things to look at and some places to shop; however, there are even better things to come. This is just the beginning. The empty spaces will fill in, and more things will be built. However, I also wanted to take a moment to remember what this area used to look like.
This was not the first time I went looking for Zhao’s Changzhou home. It looked pretty shabby, abandoned, and crumbling back in 2015.
Before it closed for renovation, I had often walked through the old Qingguo
It was an easy short cut. However, a lot of the photos I had of the the place were lost when I lost a phone a few years back. Thankfully,I do have one surviving shot. This….
That was then, and this is now. If you would like to see the current reincarnation of Qingguo, it’s downtown and near Wenhuagong. The east entrance is on Heping Road. The West is on Jinling.
The academic world sometimes can feel like a separate universe with a secret jargon that requires a decoder ring dug out of a Cracker Jack box. This is a largely technical language needed to speak to very specific issues within scholarship. For example, in literary theory, there are schools of thought like deconstruction, reader-response, queer theory, post-colonialism, post-structuralism, and more. Each of those camps has it’s own subsets of jargon that has fueled papers, theses, and dissertations and will continue to do so for centuries to come. For example, post-structuralism has some circular gibberish about “signifier” and “signified” that I could never fully wrap my head around. Trust me, I tried very hard. That’s just the study of literature. That’s not even touching the other English fields of teaching, linguistics, grammar, and translation.
In academia, Chinese history also has its diverse groupings of scholars. One of them is something called “Doubting Antiquity.” These were researchers who expressly voiced concerns about the historical accuracy of some stories within classic Chinese texts like Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian.
It would be a lot like western historians asking and researching critical questions into Herodotus or Holinshed’s Chronicles — which provided some source material for some of Shakespeare’s plays. Since Qian sometimes wrote about the nearly mythical Shang Dynasty thousands of years ago, it would almost be like historians probing more into the historical accuracy of something the Welsh Mabinogian.
The Doubting Antiquity School was not all about destroying somebody like Sima Qian. Mostly, it’s about raising questions and the researching possible answers. Those answers led to more questions. That’s how scholarship works.
Changzhou was once home to a one of these scholars. His name was Lu Simian 吕思勉lǚ sī miǎn.
He was born in Wujin in 1884, and he went on take a professorship at Kwang Hua University in Shanghai. This institution went on to become East China Normal University. During his academic career, he authored a number of books on antiquity covering subjects like science, ethnicity, literature, and more.
His former residence is actually located in downtown Changzhou, and it’s open to the public without an admission fee. A visitor does have to sign into a log book, however. The place is rather small. You can see some of the living quarters.
And places where he kept a personal library and a possible office.
Most of the informational displays here are in Chinese, but there is one introductory sign in English. This former residence is downtown, but it’s actually located in an narrow alley a few streets up from Yanling Road, Nandajie, and the Luqiao Commodities Market. So, for some, it may not be easy to find.
This alley intersects with Jinling Road. And here it is on Baidu Maps.
Nandajie used to have a toilet themed restaurant. The seats were actually commodes, and there was fecal related imagery all over the walls, by the cashier, and on the cheap hoodies the employees wore — in cartoonish ways, of course. There wasn’t anything too graphic about it all. I know this sounds utterly bizarre and surreal. However, these types of restaurants are common in China. There is even a multi-city chain of them. Downtown Changzhou had more than one at one point. Then, the one at the Zhonglou Injoy went away. Now, Nandajie has lost its own toilet themed restaurant. It was on the third floor.
I don’t know exactly when this happened. I only ate there once and only once. Recently, I was wandering around Nandajie as a way to kill some time. I passed the place, and it looked absolutely gutted. Yeah, there are still urinals on the wall, but there was a lot of trash laying around.
And, a lot of the toilets are still there — as well as the sinks shaped like buttocks. But it seems most of the BBQ tables were stripped out — along with the a lot of the other kitchen hardware. Pretty much, anything that would be remotely salvagable and used in another restaurant is basically gone. The only clue I found as to what happened to this place was on the door.
Only, this was not a clue at all. I showed this picture to a Chinese friend, and she told me it was a gas notice. Somebody wanted to do an inspection, and since nobody was there, they slapped this on the door. The date says December of 2016, Also, I walked around Nandajie’s third floor, and counted two other such notices on doors. Those places were also derelict and abandoned. This is not a case like Bellahaus, where it closed and a bill collector had slapped a letter on the door.
The best theory I have, however is this. Forgive the crappy pun, but this place was a little shitty. Trust me, as I said earlier, I ate there once. The food quality was terrible, and they oil they used on the BBQ tables gave off a burning smell that got into your clothes and hair. The low quality ingredients made my stomach feel weird afterwards. So, in many ways, I am not sad to see it go.
Vegetarians may have one less dining option in Changzhou. Green Salad was one of three actual salad bars in the city where a patron could pick and choose their own ingredients. The other two were Salad Stuff in Xinbei and Max and Salad in the basement of Zhonglou’s Injoy shopping mall. Most of the other salad eateries in Changzhou are menu orientated or strictly for delivery.
It usually is sad to see a western-friendly eatery disappear. But some of the people who ate at Green Salad could possibly understand how it could have gone under. Every time I went there, the tables were empty. No customers equals no profit. Quite often, I ordered a salad and the prep cook added stuff I didn’t ask for. The menu had lots of really bad Chinglish that made it hard to comprehend, and some of the prices per portion size were too high for something skimpy. For example, a few RMB for two slices of tomato. However, perhaps the biggest thing could have been competition. For a time, Green Salad was the only salad bar downtown. It’s closest competitor was near the media tower in Xinbei. However, Max and Salad opened less than a city block away, and Green Salad was clearly of lesser quality. Also, Eco — a menu orientated salad place — relocated from Wujin to across the street from Injoy. If you have three salad places clustered together, the nature of business suggests one of them will likely not last.
Some people have told me that salad bars are all over Changzhou, and recently, armed with Baidu Maps and the characters 沙拉 shālā, I started to hunt down these other salad places. Turns out, many of them are not salad bars in the real sense — they are small little holes in the wall that pretty much cater to Meituan and other Chinese food delivery apps. These are not places where the ingredients are on full display and a patron can pick what they want.
So far, I’ve found and enjoyed Salad Stuff in Xinbei, but recently, I found a new actual salad bar. While I don’t think the place is as good as Salad Stuff, there are a few things going for it. First, Green Salad is in a really good location — Yangliu Alley just off of Yanling Road in Changzhou’s city center. The Zhonglou Injoy Mall and Bar Street are not that far away. The selection of both meat and vegetables is very good. You can choose between chicken, duck, pepper beef, steak, seafood, and more. They have the standard set of veggies and dressings to choose from. While this is a salad bar, they also make money through delivery apps. A friend used to order lunch from here without many complaints.
While that is well and nice, there are a few things that are drawbacks here. My biggest problem with the place is their printed ordering menu. When you come in, you are supposed to grab it and tick off your ingredient choices. This menu is riddled with English language errors that are utterly confusing. For example, “Mixed Greens” is beneath the Chinese characters for “cucumber.” That’s just one example of many. Plus, something oddly named “screw powder” is also on the menu. Another issue is pricing. If you pick “tomato” you are only rewarded with a few meager slices, which seems unfair seeing that you could buy a whole tomato for what you are being charged.
This place is fairly new, and it has been open for about two months now. So, while there is some room for improvement, it’s good to have another option — especially if you are downtown and don’t have the time to go to the salad bar in Xinbei.
There are actually three public parks in Changzhou’s city center: Renmin, Hongmei, and Dongpo. Out of all of them, Hongmei Park is the biggest with the most attractions. After all, Tianning Temple and its pagoda are there. Renmin is near Nandajie. Dongpo Park, on the other hand, is far down Yanling Road going east. You pass Hongmei on the B2 going there. It’s almost far enough out of the way where it doesn’t seem “downtown” at all. However, it’s worth the visit.
It usually doesn’t seem as crowded as the other two. But, like most parks, it’s hard to write about the place in its entirety for one blog post. It is important to realize, though, that sometimes it feels like two separate parks. One half is an island in the nearby canal, and here is where you would find the statue to one of China’s most culturally significant poets. The other part, however, seems more general with foot paths going up and down hills.
One attraction here would be Ink Stone Washing Pond. It’s looks like a man made body of water surrounded by large, weathered rocks. These rocks are filled with nooks and crannies. It’s a nice place, over all, to kills sometime and get a walk in. However, last time I visited, I got munched on by mosquitoes.
Emall Worldwide is an imported goods shop near the old Parksons complex on Beidajie Road. Honestly, it carries a lot of the same goods other import shops carry, but here are three products that make the place unique.
It carries cans of chickpeas and jars of beet root. Chickpeas are not always on the foreign goods shelves in many of the large, international supermarkets in Changzhou. If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, it can be a staple food. I know it was for me during the many years I didn’t eat meat. Carrefour used to carry them, but all three of their locations shut down over the last year. I do see them at Auchan at times. The jarred beets are more of a unique find. The only other place in Changzhou — that I know of — is Metro.
As for the third thing, I’m not sure having it in Changzhou is a good thing. Four Loko is one of the nastiest alcoholic drinks America has ever produced. It’s an alcopop — well, sort of. For those who have never heard this word before, it’s a recent coinage for a soft drink or soda that has alcohol in it. For example, Jack Daniel’s makes a premixed whiskey and cola. As for Four Loko, it’s like somebody noticed how many people like to mix Red Bull or Monster with vodka. So? They created a highly caffeinated energy drink that punches you in the face with 12% alcohol. It tastes absolutely disgusting. Even worse, it has actually killed a few people, and it became highly controversial in America. There were even lawmakers and protesters trying to get Four Loko banned. It faced a few lawsuits as well. Eventually, Phusion, the company producing the drink, agreed to stop making it. So, I don’t know what is sitting on Emall’s shelves. Is it leftovers from 2014? Is it being produced only for export to countries that don’t know any better? Is it a new beverage concocted under a different, less dangerous recipe? Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m never going to buy it. I’m writing this more as a buyer beware.
America produces so many good beers and hard drinks. It’s a shame that Samuel Adams and other craft beers are not widely imported here. It reminds me of when I moved to Changzhou and went grocery shopping for the first time. I saw retail endcaps celebrating cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and started laughing hysterically. Many Americans hate that cheap, bargain-basement swill, but in China its exotic. Go figure.