Tag Archives: Wanda Plaza

Getting to Know Milo Bar 8

For awhile, it seemed like Thuringia was the only thing remotely western at Wujin Wanda Plaza. This is, of course, if you discount the fast food of Dairy Queen, KFC, Burger King, and Starbucks. Oh, and Pizza Hut, too. Even then, that really isn’t saying much, because Thuringia is a chain that likes to call itself German but fails miserably in the execution.

The times I have eaten there in the past, salads seemed skimpy and glazed with sugar water. Their sausages were of poorer quality that the ones that can easily be bought at Metro — and the slogan, You can make much better food at home will never inspire you to fling money at an eatery trying to be foriegn in China. Somebody from Eastern Europe once complained Thuringia’s borscht tasted like Campbell’s tomato soup from a can. Wujin Wanda had better, at one point. Right after the mall opened years ago, there was a place called Erdinger, and the food was decent. However, it closed because it never attracted consistent customers — leaving Thuringia to foist it’s substandard cuisine onto hungry mall shoppers.

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Recently, I found what might be a credible alternative at Wujin Wanda: Milo Bar 8. I don’t know how long it has been open, because I don’t live in the southern part of Changzhou anymore. Today, I went to Wujin to get some eBike maintenance done, and I thought to reacquaint myself with the area and see how some it has changed since 2014 and 15.

Milo Bar 8 seems to be a mixture of a restaurant and a bar with live music entertainment. I haven’t actually seen any musicians performing, because I went in the middle of the day for a late lunch. But they had all the equipment to serenade diners in a cozy, somewhat posh looking setting. As for it’s location, it’s located on the ground floor and at the north end of the mall. The entrance is on the outside of the building, not the inside. So, how was the food? I felt only peckish and cheap. I very much wanted to be a tightwad (I had just doled out 1000 RMB for 10 new bike batteries), so I opted only for two chicken related appetizers.

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This was a slightly spicy chicken and cheese combo on top of garlic bread. It rain for about 38 RMB — for one piece of toast. Two other options include garlic shrimp as well as salmon and avocado. I found myself enjoying the cheesy chicken thingie. In a way, it was sort of a nostalgia moment for New Jersey. I haven’t really seen actual garlic bread around Changzhou all that much. While I thought this was pricey, I would order it again.  I would probably confuse the non-English speaking waitress by want two or three on one plate. Then, there was this…

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The menu listed this as “chicken burritos.” The “burrito” concept here is close, so I’m not going to argue with the restaurant. Chinese food has something similar in concept called 薄饼卷肉 Báobǐng juǎn ròu. It’s basically meat rolled up in thin flatbread,

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So, this is definitely not Mexican food, but as a sort-of international fusion dish, it works. This was definitely much better than anything I ever ate at Taco’s at Wujin Injoy, and that place DID call itself Mexican (and quite wrongly, too. Who puts mayonnaise into a beef soft taco and calls it sour cream?). The spiciness seems to come, here, from Chinese green peppers. It wasn’t too hot, and I would order this again, too.

Both appetizers intrigued me enough to want to try other things on the menu some other time. They do have steaks, a Caesar salad, and other things that look more western than Chinese. Some items are absurdly expensive. For instance, Milo Bar 8 has a slab of meat that will run you 1288 RMB. I neither kidding nor being sarcastic.

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Dear God, that has to be a typo! What is it? Super select Kobe beef marinated in the preserved sweat of Elvis Presley and sprinkled with the dandruff of unicorns??? I would NEVER order this.

To be honest, the service was extremely slow, but I will be forgiving of that because I walked into the place in the downtime between lunch and dinner. Many places in China lock their doors at that time. The hostess actually invited me in as I curiously flipped through the menu. The other thing is this: I live in Xinbei, now. I would cross town for Kaffa and Jagerwirt on occasion. For Milo Bar 8, I definitely wouldn’t.  Maybe I would if I was in Wujin on other business, like I was today? However, it’s on my radar now.  Yet, I also know this; I know how excited I would have been if I found this when I actually lived in the area a few years ago.

 

Alas, Poor Pinocchio

Apparently, the word for killing or murdering kangaroos is macropocide. When they were living, if you were to take a hatchet to Ezra Pound, William Carlos William, Wallace Stevens, or any other modernist, you would be committing modernicide. Poultry? Poultrycide. I didn’t make any of these up. I ran into them while looking for an appropriate –cide word for when somebody kills a cartoon character. Toonicide? Animanicide? Those two I did make up just now, as they weren’t on the list of words I was just looking at. Why would I even care if such a word existed? Well, it would be to describe something slightly surreal I saw at Xinbei Wanda.  But, first, consider this picture.

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To be fair, there was always something a little creepy about Pinocchio over on Xinbei Wanda’s pedestrian street. I think it was the eyes. Yes, definitely the eyes when paired with that smile of his. Still, if this statue looked a little creepy, that still doesn’t compare to this in terms of creepiness ….

 

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Amee Toast 凹蜜土司 at Xinbei Wanda

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I am always on the look out for Chinese food that is unintentionally friendly towards western eaters. I like to call it “unintentional fusion.” The people creating the food are not actively going, “Hey, likes mix western food with Chinese.” No, its Chinese food that just happens to be similar to some types of North American or European cuisine. I recently ran into something intriguing on the Xinbei Wanda pedestrian street. It’s a place called Amee Toast 凹蜜土司 Āo mì tǔsī. It’s brand new, as it just opened.

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The name loosely translates as “concave honey toast.” It’s a thick slab of toasted bread that has been hollowed out and filled with meat and vegetables. I showed a picture of one to a friend who is also a professional chef, and she said, “Oh, it’s a coffin sandwich.” She’s lived in Taiwan, and a coffin sandwich is a Taiwanese specialty. Only, those involve a creamy soup on the inside. What’s over at Wanda is more of a Mainland China version of that type of sandwich.

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So, how was it? I tried two of Amee’s offerings, a bacon sandwich and a black pepper chicken one. Both were served with sliced and cooked mushrooms.  When I say bacon, Brits, Canadians, and Americans should not get their hopes up. It’s Chinese bacon. That’s well and fine. A condiment in the sandwich tasted a little like the sweet chilli dipping sauce you might find served with appetizers at a Thai restaurant. The black pepper chicken was okay. As a whole, the sandwiches here raged from 18 to 28 RMB. Now, would I go back? Yes, there are a few others I want to try, but this is your basic mall food, and it really is hard to compete with the shwarma-like roujiamo food shack nearby, which is my favorite place to eat at Wanda. This place also treats toast as a sweet desert — some with burnt cheese, and others with blueberry jam and other fruits.

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There is something else I found that seemed interesting. This, like the Mr. Potato next to it, looks like a chain. Yet, after searching, even with the Chinese name, I turned up next to nothing. All I could find was an article about an Amee Toast in Wuxi, which claims to be the first of it’s kind in China. I have seen one in Wuxi; it was in the Chong’an area downtown. So, if Changzhou has one now, this could be the beginning of a new snack food chain.

Fear the Red Sox

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If you ever want a black eye and a broken nose, go to Boston, walk into any pub, and begin lecturing people on how and why you think the New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team of all time. Some Americans care that much about baseball, and some Bostonians loathe New York City that badly. They would argue how they think that team is run by a bunch of wealthy spoiled brats that suck up all the talent by simply throwing their money around. Yankee fans would likely respond with “Don’t hate us because we are winners!” And that’s how saloon style bar brawls start.

A store in the Xinbei Wanda shopping mall reminded me of this lately. It’s titled MLB, which is short for “Major League Baseball.” At first, I laughed at the sight of it, because Chinese people — at least the ones I know — either do not know baseball or think its a colossally boring American sport. But, then again, I realized it might be doing business more as a fashion boutique than as a sports apparel shop. So, out of curiosity, I peeked inside and realized that 90 to 95% of the products were all Yankee related. There were a few Los Angeles hats, but that was it. And then I remembered how hated the Yankees are outside New York and New Jersey, smiled even further, and walked away.

Cheesy Baked Chicken

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Sometimes, simplicity is best, and all you need for a good meal is just two ingredients. Cheese and chicken sometimes go perfectly together. In New Jersey, for example, something magical happens when you put tomato sauce and mozzarella on a breaded and pan-fried cutlet. Then, there is always cordon blue, which is essentially just Swiss cheese and ham inside a breaded cutlet that’s been folded over. There is a place in Xinbei that has simplified this even more.

Don Chicken on Chaohu Road 巢湖路 serves baked chicken with cheese on top. It’s that simple. The chicken was cooked perfectly so that it was both tender and juicy. The cheese, on the other hand, tasted like a bland mozzarella, but it was good none the less. My only complaint was that the waiting time between ordering and eating seemed a bit long. However, as my first dish at this place, it was good enough to lead to a return visit. Don Chicken is a Korean chain with spicier items and some Korean specialties on the menu, and if you go there at night, they have Tiger beer on tap. My university students might find the place a bit pricey; the plate cost 55 RMB. The menu is in Chinese, Korean, and English with illustrative photos.

For me, personally, the location is extremely convenient. I can walk there, because Chaohu Road runs from Hohai University’s west gate to Wanda Plaza. As such, the place is getting added to my rotation of convenient places to eat in Changzhou. Hopefully, next time, the wait time for food will be a little bit better.

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Not the Number of the Beast

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As far as I know, Xinbei does not have a doorway to hell. I might even go so far that Changzhou as whole doesn’t possess any sulfur-frothing access points to the underworld. Demons will not possess you and force you to projectile vomit split pea soup on people, as one might see in a classic film The Exorcist. Of course I am being a tad bit sarcastic here. But then again, am I? Over at the Xinbei Wanda, there is a convenience store called 666. If you go in there, you will not hear Iron Maiden or Slayer or Cattle Decapitation blaring from loud speakers. Nobody will be headbanging. Nobody will be jamming out on their air guitar. You will just a find a very bored shopkeeper staring at their mobile phone.

So, some Westerners might wonder. Why 666? Why is it okay to put this number all over China? Why do Chinese people use it on QQ? The answer is obvious: China is not a majority Christian country, and automatically assuming the number is evil for everybody around the world is just what the late, great language scholar Edward W. Said would label as a facet of “cultural imperialism.”

In China, a string of sixes is actually considered lucky.This is partly due the number six, by itself, is considered lucky. If you have Chinese friends on Wechat, they may even reply to a “Moments” post by simply typing 666 or 6666 or 666666666666. They are not trying to damn you to hell. They actually liked what you had to say, and that’s the way of showing their approval.

And when it comes to these things, it’s just best not to tell Chinese people that things like this are offensive in your home country. Skip that discussion entirely. You are not in your home country. Your are actually in somebody else’s home country, and asking them to change is a bit rude when you are a guest. And, China is so big, you will be having this conversation nonstop. It’s about as absurd as a Chinese person going to America and laughing at all the men they see wearing green baseball hats — and then asking their new American friends to stop wearing such things. (Wearing a green hat in China means your wife is cheating on you.) So, why bother? And really, there are more important things to worry about.

A Ghost in the Valley of Retail Mountains

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This is an old post reposted from my personal blog. 

A few years ago, Changzhou was accused of being a ghost city by the China Youth Daily. Basically, the logic went this way: there were too many unoccupied residential and commercial construction developments. All of these highrises, one might argue, and not one lighted window at night. And with the breakneck speed of construction in Changzhou, could the local population actually support these new apartment blocks and shopping malls, or would they ultimately remain empty? Was Changzhou on the slippery slope towards becoming a lost metropolis like Ordos Kangbashi? To some Chinese folks and foreigners who live in Changzhou, this ghost city allegation is really a load of nonsense.

Even a veteran travel writer Wade Shepard seemed to think so, once he was researching his book Ghosts Cities of China. Since this allegation was made, many of the construction projects have filled in. For example, the Wujin district is now home to both a prospering Wanda Plaza and an Injoy Shopping mall. People are also slowly moving into the new housing estates, too. It’s hard to call a location a ghost town or city when you see people milling about and cars on the street – something the infamous city of Ordos Kangbashi allegedly doesn’t have. But, even that seems to to be changing.

Simply put, the landscape of Changzhou has vastly changed since 2012 and 2013, and it will continue to change. Construction in Wujin and other Changzhou districts is still seemingly on steroids. It seems like not a week goes by without something new opening or something old getting bulldozed. Yet, for all of this economic progress, this city along the Yangtze still has its share of ghosts. All of urban China does, and it will continue on this way for the foreseeable future. These ghosts are bleak, destitute spaces – once built to great fanfare, and then seemingly abandoned over the years once newer, bigger, shinier structures were erected.

 IMG_20151027_161936Yanghu Plaza阳湖广场 is one of these ghosts. Permit me this analogy. If the skyscrapers of Wanda and Injoy were mountains, Yanghu Plaza is a seemingly desolate valley between them. A person could walk from one mall to the other relatively quickly, but they would have to pass Yanghu. The area is actually vibrant with locally owned shops and snack bars. It’s a decidedly different place than the corporate centers nearby. Yet, once you step onto the plaza itself, activity nearly flatlines.

A huge building stands at the center of Yanghu. It consists of two towers connected by an enclosed walkway. Essentially, it looks like a big capital letter H. Such architecture is not uncommon in Changzhou. Changzhou’s main municipal governmental building also sports an H shape, for example. As for Yanghu Plaza in Hutang/Wujin, the building is empty. Many of the windows are missing. Essentially, it’s a derelict tenement. Nobody lives in this weird structure, nobody works there either. Three floors of open air retail space flank this huge H. About 5% of the shop spaces are used, and the rest is enclosed by metal pull-down gates. Some of the areas even have weeds and vegetation growing on the inside – that’s how long this area has been stripped down and largely abandoned. Yet, some people still individually use some of the interior. From time to time, I saw clothing on drying racks inside the building. Of course, I saw this through dirty, smudged windows. This isn’t an area I would feel remotely interested trespassing into.

IMG_20151027_162825As I walked through the shopping areas, I kept hearing dogs barking loudly. At first, I thought it came from a nearly empty pet shop with pooches in cages. Yet, the barking remained and grew slightly louder as I rounded the back structure. There, I found a canal and a weathered, old gazebo with flaking paint and finishing.  There, an old woman sat and eyeing me suspiciously. An old man had curled up on the bench beside her, snoring loudly. I saw some more open windows into the H-shaped building, and decided to go up for a closer look. Again, nothing. Yet, the sounding of dogs barking seemed louder now. I followed the wall and came to an open window. Open may not be the right word. It was still enclosed by a metal-pull down window and decrepit looking slabs of plywood. The interior of the room was dark and shadowy. The barking grew louder, as did sound of scratching of paws against concrete. A big black canine ran out of the shadows. I instantly took a few steps back. As soon as I had, the dog hit the plywood barrier with such force, it buckled and splintered. Then, the mutt stood on its hind legs and forced its nose and snarling mouth through an opening of pull-down gate. This is when I decided to walk away. I had parked my electric moped at the Injoy Mall. I figured it was time to go back, maybe get some coffee at Starbucks, and then go home.

Later, I poked around online for any clues about Yanghu Plaza. Was place ever once a vibrant shopping center? As per the norm, I didn’t find much. If the Google Translate version Yanghu’s Baidu Encyclopedia entry can be trusted, construction on this plaza started back in 2003. At the time, the H-building would have been an impressive feature in Wujin’s cityscape. Now, it’s easily dwarfed by the new Wanda Realm hotel tower behind it.  So, this plaza is more than ten years old, and now it’s a decrepit ruin. From what I have read on Chinese urban development, this is par for the course. Some construction projects are thrown up with developers knowing full well that it ill not survive a decade or two. Yanghu Plaza seems to fit nicely into this category Plus, more often than not, the bulldozers are owned by the people who built the structure. Actually, when I was there, I did see construction workers ripping up sidewalks. So, does this mean that Yanghu Plaza days are numbered? The Baidu Encyclopedia also mentions that there are already redevelopment plans, but no timeline was actually mentioned. Anyway, it’s old by contemporary Chinese standards. Demolition may not be imminent, but it’s likely going to happen. Could be this year, could be the next. Until then, it will remain a ghost in the shadow of things larger, newer, and brighter at night.

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Fast Chinese Food: Mala Tang (麻辣烫)

Buffet choices at a 麻辣烫 mala tang restuarant.
Buffet choices at a 麻辣烫 mala tang restuarant.

Here is a problem expats new to China — or new to a Chinese city — routinely face. Where do you eat when you are in a hurry and only want a quick bite? If you live in a medium-sized city like Changzhou, the answer is simple: McDonalds, Burger King, or KFC. But really, that is a diet of unhealthy grease and carbs, and the more you eat it, the more sick of it you become. The novelty of a Big Mac or a Whopper with Cheese in China wears off the longer you live here. Fried Chicken is scrumptious, but eat too much of it every week, and you will loathe that too. And what if you are a vegetarian? A vegan? You feel royally screwed with few options

It doesn’t have to be that way. One of my best friends recently showed me an alternative, and it has quickly become a staple of my eating-out diet. It’s called mala tang (麻辣烫). Literally, it means “hot and numbing soup.” When it comes to Chinese food, this is even more friendly to Chinese-language illiterates than picture menus. Why? There is no menu, at all.

You walk into the place, grab a bowl, and you grab tongs. There is a buffet of meat, raw vegetables, and dumplings to choose from. My first choices are usually cabbage. For me, soup always has to have some sort cabbage in it. I blame my European ancestry for that. From there, it depends on my mood. Today, I had cabbage, mushrooms, quail eggs, and dumplings with pork centers. They other day? A profound fish theme–but with cabbage!. Every time you visit one of these places, the flavor of your soup changes based on your ingredient selections. This means that these places take much longer to become boring than KFC will be within two weeks.

Then, you grab a bottled drink and hand your bowl to a cashier. He or she weighs it, charges you money, and then hands your bowl it to the cook. You go to your table and wait. And then? Five to ten minutes later, your soup is brought to you. Your carefully selected ingredients are sitting in a spicy broth, ready to eat. The most I have paid for this sort of meal has been 30 RMB, but my go to lama tang joint is in Xinbei Wanda Plaza. It is bound to be more expensive the the mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall lama tang restaurants that are all over Changzhou and China in general.

Mala Tang Soup. Withlots of vegetables!
Mala Tang Soup. Withlots of vegetables!

Xinbei Wanda Plaza

China can easily be divided between what is “developed” and what is “developing.” Let me put it this way. Changzhou is “developed, but still developing” and a plase like Yancheng is “developing.” Sometimes, that economic growth can be measured in what is being built: super malls. These places can be gargantuan — three to five floors. Quite often, you can find towers dedicated to office space or residential apartments.  The highest-end mall tends to be Wanda. Some Chinese people I know gauge the growth of their cities by counting Starbucks. Some simply count how many Wanda Plazas there are in their city. After all, the Wanda Group is one the biggest real estate companies in China.

Changzhou has two.  One is in Wujin, and the other is in Xinbei. The Xinbei one is the older one.  Both have IMAX theaters on the top most floors. (Case in point: I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the Wujin Wanda’s big goddamned screen.) Wanda, even as a corporate group, has bought into American entertainment companies like AMC Theaters.  The stores inside a Wanda are usually the same sort of chains. Think about it. Most American malls have JC Penny and  Sears.

Xinbei Wanda has a Starbucks, a McDonalds, a KFC, and much more. There are the regular mall floors, but there is also a pedestrian walking street with plenty of boutiques and eateries. The Wanda in Xinbei also functions as the defacto dowtown for that district. It’s the commercial / retail hub for northern Changzhou.  If the swanky restaurants are not located here, they are in relative walking distance.