Tag Archives: Wujin

China-fied Thai

China-fied is a silly term I sometimes throw around when foreign food enters the Middle Kingdom and loses authenticity in the name of getting Chinese butts into restaurant seats. I am not using this in a derogatory way. One can easily argue that a lot of ethnic food in America has been Americanized.

For example, Italian-American and Italian cuisine are not exactly the same. To that end, chicken parm is not something you’ll find in Italy because it was created in the USA — I know this because a good friend of mine is an Italian professional chef and restauranteur, and on multiple occasions he has gleefully pointed out how the dishes my grandmother, mother, and aunts served me growing up were absolutely not Italian. He also accuses Italian-American meatballs of being way too big and meaty. The nerve! I hope the ghost of my grandmother will not try to haunt him! Anyway, let me get to my actual point.

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Lotus Thai is a good example of something China-fied. This restaurant is on the uppermost dining floor of Wujin’s Wuyue shopping mall. It has the semblance of Thai food, but it’s something that maybe purists would likely want to avoid due to possible disappointment.

Whenever I go to a Thai place for the first time, the first thing I order would be beef yellow curry. Simply put, it’s usually on every Thai menu and it offers an easy point of comparison to other restaurants. So, how does Lotus Thai stack up? Most other yellow curries I have had limited themselves to meat, potatoes, and sauce. This had a wider variety of vegetables, and the curry itself had a thicker, creamier texture. So, perhaps not totally legit? Still, I had no problem finishing this off with my dining partner. Then, there is this.

The chicken satay skewers were decent — not great, just decent. The other thing: I have normally seen satay served with with a peanut-based dipping sauce. None came with this. Still, I had no complaint with how the chicken was cooked or seasoned. There is one other huge indicator that a menu has been China-fied.

The menu, in English, lists this as “Thai Charcoal Roasted German Salted Pork.” There’s some verbal gymnastics! Whatever. And don’t get me wrong, I actually liked this, despite constantly laughing at the name. But this get’s to a deeper point. The menu boasts Malay, Singaporean, and Vietnamese dishes. This speaks more, again, to attempting to get Chinese asses in seats more than trying to authentically represent a national cuisine. Simple put, Lotus Thai is totally China-fied.

As I said, this is not necessarily meant as a criticism. The food was okay, and two people eating four dishes and drinking a beer a piece resulted in a 228 final bill. So long as you know this in advance, and you’re eating there more out convenience because you’re shopping at Wujin Wuyue, you might not totally be disappointed. Additionally, I’d be willing to return to try other things on their menu out of curiosity. Oh, and by the way, there is some interesting Chinglish in the menu. Consider the following. The English text reads “Charcoal Roasted Pork Neck.” So, please find the pork! Pretty please?

A Spaetzle Smackdown

Sitting in Jagerwirt a couple of years ago, I once ate a bowl of spaetzle and burst out into tears. Those who know me personally also know that my first few years in Changzhou were highly moody ones. Essentially, I hadn’t really fully gotten over the death of my mother years before, and that had ripple effects to other parts of my life in highly negative ways. I basically was still in bottle-up your feelings mode. So, what was it about German noodles that sent me off on a crying fit? Trust me, this is going to sound really dumb.

My mother was the greatest cook on the planet, and I’ll fight anybody who disagrees! In my family’s travels across the world, my mom learned how to cook many things from Filipino chicken adobe to various European cuisines and the Italian-America fare my grandmother taught her since childhood. Everyday was a day that my family got spoiled at the dinner table, and if there was anything my mom loved to do, it was spoil her family with good food.

However, there was one dish of hers that I never liked, and for many decades I always refused to order it in German restaurants: spaetzle. The thought was simple: if my mother couldn’t master it, than it was the dish’s fault and not hers. When you are trying to overcome profound grief, it’s best to confront your ghosts, even when those specters are merely represented by a bowl of cheese and noodles. Suffice to say, Jagerwirt’s spaetzle was easily better than my mom’s. I burst into tears because admitting that somebody could cook something better than her felt like an obscene personal heresy. Yes, I said this was really dumb reasoning, but then again, grief can really warp your thinking even on the most mundane things.

All these years later, I can now definitively say that I am in a calmer space where I can eat German cheesy noodles without having a full-tilt emotional breakdown. I know this because I recently dined on this dish twice over the past month. I thought it might be interesting to do a comparative study. Let’s first start with Zapfler over at Canal 5 in Zhonglou.

Zapfler’s spaetzle is solid in its simplicity. You basically have cheese melted over noodles in a very creamy sauce. Changzhou really has nothing by way of American-style mac n’ cheese, but the taste with this is one is one of the closest one will come. For that reason alone, I would definitely go back to Zapfler for this. Next up, let’s give Jagerwirt in Wujin consideration.

Jagerwirt’s version is not as basic as Zapfler’s. This has chives and fried onions as a garnish. Also included are little bits of bacon — which adds a slightly more oily element Zapfler’s lacks. Still, also very good.

So, if this were a noodle fight, who would be victorious? Well, if this were a UFC bout or a boxing match, it would definitely go the distance and to the judges’ scorecard. Both are very good, and this call goes down to basically my personal preference. I would absolutely have both again in the future, but I have to nod my head to Jagerwirt. I liked the contrast crunchy onions bring to what is essentially a very cheesy and gooey dish. Plus, bacon is a universal condiment that makes most anything taste better.

Still, don’t trust me on this. Try both and come to your own conclusion. And, Mom — wherever you are — I’m sorry to say this, really; both are better than yours.

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The Physician at the End of the 63

The 63 is a bus route that connects the Changzhou central train station in Tianning to a more remote part of Wujin near the eastern city line with Wuxi. The area around the southern terminus of this line looks deceptively simple.

Arguably, this is a part of southern Changzhou that has a decidedly small town vibe. This part of the city reeks of “nothing to see here.” This is both true and false. First, there really isn’t much to see at the end of the 63 bus route, but there is a personally complicating factor for me. Taking this bus to its final destination resulted in my learning more about Chinese culture.

Yes, this is a relatively small temple with a Guanyin statue out front. The temple doors were shut, and I was not able to enter and look around. I did, however, try research this place a few weeks later. That simply involved learning this place’s Chinese name — Hua Tuo An 华佗庵 and slapping those Chinese characters into net searches. As it turns out, Hua Tuo was a luminary in Chinese medicine.

This doctor lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty; he was born in what would become modern Anhui and died in 208 BCE. In Chinese history, he was the first physician to employ anesthesia during surgery. That likely involved spiking potent alcohol with a couple of herbs and making the patient drink the resulting elixir before cutting them open. Hua Tuo also preformed trepanations — boring holes though a person’s skull to gain access to a person’s brain. His acumen as a doctor and a surgeon was legendary during his life. Cao Cao is perhaps one of Hua’s more famous patients in this regard. This warlord paved the way for the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history.

Any old guy who has been near a gaming console over the last twenty years should know the Dynasty Warriors series. It tried to make a player a combatant some of China’s most epic battles. Of course, Cao Cao is a character in those. But, let’s get back to the point.

At one point, Cao Cao started to experience hallucinatory headaches. As concerns over his health mounted, he demanded the best doctor alive tend to him. For reason that I can’t easily find, Hua refused to to treat Cao as ongoing person doctor. While seemingly universal thousands of years later, the Hippocratic Oath just wasn’t a thing in Ancient China — save life whenever you can, and Hua had none of that. Hua continually refused to treat Cao — he made up excuses that involved tending to his allegedly infirm wife. Cao figured out he was lying and ordered his execution. Hua didn’t relent, so he was put to death.

Of course, I’m glossing over this story in the most simplest terms. But for me, it’s a strong reminder of one thing. When you are a foreigner living in a land like the Middle Kingdom with an absurd amount of history, taking a bus like the 63 to the middle of nowhere Wujin will still teach you something, if you look hard enough.

For the Love of LeBron and Tacos

So, what does tacos, Changzhou, and LeBron James have in common?

If you asked me this question yesterday, I would have been totally clueless and perplexed. I might have even shot you a rather pissed off look. I may have ripped some hair out while seething. However, now I know the answer. What do they have in common? There’s a dude in Wujin who apparently loves eating tacos, and LeBron James is his hero.

He has a shop, Taco James, on Wujin Wanda’s pedestrian street that is not that far from Shane English. All the decor is related to either Kobe or the Lakers. In Changzhou, the rumors of potential tacos tends to spread rapidly, and I was surprised I had never heard of this place. Turns out, the owner told me that he opened only a month ago.

As I said, Wujin Wanda Plaza walking street, but hidden behind an escalator. And do I see guacamole on that stand-up billboard?

So, enough of my jibber-jabber. Are the tacos any good? Before I answer that, I am going to say what I said the last time I posted about tacos: the debate over what is or isn’t an authentic taco bores me to death, as I am only concerned whether or not what I am eating tastes good.

I tried two types. One beef and one chicken. The toppings are not set on the menu. There’s a separate menu of “sauces” to pick from, and this allows you to customize. So, I chose salsa and sour cream — yes, actual sour cream.

The ground beef and chicken both seemed seasoned satisfactorily. Now, somebody might look at the above photo and wonder if a flour tortilla around a corn one might be overkill. Actually, it isn’t. Actually, it’s quite brilliant. Hard-shell tacos sometimes tend to crumble and fall apart while you are eating them. The outer soft tortilla keeps everything together should the corn shell shatter while you’re munching.

Here we have chips and salsa. The salsa is legit. If there is one complaint that I had on this surprise, first, accidental visit, it is this.

Yes, a cartoonish LeBron James eating a taco is the mascot / logo. That’s not my complaint. That is actually quite cute and charming.

The menu has absolutely no English, so you have to use the camera option on your translation app. The above is fairly simple: beef, chicken, steak, and shrimp — in that descending order. The separate sauce menu got a little mangled on my phone. Plus, the owner has poor English skills. Talking to him requires a little bit of patience and using a voice translator on your phone. And don’t get me wrong. Despite the language barrier, he seems like a very cool guy, so in a very friendly way, I did suggest that if he was interested selling foreign food to foreigners, a bilingual menu would be a very good idea. Regardless of that, I am looking forward to going back. Are these the best tacos in the world? No. Of course not. But Changzhou is a veritable taco desert, and Taco James satisfactorily scratches this food itch in my book. That’s alright by me.

Wujin’s Turkish Place

Wujin in 2020 is so not the Wujin of 2014 and 15. That’s when I lived down there, and your western food options basically consisted of Monkey King, Jagerwirt, or Chocolates. Kaffa opened, and that gave a bit of scope to a part of the city were “foreign” mostly just meant Japanese or Korean cuisine. Back then, a reason to go to Xinbei was actually quite salivating, because that’s where Changzhou’s one and only Turkish eatery existed. Going up north meant you could actually have hummus and a doner kebab at Istanbul Restaurant. Years ago, I used to dream up excuses to come to Xinbei just eat Turkish food. Well, times do change.

Eventually, I moved to Xinbei, and I actively have taken Istanbul Restaurant for granted. Recently, Wujin got a brand new Turkish eatery called Pistachio. And in an ironic turn, I actually dreamed up an excuse to go to Wujin just so I could go there and try it out. So, how did it go?

Well, here is a feta cheese plate with a wrinkled olive floating in a dipping sauce. That is meant to sound more descriptive than sassy. Also, if you consider that feta is one of the rarer cheeses in Changzhou, this is actually appealing. One of the only places I’ve actually found real feta has been in Metro, and that was in a jar of oil with olives and spices.

Pistachio has most of the traditional dipping sauces. The hummus was particularly good. But, the biggest test of a Turkish place usually comes down to the doner kebab meat.

I went for a beef and cheese fold over, and it was pretty good. However, this brings up an obvious question. How does it compare to Istanbul Restaurant in Xinbei? I would rate the two as pretty much the same. They’re both good and one is not better than other. However, it should be noted this opinion comes after only an initial visit and trying a main dish that is on both menus. All I know is that next time I am in Wujin, I am going to be highly tempted to return to Pistachio.

Remembering Li Gongpu

On July 11th, 1946, Li Gongpu 李公朴 left a movie theater in Kunming with his wife. Agents of the nationalist Kuomintang government shot and stabbed him. He died in the hospital the next day. His wife was also killed during the assassination attempt. Days later on July 15, Li’s friend Wen Yiduo delivered an intense eulogy at a memorial service in Li’s honor, and later that day, Wen was also killed.

This story tends to be well known in Chinese history, but not much of it is actually written about in English. Typing in “Li Gongpu” into Google doesn’t lead to a lot, but if you type in the Chinese characters for his name 李公朴, you can find some rudimentary information on the Chinese version of Wikipedia that can be fed into a machine translator.

So, who was this guy? He was one of the early leaders of the Chinese Democratic League, who alongside the Chinese Communist Party, agitated against the nationalist government. Like many other figures of the time period, Li went abroad for his education. In particular, he studied politics at the then-named Reed University (now Reed College) in the state of Oregon, USA. During his time in America, he also spent some time working in an Alaskan fish cannery and wrote about what he saw there.

Originally, he came from Jiangsu Province. He was born in Huaian in 1902. Eventually, his family moved to Wujin. His former residence is still there, and it stands on a street that his given name: 公朴璐 Gongpu Road. Down the street a little, there is also an elementary school named in his honor. For years, his former residence remained closed. At the same time, a memorial hall had also been erected, but every time I had tried to visit it, that had been closed. Recently, I had zipped by the place on my eBike and noticed the door was open. I availed myself of the opportunity.

The place is relatively tiny, and all of the signage is in Chinese. However, a little bit of time with Baidu Translate on your phone can fix that — especially since it can be argued that there is more information here that what can be found in English on the Internet.

This little memorial all is off of Changwu Road in Wujin. Unlike the halls for Qu Qiubai or Zhang Tailai, it is relatively small and easy to miss. That being said, the life and death of Li Gongpu is a part that makes up the greater history of Changzhou.

Magic in Changzhou

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With the possible exceptions of Warhammer 40,000 and Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering is perhaps one of the west’s nerdiest cultural exports to China. It’s a collectible trading card game where people build highly personalized decks to play against their friends. The more extensive your collection of cards, the more exotic your decks may become. As hobbies go, it’s a highly costly one. I would know. I am absolutely addicted to Magic: The Gathering.  Do not ask me how much money I spend on this game. It’s embarrassing! Maybe not so much that I’m willing to admit this publicly?

Anyhow, the spread of a game like this is also an uncommon indicator of how rapidly this end of China and Jiangsu province is economically developing. Previously, those who liked playing Magic had to go to Nanjing or Shanghai if they wanted to visit a card shop. On a first glance, this game is that niche. To somebody like Ady Zou, the story is actually a bit longer. Magic the Gathering has actually been in Changzhou for quite awhile. Many years ago, there used to be a shop out by Canal 5. Eventually, it closed and Changzhou entered what Zou terms as a “Magic Ice Age.” The Chinese playing community was relegated to cafes and each other’s homes. Card purchases involved Taobao orders or going to the aforementioned cities of Nanjing or Shanghai. Over the last year, that is something that Ady Zou has personally sought to change.

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After studying at Changzhou University, he decided to forego his major and invest in a game shop of his own. For a business to be successful, one must have a passion for what they are doing. For example, if you think you can make money importing Polish widgets into China, you  should probably actually like Polish widgets and think about them all of the time. Otherwise, the work will be tedious and soul crushing. As the saying goes, you don’t own a business; a business actually owns you and consumes all of your free time. That’s if you want to be successful. And to anybody who knows Ady Zou, he has a definite passion for not just Magic: The Gathering, but games in general.

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Yes, his shop — which is across the street from Changzhou University’s north gate — is a place where one can pop in for a hand or two at cards. However, Zou knows that this alone cannot pay the rent and operational cost of actually having a store. He has organized events around board games and things not related to Magic. He has found ways to appeal to the wider gaming community in Changzhou. These would also be largely Chinese customers.

The known foreign community revolving around Magic or D&D or Warhammer is decidedly tiny in this city. It usually meets up at OK Koala in Xinbei Wednesdays or Sunday nights. Of course, that doesn’t involve people who played before coming to China and just don’t know there are like minded expats in Changzhou. Those games may be western cultural imports, but people like Ady Zou can’t grow a business by explicitly focusing on foreign clientele. This is just another instance of Changzhou clearly not being in the same sentence as Shanghai or Nanjing. Although, shop owners in both those cities would argue the same thing. You have to grow gaming communities among other Chinese people. Foreign customers, while nice to have, are not suitable paths to sustainability. Both English teachers and engineers come and go year to year. Most foreigners here have not dropped an anchor and have decided to stay put — Changzhou and China as a whole are just a temporary stops in a greater life’s journey. And that’s well and fine.

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Across the street from Changzhou University’s North Gate. Nearest subway stop is Kejiaocheng Bei.

However, if you are into nerdy things, it’s always good to know that there are places to go while you are passing through.There is a community of like minded locals that are willing to embrace you if you show up. Gaming shops are as much about community as they are about making money.This is also why it’s cool to know somebody like Ady Zou and that he has shop. This is also another reason why it’s also good to forego Taobao and to shop locally.

Line 1 to Wujin’s Wuhuang Temple

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So, having a functioning subway is essentially a new chapter of history for Changzhou. I have said this a couple of times, and I have certainly heard other people say it. Recently, I have thought about this quite a bit; changing ebike regulations have reigned in the far flung mobility I took for granted. Lacking a super powerful bike, I simply do not have range I used to have, and that can put a hamper on having a blog like this. Then, a friend of mine recently corrected me after I had complained. He said I should look at it as more of a challenge, now.

My friend’s stern directive: “Learn to travel like the rest of us, you [colorful Australian expletive deleted]!”

Ok!Point taken! I tested this out by hopping on the newly minted Line 1, and I took it all the way to the southern terminus of Nanxiashu.

Along the way there, the subway emerges from underground and becomes an elevated train. I found myself gazing out the window and at the industrial landscape of Wujin, and I spotted something that intrigued me. One might be able to make it out in the above picture, but I partially obscured it with my inelegant circle. I saw the rooftop of a temple, and I thought I should jump off at Yanghu Lu Station. After a little more of a kilometer of walking, I found it. wu2

Turns out, it was Wuhuang Temple 吴黄禅寺, and I have been here before. However, that was probably like two years ago. It stands along Changwu Road and is a kilometer or two south of Mingxin Road part of College Town. As Changzhou temples go, this one is fairly remote.

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As Buddhist places of worship go, Wuhuang is also fairly average. A lack of an admission price usually indicates that a place is meant more as a local religious site and not so much a tourist destination. That would be the case here.

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Of course, I am a secular agnostic and not a Buddhist. I don’t come to places like Wuhuang so much as to pray.

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It is more to show them respect while appreciating and trying to understand the art inside of them. Also, temples such as these often remind me that I have so much left to learn about Chinese culture.

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When looking at the above map, Yanghu Lu Station 阳湖路 is marked with the letter M inside of a C — the symbol of Changzhou Metro. It is to the west of Wuhuang.

 

 

 

Forgotten Wujin Weirdness

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As noted elsewhere on this blog, the area around and beneath the Wujin TV Tower can be a little weird and creepy. This is especially true for the abandoned retail spaces beneath the tower. That area used to be dedicated to eyeglasses. However, that eventually moved out and to the sunken shopping plaza beneath Hua Yuan Road. You cannot see it in the above photo, but all the entry points to that underground retail area are now blocked off. The above photo is just but one of many. This is likely due to subway construction. So, what did this area used to look like? I think I took the following pictures in 2015.

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Pretty much as abandoned as the circular concourses beneath the tower itself. However, before this place was totally blocked off, there was some semblance of life down here.

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The eye glasses had moved here from beneath the tower. But, even when this was open, it was only at one end of what was essentially abandoned subterranean retail space. However, that was not the weirdest thing down here. The most surreal thing down here were some of the posters that were in one of the men’s bathrooms. These were public service announcements regarding urination.

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Um, rainbows?

At any rate, this whole sunken plaza is on Line 1 of the forthcoming subway. Wujin’s Xintiandi Park and the Tower is a stop on that line. So, this underground retail space will likely be re-purposed. And, who knows, with the metro may come new life. However, part of me has a suspicion the above three posters will not be part of that new life.

 

The eBike Market of Old

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.