I have made an effort to track down many of Changzhou’s Taoist and Buddhist places of worship. This comes not only from a point of curiosity, but also a genuine interest to understand Chinese culture. I have been wowed by some of the intricate iconography. I have also on occasion found myself transfixed by truly gruesome and brutal depictions of the Chinese underworld. They are very similar in both Taoism and Buddhism.
I have seen the Buddhist version of hell at Wanfo Temple in northern Xinbei — up by the Yangtze and one of the huge industrial ports. The Taoist version was in western Wujin, out where the former Qishuyan district used to be. Of the two, the Taoist one at Bailong Temple felt more creepy. The above picture is of a dimly lit narrow corridor. Grotesque statues depicting demons torturing the damned were behind very dusty glass.
However, if anybody ever wants to see this, they are currently out of luck.
This desolate hallway used to be built into the Western-facing wall of Bailong Temple. However, I recently returned there with a friend. We were collaborating on a magazine article. I noticed a profound difference in my surroundings while I was there.
Sections of Bailong Temple have been demolished. The above picture is related to the picture of the statue in the pool. In that picture, you see a white wall. This is actually where that white wall used to be, now. That desolate hall showcasing a Taoist gallery of horrors is now gone, too.
In many respects, this is actually not surprising. Nearly all temples I have been to in Changzhou have had some sort of renovation and construction in progress. It’s just that a huge part of Bailong has been razed, and parts of the temple have been blocked off. The same could be said for the nearby Dalin temple and the area in general. There is likely a very long term development plan in place to build this area as tourist destination. I can’t cite any proof. I can just say that I have seen, with my own eyes, A LOT of construction and going on here over the past year or so.
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.
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.
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…
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,
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
You can say about 95% percent of the Changzhou’s public parks have a unique identity. Xianhu Park 仙湖公园 is no different, but this one has a subtly strange and schizophrenic vibe to it. This place is located in Yaoguan Township 遥观镇 in Wujin, in what used to Changzhou’s eastern Qishuyan district. This is nowhere near Hutang and the parts of Wujin most expats know. Yaoguan is definitely small town China within Changzhou’s city boundaries. I am sometimes out around these parts because of corporate trainings Hohai University organizes with some of the railway companies like CRRC out here. The park itself is split into two by Jianshe Road 建设路.
One half of the park has a lot of brick and stone work, giving the water a canal-like feel without actually feeding into any canals. In this regard, it looks a lot like a man made urban pond.
There are two sets of statues here suggesting industrial themes. Unlike other parks, there are no explanatory plaques or Chinese wisdom idioms attached to give a greater meaning. Perhaps the biggest “this is not urban Changzhou” indicator was this …
There were three goats roaming around and eating everything from the grass and the bushes. Some of these animals had collars and leashes, so it is safe to assume that these are not feral, marauding goats. These were domesticated. Nearby, there was a woman washing something in the “canal-pond” water. I didn’t feel like being nosy about what she was actually washing. So, I didn’t take a picture of her. It is likely safe to assume the goats were hers. If you were to cross Jianshe Road to the park’s other half, you would see this.
There are a lot of walkways, but notice the surface of the oibd. There is a thick, very green algae skin to the water here. By the way, the person with net is not fishing. Typically, a very big algae population like this makes water low in oxygen an not habitable. This person was not fishing out garbage, either.
This person was actually harvesting the algae itself. While that may sound weird to some, algae has a lot of uses like as a farmland fertilizer. There are also chemical compounds that can be extracted and multi-purposed in food production, wastewater treatment, and much more.
Essentially, this is a profoundly local park. Changzhou has places like Qingfeng, Hongmei, and others that are meant for mass public and tourist use, and Xianhu Park is not one of them. I found this place because I was already in Qishuyan on a teaching assignment and just wandering around my ebike.
However, this place is also a positive reminder that what I like to call Real Changzhou; this city is vast and more storied than what some foreigners might think. There is life beyond Xinbei, the city center, and Hutang. I don’t mean that as, “Ooh, this is quaint.” I mean that in this exists, it is here, and it is part of Changzhou.
One of the things I feared most, when leaving New Jersey for China, was going through pizza withdrawal. Yes, I was actually dumb enough to ponder, “I wonder if I can actually find pizza in China.” Stupid, I know, and my fears were completely unfounded. There is very good pizza to be had in Changzhou. Some places are not new to the old timers who have spent a few years here. But, those new to Changzhou may not yet be in the know. Especially with English teachers coming and going on one year contracts, there will always be somebody relatively new to this city. So, here is a rundown of five places to get good pizza in Changzhou. This is not a “best of” list nor should the order be construed as a ranking. Consider this as just five recommendations of places from a pizza snob.
This is a place that is partly owned by an Italian. And trust me, he is a very, very damned good chef. He creates the menu, concocts the dishes, and runs the kitchen. The pizza here would satisfy a guy from New Jersey. The crust is thin and crispy. If I had to complain about something, it would be that sometimes the crust can be a little over cooked. However, everything else is near perfection. Monkey King has two locations. One in Wujin near Yancheng, and the other in Xinbei, near Candle’s Steakhouse.
I know. It’s a Turkish place. However, Turkish cuisine has pide, which is basically Turkey’s version of pizza. It features a thin crust that is formed into a different shape, and it’s sliced into strips, but it’s the same concept as a pizza. Istanbul’s pie with doner kebab meat is highly recommended. But they have the other more standard toppings that a person might find in other shops. Istanbul Restaurant can be found in Xinbei on Taihu Road, near the media tower.
I know. It’s an Australian themed bar. But the love of pizza is truly international. Koala recently hired a new chef, and the menu is currently being expanded and rewritten. Their pizza tends to go heavy on the tomato sauce, which is something many Chinese-owned pizza parlors just do not do at all. The other thing is that they sell pizza by slice. They are one of the only places I know that does that. So, you are not obligated to eat a whole pie. Sure, foreign owned hotels do by the slice, but it’s part of a buffet you are paying a lot of RMB for. You can’t just pop in for a slice and a craft beer. At Koala, you can. So, it’s highly convenient — especially if you are there one night, drinking, and want to munch on something yummy and cheaply priced. Ok Koala is in Xinbei is located near the BRT stop one shopping center north of Wanda Plaza.
The Tree Pizza
This is a cozy little place downtown, right off of Beidajie. Tree serves a very thin crust. It is such a small nook of a place that it is easy to miss if you are not looking for it. Besides the excellent pizza, the place has a very pleasant and unique ambiance. For me, it’s almost like eating at a tiny neighborhood parlor back in Asbury Park, Neptune, or Long Branch. When compared to other places, the prices here are very, very affordable. It’s high quality at a low price.
CF Cafe is actually a high end bakery serving lots of delicious deserts. They do, however, offer varied range of lunch and dinner items including salads and sandwiches. Thin crust pizza is also on their menu. When compared to Tree or OK Koala, their pizza tends to be a bit pricey. Also, they do not serve regular toppings like pepperoni, but they do have a good five veggie pie that is perhaps one of the more vegetarian friendly options in town that’s more than just a plain cheese pizza. Like Istanbul Restaurant, CF Cafe is on Taihu Road in Xinbei. It’s across the street from Zoo Coffee and the media tower complex.
If the myriad of things lacked life they would vanish.
–Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Understanding Taoism sometimes can be quite a challenge. Allow me to reference Winston Churchill: it’s like a riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside an enigma. True, Churchill was originally talking about understanding Russian politics, but that doesn’t stop people from using that quote to talk about things that seem utterly opaque. Yet, I tried to understand Lao Tzu’s (Laozi in Pinyin. The book I referenced used the Cantonese spellings for author and title) words over the Qingming holiday.
The cold weather had gone away, and I finally got back to wandering around Changzhou on my ebike. Since it was a holiday to honor the dead, I thought I would go out hunting for cemeteries. Only, I didn’t go into any of them. That might be culturally offensive, and I just wanted to look at them from afar. In the process, I saw people lots of people burning Joss Paper, hell money, and so much more. Burnt offerings is a way to honor the dead in China. So, setting “hell money” aflame is like an inter-dimensional wire transfer for somebody who has yet to be reincarnated. At one cemetery, I saw one family build a fake house and then torch it. But, that wasn’t the thing it that made me think of the Tao Te Ching quote. It was this place.
This is Qingyunshan Temple 青云山道观. It’s in Wujin, but not really in the Hutang area most foriegners know. Actually, its in Niutang, which is west of Hutang, and it’s at the end of a bumpy and cracked concrete road. I didn’t find this place by accident. Besides cemeteries, I spent my Qingming holiday looking for a Taoist place of worship. Changzhou doesn’t have many of them. I found this as a result of entering vague Chinese keywords into Baidu Maps and navigating towards a red dot on my mobile phone. Qingyunshan basically looks like this …
Forlorn. Seemingly abandoned. There was almost a haunted vibe here. I pressed my phone up to one window to get a shot inside.
According to Baidu, this Qingyunshan Temple is 500 years old. It made me think a little about Lao Tzu’s words. “If the myriad of things lacked life they would vanish.” This place looks like it lacks life. Yet, it hasn’t vanished. The Cultural Revolution and the contemporary boom in real estate and infrastructure construction has made plenty of places vanish. So, maybe it’s not truly dead?
Yet, even on Qingming, when some people actively seek out such places to religiously honor their ancestors, it was relatively silent, solemn. It would be a mistake to think that this place was totally abandoned, though. The few candles somebody lit appeared sort of fresh. So, somebody other than me had been here recently.
What is one way to potentially piss off an Australian? Claim to be a Aussie specialty shop and do not sell Tim Tams. That actually happened in Wujin. Axmall was this little nook store next to the Wanda Realm hotel. Only, they didn’t have Tim Tams the last time I went there. Sure, they had some bottles of Australian wine and some health products, but the shelves seemed remarkably empty. Not long after that, the store shut down for good. Word is, Axmall will be moving to Xinbei.
So, what is a Tim Tam? It’s two biscuits sandwiched together with a creamy center. Those biscuits are then dipped in chocolate. There are a variety of different flavors from doubled coated (double dipped), dark chocolate, white chocolate, and more. Amazingly enough, you don’t have to go to an Australian shop to find them.
However, they were not at Metro last time I looked, and they are not on the import shelves of the major foreign grocery stores like Walmart or Tesco. I have only seen them in two different imported good shops and both are chains.
Zhoumo 周茉 has consistently had them. The smallest one of these is downtown and right off of Beidajie and near the now mostly empty Parksons. The Xinbei store is on Taihu Road and can be easily walked to from Wanda Plaza. The Wujin shop is on Wuyi Road and is across the street from the Coco City shopping mall. Only, that one only had white chocolate Tim Tams the last time I was there. And ugh, to quote an Australian friend and all around Tim Tam enthusiast, “White chocolate is not real chocolate and does not deserve to be in the same category as chocolate.” For the sake of a general readership, expletives were edited out of that quote. Anyhow, that’s just our two humble opinions on the matter. The variety of flavors available seems to fluctuate, but Zhoumo usually tends to restock and reorder Tim Tims regularly, so it could just be the luck of when you go and what they have.
The other store to carry these yummy biscuits is Way To Delicious 味和氏. I have seen some of those stores either keep that English name, but the trend seems to be a switch to “Waycious.” While I have seen Tim Tams at all of Changzhou’s Zhoumo supermarkets, the same cannot be said for Way To Delicious. It seems that if the store is large, you will likely find Tim Tams. If the store is very small, they will likely not be stocked. Personally, I have seen them at three specific locations. The stores on Hanjiang Road and Taihu Road in Xinbei both had them. The Wujin location in the South Town area near Jagerwirt also had them.
Of course, you don’t have to be Australian to enjoy Tim Tams. Last I checked, my home state of New Jersey was nowhere near the Down Under. All you need to love these things is a sweet tooth. As part of “research” for this post, I also shared some with a Chinese friend, and she said, “Wow, these are quite good” after her first bite.
As is always the case when writing about shopping, I can only attest that the products were on the shelf when I looked. I can’t guarantee that they will always be there.
Some people loved the place, and some people didn’t care for the more fusion-oriented western dishes. However, Secret Recipe in Wujin served a special purpose. While the district is rapidly growing now and is heading on a good trajectory, expat dining options in the greater Hutang area were limited. In 2014, for example, you had Monkey King, Chocolate’s, Grandma’s Nook, and Jagerwirt. And, you had Secret Recipe in the Injoy Mall. That was it. I particularly liked the Malaysian dishes like Nasi Lamak. I also really enjoyed their curries, too.
Recently, I was in Wujin and at the Injoy Mall. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Secret Recipe had gone missing. It looks like it’s being replaced with a BOY fashion store in progress. I lived in Wujin for two years, and their Injoy location was always a reliable option when I grew tired of Chinese or Chinese college cafeteria food. In a strange way, it feels like I am losing an old friend. However, to be honest, each time I ate there, I was one of very few butts in seats, and rent on the bottom floor of Injoy must be costly. It makes sense if this location closed because of a lack of traffic.
But, that’s the weird thing. It’s not completely closed. They still have a display case selling their cakes. Right now, it’s like half of Wujin’s Secret Recipe disappeared. And honestly, I never ate their cakes. I went there for the Malaysian food and curry, and, at times, the “Irish” lamb shank with mashed potatoes and gravy. Irish people might go there and laugh at its lack of Irishness, but I still enjoyed eating that dish. Though, I also know some people liked the desserts. A friend and former colleague who still lives in Wujin certainly did.
Secret Recipe had three locations in Changzhou: Wujin, Tianning, and Xinbei. Only the Xinbei one in the Lafu supermarket remains fully intact, now. And, honestly, that one doesn’t have many “bums in chairs” either. I am existentially afraid for this restaurant on its own behalf. So, yeah, in a very silly way, I feel like I have lost a friend. But, if there has anything the last year of my life has taught me, it’s this: when you lose a close friend for whatever bullshit reason, try to make new ones. Your life will be better for it. Wujin Injoy’s Malaysian place has gone missing, but Injoy has a Thai restaurant, now. So, you can still go to that mall and still get curry. So, imagine me saying this with all the swagger I can muster: Hello, you! You look nice! Beautiful, actually! Do you have a papaya salad?
Silk has long since been intertwined into Chinese culture. There is the functional use of it in high end couture and fashion, and then there is the use of it to produce cultural objects and art. Such is the case with embroidery — which like many other things in China, has a rich history going back more than a thousand years.
Like any art or craft, Chinese embroidery can be separated into different categories. One of which is native to Nanjing. It is often refered to as Nanjing Yunjin, with the Chinese characters and pinyin being南京云锦 Nánjīng yúnjǐn. The characters 云锦 refers to clouds. As they are a common motif on this style of brocade, but the style can be used to dragons, religious imagery, and much more. These designs are stitched by hand and can take many years to complete. The attention to detail is that exquisite. Also, since gold and silver lining is involved, the resulting brocades become extremely expensive and highly valuable.
The Wujin Museum in the Yancheng complex has a temporary exhibit of such brocades that runs to the end of March. There, a visitor can see first hand such fine attention to detail.
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.
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.
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.
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.