When COVID-19 was spreading with documented cases here in Changzhou, I figured out that this blog needed to go on hiatus. After all, we were told to stay indoors and minimize the risk of catching and spreading the virus. This blog has always been about learning more about the city and encouraging people to see “The Real Changzhou.” So, it’s purpose was not relevant to the times. In the interim, I created a new blog about Chinese alcohol: Liquor Laowai. It gave me something productive to do. Now, however, the city seems to be slowly seeking normalcy as infection rates nationwide have been trending downwards. A good friend and long time reader of Real Changzhou suggested an idea to me a few days ago about reviving this blog. I 110% agreed with him
Things are reopening around town. And that is great news! Yay! However, with the promise of returning amenities comes a lot of confusion. Here’s an example. OK Koala was told it could open and then after a few days, it was told to go back to being open only for delivery and take out. Meanwhile, Candles, Monkey King, and Daniel’s are all open in Xinbei. I can speak to that because I was at Candles last night.
This is not intended as commentary on city decisions at all. This is only meant as reporting of where one can and cannot go based on my experience. I thought a place to start with would be Japanese Street aka Hanjiang Road. Why? It’s where I live.
As you can see above, a majority of the Japanese eateries are back open. However, there are a few things to consider.
For whatever reason, Indian Kitchen is still closed.
Forgive me for some of the poor cellphone picture quality. The majority of the bars on the street are still closed. I know Japanese Street has a reputation for having a few girly / hostess places (which are all shuttered). However, not everything here is actually that. Fossils, for example, has western food I personally like. It’s not open.
Hanjiang Road is one of the major nightlife destinations for the Japanese expat / business person community, and that’s why you have two or three whiskey bars here. They have locked doors as well. If you are looking for an open bar, however, there is only one.
29-Minute Beer Delivery is open. Honestly, I can’t tell you if they have their kitchen running, but you can buy beer here. I know. I have. It’s also important to stress this: I don’t know if it’s open as a butt-on-stool bar. I just walked in and bought some Wuhan craft beer as take out. Yet, keep in mind I am operating by one simple question for all of this: open or closed? While reading this post, here as another important thing to consider. Information such as this becomes outdated the moment I publish it. So, this is the state of Japanese Street as of 8:30pm, 3/22/2020.
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.
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.
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.
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.
According to my students over the years, China isn’t a superpower when it comes to anime, cartoons, or comics. According to them, that’s the domain of Japan and America — with profoundly different styles coming out of both countries. With recent high budget movies like White Snake and others, it’s something that may change in the decades to come. After all, science fiction is now a big thing in China when it wasn’t twenty years ago.
Unlike science fiction, cartoons and comics do have a history in China. Sure, it may not be the level of Hayao Miyazaki, but then again he’s in a class of his own. There is only one — and can only be one — Miyazaki. Still, China has been publishing comics for decades. They just don’t look like anything you would find elsewhere.
Typically, these can be found in antique markets these days. They are tiny, and they are largely black and white with one panel and caption per page.
There is a deeper, richer history than this, though. In this regard, I’m speaking of San Mao 三毛.
Zhang Leping 张乐平 created this character in 1935 as a way to show the economic plight of orphans and the poor in Shanghai. Of course, there was some anti-Japanese propaganda thrown into Zhang’s work. However, it is really hard to argue that San Mao is dogmatic. Zhang’s work does have a political point, but there is often a whimsical edge. Plus, he often depicted the humanity of what it’s like to be a poor and malnourished in truly chaotic times.
If I am going to be honest, I had never heard of San Mao before I moved to China. If I am permitted to say something weird (to me), I had never heard of San Mao or Zhang Leping until I walked into a shopping plaza. American shopping malls are not keen on putting on cultural displays. Often in the USA, commercial and cultural things are decidedly kept separate.
Global Harbour in Xinbei, however, has an exhibit dedicated to San Mao and Zhang Leping’s drawings. It’s on the fourth floor.
It’s hard to tell if the framed work are prints, reproductions, or originals. To an extent, does it really matter?
For me, it didn’t. I learned something new, and this whole exhibit is free and open the public. I wandered in with a super-jumbo cup of watered down espresso from Starbucks. I did this on a very lazy day off, and I could very easily see myself doing it again, soon.
The word around town is that there is a new Greek restaurant called Golden Olives, and after a few friends sent me pictures and firm declarations of “This is awesome,” I felt like I had no choice but to check it out. After all, I have loved Greek food ever since my elder brother forced me to eat a gyro pita in Brussels (near the Grand Platz) such a long time ago. So, did the food live up to the hype and whispers? Here’s what I tried.
This is halloumi with cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Halloumi is a thickly textured cheese resulting from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. It’s so dense it doesn’t melt, and it’s one of the few cheeses that can be grilled or fried. Like feta, it’s often used in Mediterranean styled salads — which are also available on Golden Olive’s menu. This restaurant quite possibly could be one of the first to ever serve halloumi in Changzhou. Next up, there’s this.
Tzatziki, pure and simple. This is rather common as both a dip for flat bread and a condiment in wraps. Personally speaking, whenever I try a new-to-me restaurant in China, it’s usually best to start with the most basic menu items. Simply put, if a “Greek” eatery can’t get tzatziki right, then something is seriously wrong and the rest of the menu may not be worth trying. In the case of Golden Olives, this starter more than passed the test.
Of course, if one is just judging by the basics, starting with a gyro platter seemed apropos. When I first looked at the menu, I was a little disappointed. In my mind, a gyro usually consists beef-lamb hybrid where the meats are ground, mixed, and rotisserie roasted on a spit. But then again, back in the USA, a gyro usually implies a pitawrap. It’s not a startling revelation that America changes things and assumptions when it imports international cuisine by way of immigrants and their resulting children. Regardless of that, the chicken and pork mixed platter was seasoned exceptionally well, and I look forward to having it again someday. In short, Golden Olives lives up to the hype and buzz it has been getting recently. So, yes, it’s actually worth the visit. While it is pricey, one can easily say there is nothing else in Changzhou like it. Istanbul Restaurant comes close, but that’s Turkish food, not Greek.
Currently, there is a downside, though. Golden Olives is currently located in the brand new Wu Yue mall in Tianning. It’s an inconvenient trek from the city center. The B2 — among other buses — comes out this way, but it’s a lengthy ride. Depending on where one is in Changzhou, a taxi could be a little on the costly side of things. This is only a temporary problem, however. Tianning Wu Yue is near a future Line 2 subway station. However, that is slated for next year. So, chalk the inconvenient location up as a growing pain. Personally speaking though, it is wort visiting.
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.
From time to time, after staying up late and drinking one too many beers with friends at a bar, I often hit Japanese Street on my way home. It’s more of a convenience, though. The north gate of my housing estate is actually on Hanjiang Road. The other night, I did one of my routine pit stops, and I had what I felt was an amazing bowl of pork and garlic ramen. It was also 2am, and I figured thinking it was so awesome could be chalked up to the fact that I was a little tipsy. So, I decided to go back, completely sober, and try it again for lunch. Alas, the place was closed. I was still hungry, and so I just ventured into a different — and newer to me — Japanese eatery. They didn’t have the type of soup I had wanted from the other place. However, I noticed something I hadn’t really tried before.
To put plainly and simply: udon noodles in Japanese beef curry. Now, if one is ranking the international curries of the world, Japan’s version is not near the top. In my opinion, that’s an ongoing threeway war between Singapore, Thailand, and India. That’s not to say Japanese curry is bad, and I do quite often enjoy it. There is a sort of simple “comfort food” aspect sometimes appeals to me.
Frequently, curry is on a Japanese menu while being paired with white rice. Adding a pork or chicken breaded cutlet is also common, and that is often sometimes topped with a fried egg. So, on this occasion, it was the first time I saw beef curry paired with soft, thick udon noodles. So, what’s the end result?
Liked it, and at 35 RMB a bowl, it will be something I will have again for a quick lunch. While putting noodles into curry is not a new and novel thing, this particular pairing isn’t something I have seen at other Japanese places I have dined at. That’s also the important thing about figuring out the entirety of Hanjiang Road as a dining destination. There are so many Japanese restaurants competing with each other, it’s hard to declare which is the best. Actually, that’s a bit of a silly task. It’s better to figure out what menu items are unique to certain places. So, simple udon beef curry; it’s one of the reasons why I might go back to Jing He 井禾 on Japanese Street. Since it was only my second time there, I’m wondering what else may be on the menu that sets itself apart from the dozens of other places nearby.
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.
Random European-looking statues around Changzhou — and this part of China — hardly isn’t news. In fact, it’s pretty normal, and you can especially see it at housing estates. I don’t have the foggiest idea why, and I’m not going to guesstimate and end up with what’s going to largely a clueless opinion. This stuff just exists. For example, over at the Heping International 和平国际 housing estate over on Zhongwu Avenue 中吴大道 in Tianning, you will find stuff like this…
Here you have a statue referencing Pandora opening her box. “Pandora’s Box” is now a well worn term for releasing utter and uncontrollable chaos into the world. It’s kind of apropos for the stroll that I took.
One of the next sculptures I saw was Athena, goddess of wisdom. Doesn’t fit with the Pandora’s Box reference, right? Wait for it.
I am assuming the figure on the right is Poseidon. The other sculptures had bilingual signs, and this one didn’t. Also thus far, the statues have all been Greek references. Here, we also have a merman wrangling a horse. As such, the sea god is a perfectly good guess. Previously, we saw Athena. So, what about the Pandora reference? Still doesn’t fit, right? As I said earlier, wait for it.
Look at the base of the pedestal. There is no bilingual sign explaining the European / Belgian context of this. Somebody walking by might just lose their mind at the sight of a naked boy holding his wiener and taking aim before letting loose. That person would be rightly justified in losing their mind. Three years later, there’s now this nearby. . .
So, at least whoever manages this bit of real estate thought it prudent to explain the Belgian cultural meaning of this very particular peeing child. Still, The fact that they wanted to duplicate Mannekin Pis in the first place, and surround him with Greek mythology, is still utterly bonkers.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, I am a secular agnostic and not a Buddhist. I don’t come to places like Wuhuang so much as to pray.
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.
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.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged man who will die single and lonely, love can sometimes be a frustrating emotion. Think about it, somebody develops an deep attraction for somebody, and they might say and do foolish things. They get rejected, and in the doldrums of despair, they say and do equally foolish things. I have been both married and divorced — both loved and spurned. So, trust me. I know.
I was thinking about this because recently — by complete accident — I happened on what has to be one of the most absurd places in Changzhou. There is actually a small museum dedicated to the pain of heartbreak. It actually has curated items and other rooms that just defy rational description. Instead of describing it further, I think it’s just best to let some pictures do the talking.
These few pictures do not adequately capture the level of surreal absurdity that can be seen here. In short, this place really has to be seen to be believed. Sometimes, it feels more like an avant garde art installation than an actual museum. Either way, it’s a lot of mindbogglingly goofy fun. It’s downtown and in the MOOC shopping center. This is the plaza that used to be Golden Eagle. It’s located on the uppermost floor.