All posts by richristow

Macau Sandwich Fusion at Global Harbour

It’s a bit of cultural chauvinism to claim that Europeans invented the concept of “sandwich” and then brought it to the Americas and than to Asia. To be honest, the idea of putting meat between two pieces of bread predates the Britain’s Earl of Sandwich and his gambling problems. John Montagu, allegedly, had no time for a formal meal while sitting at a cards table; he simply ordered servants to bring him bread and meat. I think I once drunkenly yelled something similar while playing Magic: The Gathering in a bar. Actually, I have likely yelled something much worse in that situation.

Some culinary concepts are so basic and elementary that separate cultures can independently think them up. Seriously, who really wants to argue who can claim to be originators of something on rice? When both India and China have cultures that date back thousands of years? That’s just silly. So is arguing who first thought of putting something between two slices of bread.

Yeah, but let’s go there, anywhere. Consider this….

This is 肉夹馍 aka róu jiā mó. It is a stewed and chopped fatty-pork sandwich. There are some variations that include chicken, beef, or lamb. The character 莫 actually refers to the bread being used: it’s flat and circular. It’s from Shaanxi. It’s thought to date back thousands of years to the Qin Dynasty two hundred years before the common era (BCE). There is another age-old Chinese sandwich.

This is 驴肉火烧 aka lǘ ròu huǒshāo. It’s chopped donkey meat stuffed into a lard-infused bread that has been fire baked. It’s from Hebei, and reports of it date back to the Ming Dynasty. Notice it looks, in length, like a sub from the American Mid-Atlantic. Here is a Philadelphia cheese steak for comparative purposes.

Donkey sandwiches are largely regional. For instance, they are really hard to find in Changzhou. I know, I have looked, found, and have eaten one in a very dirty back alley store, once. This was far, far away from the city center.

So, the meat between bread concept predates the Earl of Sandwich apocryphal story by hundreds and thousands of years. What Europeans did bring to Asia was their types of bread. Vietnam’s banh mi uses a French baguette. Over in Macau, there are pork chop buns. Macau has a history linked to Portuguese colonialism, which has exerted an influenced the local Chinese cuisine there. This includes the pork chop bun, which makes good use of Portuguese bread. It bares a close resemblance to the Portuguese bifana.

Image “borrowed” from the below blog link.

Sauce and marinade is important to a bifana. It typically involves wine, garlic, and paprika. I went looking for the Macau-Chinese version of these in Changzhou, and I found two at Global Harbour in Xinbei.

This is 澳门星记猪骨 Àomén xīng jì zhū gǔ, a Macau hotpot place on the second floor. As far I know, there is no English name. The word “burgers” in glaring neon refers to porkchop buns, not actual hamburgers. There were three different sandwiches on menu. The lobster roll was not available the last time I visited. Two other oputions I had a chance to were. Also, this should be noted: the menu is not in English, and you have to go searching for the characters 澳门猪扒包 Àomén zhū pá bāo. Anything ending in 扒包 pá bāo on the menu basically denotes “sandwich of this type.” So, let’s see what I got.

This is a pork bun in it’s most simple iteration. The meat is marinated, breaded, and fried. Here is a cross section.

The reddish tint is from the marinade, not from undercooking.

Sometimes, a sandwich works on sheer simplicity. This is basically just marinated pork, bread, and fried onions. The other option available, at the time, looked like this.

This is essentially the same pork cutlet, but it’s been dipped into a curry sauce.

No fried onions, but some crunchy lettuce that has touched some curry. To be honest, this is staple food. It is bread and meat, which is why this a popular street food in Macau. Roujiamo is the same in Xian. Chopped donkey in crispy bread Hebei. Hot dogs in street carts in New York City are basically the same. They are all popular street foods, and the concept of bread and meat is so simple that nobody should claim it’s historically theirs exclusively. All I can say is that this is a type of food, and the quest for the perfect sandwich will never end for me — nor should it.

In the name of honesty and full disclosure, I can’t tell you if it is authentic or any good. These two are the first Macau pork buns I have ever tried. I’ve also never had a bifana before, but I know Portuguese food is extremely tasty. So, a trip to Shanghai to find one may be in my future down the line. There is a Macau sandwich shop set to open in Xinbei Wanda at some point. I look forward to trying that for the sake of comparison, because when it comes to researching sandwiches, one should be highly empirical.

Not the Iron Man Usually Thought Of

China used to have “model worker” and “learn from …” promotional campaigns. Essentially, these were propaganda initiatives trying to instill the values of civic duty, patriotism, and hard work into the population. Lei Feng, pictured above, is perhaps the most enduring. Back in the 1960s, there were others.

Wang Jinxi is one of them, and decades ago he also got the “iconic” treatment. Lei Feng was a People’s Liberation Army soldier that died young when a telegram pole fell on him. Wang wasn’t a soldier; he was an oil field worker.

The characters 工业学大庆 gōngyè xué dàqìng means “Learn from Daqing Industry.” Daqing is a prefecture-level city in Heilongjiang province in north east China. This is a part of the country that shares a border with Russia. In the late 1950s, prospectors found a large oil field there. In the 1960s, Mao and other members of the central government announced a “massive battle” to open up Daqing for drilling. China desperately wanted petroleum independence and reduce it’s dependency on imports to satisfy energy needs.

Wang Jinxi was tasked to lead the drilling team. According to the story, he and his intrepid squad toiled in temperatures well below zero degree Celsius. Their dedication faced constant issues of fatigue and injury, and yet they soldiered on. Wang’s dedication to hard work earned him the nickname of “Iron Man.” But, not in a Tony Stark / MCU / Marvel Comics sense. One story involves Wang personally throwing himself into a mud pit to clog up a “blowout hole.”

Apparently, doing this didn’t kill him. He died decades later, of cancer. Wang is also hailed from Gansu province, and he is remembered for work in Heilongjiang. Jiangsu and Changzhou is no where near this historical conversation. So, that begs a question. Why is this being written about on this blog?

铁人王进喜 translates to Iron Man Wang Jinxi

I found a statue of him in Tianning — just down the road from Changzhou’s central train station. I was driving a car, and I had just dropped off a friend for a business meeting. I needed to kill sometime before picking her back up. So, I thought it might be good to fill up the gas tank.

The statue is placed at a gas station. Given the story behind the guy, it’s actually more logical than a random tank and a couple of missiles on display at a Xinbei gas station.

Oil and natural gas are still being extracted from Daqing to this day. However, peak production has already occurred many, many years ago. Wang Jinxi’s old oil field is currently in decline. As for Mao’s drive for oil independence, that really never came about. China currently is the biggest importer of crude in the world, with Saudi Arabia being the biggest provider.

Vietnamese at Wujin Wuyue

Colonialism and imperialism has a warping effect on the occupied culture. Consider Vietnam. Before defeating the United States of America in 1973, they had to throw out the French in a 1954 war of independence, effectively saying “Frenchie, go home — but leave all your baguettes, pâté, and coffee behind.” The French, by no means benevolent overlords, did actually introduce some things that the locals grew to like. As a result, Vietnamese cuisine reflects subtle French influences while retaining fundamental Asian characteristics.

Consider a bahn mi. It involves a sliced open baguette that is stuffed with Vietnamese pickled vegetables, pork, and pâté as a condiment. This sandwich showed up in Saigon during the 1950’s, and as noted, it’s a decade with a decidedly hostile resentment towards French occupation. People were shooting and killing each other, but your local run-of-mill-freedom fighter / sympathizer were still chomping on baguettes in places like Saigon.

I first learned about Vietnamese food back in 2015, nearly a full year after I had moved to Changzhou. On BBC Travel, I had read an article positing the question “Is the bahn mi the world’s greatest sandwich?” I was intrigued, after all, I am American, and sandwiches are a staple food. In places like New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia — cue some sarcasm here — they are actually worshipped and rhetorically fought over everyday. Ask a New Yorker which deli cures the best pastrami or corned beef and makes the best Reuben; you will get a tirade.

Pastrami Reuben piled high, as it should be.

So, I found myself intrigued and desperately wanting to find and try a bahn mi. At the time, I couldn’t find any Vietnamese places in town. Over the years, I actually found excuses to go to Shanghai and hunt down this legendary sandwich. I found some good ones, and I found mediocre as well. The best I actually tasted was in the Hongqiao airport. From time to time, Vietnamese places have popped up around town, but much like Singaporean and Malaysian joints, they didn’t seem to stick around for too long. Even more frustrating, none of those places sold a bhan mi. Currently, there is one pho place next to the movie theater in the Jiu Zhou New World near downtown. Last time I ate there, I wasn’t all that impressed. Recently, I found a new-to-me pho shop.

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Rice Paper is on the uppermost floor on Wujin Wuyue Plaza. Even early into the dinner shift, this place was packed with a waiting list. That’s not something I could say for the other place in the New World mall. A packed house with butts in seats is always a good sign.

So, how was the food? My dining partner and I started with shrimp spring rolls.

This is well and nice, but when it comes Vietnamese restaurants, the primary question usually asked is “Okay, but how is the pho?” I opted for beef although there were also seafood options available.

Lean beef,
Condiments to gussy up your pho.

As pho goes, this was relatively light and easy. The slices of beef had not a lot of fat, and this more of a China thing. Fatty meat ends up in a lot of noodle soups, and thankfully Rice Paper doesn’t make that mistake in trying to cater to Chinese customers. All in all, it was nice, and I would reorder this again in the future. But, there was something here that I absolutely loved.

The Siagon chicken curry is something I would definitely return for. It tasted a little bit like yellow curry with plenty of potatoes. Only Vietnamese curry is closer to Indian than it is to Thai, and this gets back to the idea of French colonialism.

Curry is not a dish indigenous to Vietnam. During the 19th Century, France had land holdings in both India and Vietnam. However, the French didn’t trust the locals, and as a result, a city like Saigon ended up with an influx of Indian guest workers. Those are the people that brought curry to Vietnam. Eventually, like the French, this Indian population eventually departed, but they left their culinary influence behind. France didn’t bring curry to Vietnam, but it had a big part in facilitating that. This is the warping factor I mentioned earlier.

Either way, I am happy to know there is a nice Vietnamese option in Changzhou; I look forward to going down the menu and trying everything over the long term. However, there is one thing about Rice Paper that just infuriates me. It fits into the longer narrative of Vietnamese places in this town: plenty of noodles but no sandwich. No bahn mi. Booo!

Sexpionge in Ancient Changzhou

Double-O-Sexy? Seriously, ask yourself if the James Bond franchise could even exist without “Bond girls,”

Honey Trap (noun): A spy using seduction and sexual acts to compromise a target for purposes of blackmail. Example: A Russian hyper male FSB officer falls for a twink CIA dude while dancing at an illicit gay bar in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Strobe lights and mirrored disco ball spinning from the ceiling are certainly involved as they make eye contact. Afterwards, the two relocate to a hotel room so they can be very naughty with each other. The Russian becomes a double agent as a result to keep his real sexual orientation secret from his FSB coworkers.

Honey traps are frequent plot points in James Bond movies and TV shows like The Americans — or just about any entertainment product involving espionage. However, there are more to them than just John Le Carré novels and stories like them

Sure, a bit of sexy intrigue does spice up a fictional plot and narrative, but honey traps are actually a part of world history. During the Cold War, Warsaw Pact nations did this on a routine basis, where handsome young men were often dispatched to seduce secretaries within the Pentagon and within other American governmental agencies.

In a time of rampant and institutionalized homophobia, it was particularly effective if you could ensnare a closeted lesbian or gay man, because that person would be even more existentially compromised. The illicit secret might become very public. This is why, by the way, the previous joke above regarding gay discos in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, actually is quite real and not a total joke as it originally sounds. If the game is hard intelligence in a pre-Internet world, a spy doesn’t have to bring down a high ranking official. A spy just needs to seduce somebody who has access to a higher ranking official’s filing cabinet and documents.

If you go back farther into ancient history, a honey trap may not even involve access to papers. It might involv sending a beautiful woman into somebody else’s kingdom — just to create chaos. That actually was purported to have happened thousands of years ago in what is now Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. This was during the Spring and Autumn era (770-476 BCE), and the specific kingdoms were Wu 吴 and Yue 越. This should not be misconstrued to having anything to do with Wuyue shopping plazas; those characters are 吾悦. Anyhow, Wu was predominately modern Jiangsu, and Yue, Zhejiang. The border between the two sometimes shifted due to ongoing war.

King Guo of Yue.

Gou Jian sat on the Yue throne from roughly 495 to 465 BCE in what would become present day Shaoxing (a city between Hangzhou and Ningbo). At the beginning of his reign, King Helu of Wu had his army march south and attack. Gou Jian defeated that advance and pushed the invaders back. Helu never forgot this, and on his deathbed, he commanded his son and heir, Fu Chai, to avenge the loss.

Eventually, he did, and he took both Gou Jian and his top advisor, Fan Li, prisoner. Both were forced to work as slaves performing manual labor. Guo kept his misery to himself, and after a few years, the Wu king granted the Guo and his advisor freedom and the ability to return to south to Yue. That was a colossally bad idea. Once returning to their own country, the two dedicated themselves to plotting the tragic downfall of Wu and Fu Chai. Of course, that involved troops, but Fan Li had spicy idea to plop on top of that.

As tribute from Yue, Fu Chai was gifted a beautiful woman, Xi Shi. She was so gorgeous, according to legend, birds would drop out of the sky if they caught a glimpse of her. Also, if fish saw her peering into their waters, they fell to the bottom of the river; they would become so mesmerized that they would forget how to swim. She is credited as the origin of the Chinese idiom 沉鱼落雁 chén yú luò yàn — literally “Fish sink and wild geese drop.” It’s often used to describe woman who are so beautiful, men literally go insane while looking at them.

The idea, basically, entailed that Fu Chai was a fundamentally horny man who couldn’t control himself. If he had the stunning Xi Shi all to himself, his constant arousal would distract him from matters of state and the Wu kingdom would fall into disorganization. That’s exactly what happened. In the end, Guo Jian prevailed. While Yue forces sieged the Wu capital of Gusu (part of present day Suzhou) for the final time, Fu Chai committed suicide. Yue absorbed the Wu kingdom thereafter in 473 BCE.

One could easily argue that Fu Chai fell into one of the oldest honey traps in history. This is one of the epic Chinese stories that a person can easily find English YouTube videos on. That’s nice, but one can easily look at my clickbait-ish title and ask what Changzhou has to do with this. It’s where, allegedly, the story goes after the fall of Wu.

Fan Li and Xi Shi share a tender moment on a boat.

People who misunderstand this story might accuse Xi Shi of a sluttery; they might also accuse Fan Li and Gou Jian as being her pimps. This leaves out the fact that she was possibly a willing third accomplice, knew what she was getting into, and did it because of a sense of duty to her country. How different is this story from the one of KGB women spreading their legs to get kompromat on Americans or western Europeans? Every spy has a handler. And those managers have managers,

To that end, Xi Shi and Fan Li were also lovers, and she likely gave herself willingly to Fu Chai at Fan’s direction. The Yue King may have merely signed off on the plot. After Fu Chai killed himself and the Wu Kingdom became ripe for annexation, King Guo Jian of Yue deemed it necessary to purge (assassinate) many of his advisors and reboot his court with fresh faces. Fan Li anticipated this, and he and his eventual wife fled together.

At the time, Changzhou was not known by that name. It was Piling 毗陵. Fan Li, during his time in town as a Yue governmental minister, also over saw the dredging of canals. One of which involved a waterway connecting Lake Ge (which everybody in Changzhou now calls Xitaihu) and Tai Lake — the third largest freshwater body of water in China. Canals in ancient China were a network of liquid roads. Something a lot quicker than riding horse or donkey out of town. A getaway car in this period of Chinese history is a canal boat, and Fan Li likely knew how to navigate that system.

Changzhou claims to be the departure point of Fan Li and Xi Shi. It is here they got away and evaded detection. At some point, Piling was under Yue control, and Fan was in the area overseeing the dredging of canals. There was a need to connect Lake Ge (what everybody know calls Xitaihu) with Tai Lake, which is the third largest freshwater body in China. It is argued that, with government agents in hot pursuit, Xi and Fan boarded a canal boat in Piling, navigated the system of artificial waterways to the vast safety of Tai Lake. Of course, with a story this old, there are other variations and it’s hard to confirm 100% accuracy.

There is a marker in present day Changzhou commemorating this story. It bares the name 西蠡古渡 xili gu du, or Xi Li Ancient Ferry. Of course, “Xili” is a name combination technique. These days, it’s used to name celebrity couples. For example, Ben Affleck + Jennifer Lopez = Bennifer. It would be silly to claim that this marker and the accompanying stone pavilion actually dates to antiquity. It was open to the public back in 2010.

It is a narrow strip of green space next to a canal. There are multiple boarding points and loading and unloading ramps for cargo.

Besides this, there are views of the canal itself.

This small bit of canal area is not that far the Wuyue 吾悦 Plaza downtown. Truth be told, the area can be seen in about five minutes, and what is there is not as epic as the story that inspired them. How could it be?

Xian Noodles at Wujin Wanda

Standup comedian Lewis Black, back in 2002, once joked that he had found the end of the universe. It was in Houston, Texas. There, he had a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks. The joke was recorded live and was featured on his second comedy album titled “The End of the Universe.” Of course, this occurred in a time when comedians still released albums. In the 2020s, they really don’t do that as much anymore. They now have a “special” video that’s released on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and whatever new streaming app an entertainment company wants us to fork over money for in the name of monthly fees.

Regardless of that, Black, was engaging in social commentary about corporate penetration into daily life. For him, the fact that Starbucks needed to open a café for people too lazy to cross the street was just too much. It fit into Black’s over-caffeinated, jittery, finger pointing style of anger comedy perfectly. Sometimes comedians — court jesters — are supreme truth tellers. Having a Starbucks across the street another Starbucks is a little bit of overkill.

Though, a business person might have a different take. What if the original Starbucks was in an extremely small location, but has a dedicated following? The new location across the street could have been created to cater to the overflow of customers.

This is something I have thought about while pondering something kind of unrelated to the international coffee giant: Lanzhou beef noodle places in Changzhou. They are literally everywhere, and I have seen a Lanzhou joint across the street from another — more than once. This is something I am not complaining about, either. I love this type of food, and once you learn to read the Chinese on the menu board, you can go into nearly any of them and order without needing pictures. This has helped me find a quick bite to eat while traveling the region outside Changzhou as well. Of course, some places are better than others; that goes without saying.

Though, I have found myself wishing there were other bits of Chinese cuisine that was as prolific within this city, and one of those would be Xian food. Hailing from central China, this city is known for producing noodles, and this is something that speaks to the Italian-American blood inside me. Give me noodles over rice any day of the week, month, or year. In a way, it’s easy to take Lanzhou places for granted because so many of them exist. Every time I see a Xian place, I try it more as a novelty than the cheap-but-yummy-and-reliable-dinner reality that are Lanzhou shops.

I ran into a Xian place recently to on Wujin Wanda’s pedestrian street. It was late into the evening, and other places were actually shutting down. My dining partner and I were hungry and desperate for a place to just feed us. This was the same desperation that had led me to so many Lanzhou places while traveling.

The place in question would be 西安手工面馆 xi’an shuo gong mian guan, aka Xian Handmade Noodles in English. The armored dudes flanking the entrance is a reference to the imperial history of Xian, which used to be a capital in ancient China. It’s a Terracotta Warriors reference — clay figures that were buried with Qin Shihuang, the inaugural emperor of a unified China. The Terracotta Warriors are buried in Xian with Qin Shihuang. It’s a huge tourist attraction. Of course, Xian food places are going to refence this. In this regard, Qin Shihuang and his tomb defenders can be the Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and Hamburgler of the Chinese noodle world.

Well, let me just drop the extended sarcasm and actually get to the food. There are typically three or four things I usually try walking into a Xian place. And a blatant McDonalds segway fits with the first.

This is 肉夹莫 roujiamo, aka “Chinese Hamburger.” There are countless iterations of this from the style of the bread to meat inside of it. Lanzhou places have a beef version, but the original uses chopped and stewed pork. This one also had some green onion mixed in that added a bit of crunch. For me, this type of Chinese sandwich fails when big blobs of pork fat are added, and thankfully this place avoids that completely. The bread here is also crisp and flakey, which can’t be said for other versions around town. It should be noted that while part of Xian cuisine, roujiamo is popular enough to be sold on its own and not connected to a Xian joint. The same could be said for another item on the menu.

This is a cold noodle dish known as 凉皮 liang pi. The noodles themselves are actually strips of tofu mixed together bean sprouts, nuts, a more spongier type of tofu, and sometimes more served in a vinaigrette. Like roujiamo, this is widely available around town and often has shops dedicated to only it. This place at Wujin Wanda did this dish where the vinegar had a slighty spicy kick to it, but not overly so. The pepper here was more of a nuance and not a face puncher.

This one, 嫂子汤面 saozi tang mian, I wished was more of face puncher. The broth tends to be more on the sour side of spiciness, and bowl seemed a bit watery to my taste. I didn’t hate it; I just have had better. Beside the noodles, this soup contains, potatoes, carrots, pork, and bean sprouts. Now, imagine this with a wider type of noodle and no broth. It would be sitting a salty sauce that you are meant to stir the ingredients into.

This is saozi biang biang mian. There is a reason why I didn’t type the name in Chinese, and that relates to the character biang.

It is the most absurdly complex character in Chinese — much akin to antidisestablishmentarianism in English or hottentottententententoonstelling in Dutch. I have never seen a computer or mobile phone interface that can handle biang.

All things considered, I liked all that I had at this location. When it comes to the two forms of saozi mian I tried, I certainly have had better. Perhaps, on the whole, it helps that I currently don’t live all that far from Wujin Wanda. I could certainly see myself eating here again. However, I think it would be more of a passing through deal, and the item I would mostly likely return for would be the pork sandwich.

Qiao Ji and Possible Changzhou Mountain Ghosts

Translating poetry is difficult depending on how dedicated you are trying to be. Can you really replicate the exact prosody or syllabic, linear sound systems from one language to another? The answer depends on the languages you are trying translate from and two. For example, one could argue that going from Italian to Spanish would be a lot easier than Chinese to English, or Armenian to Xhosa. After all, Spanish and Italian are closely related to each other than Chinese and English — which both seem mutually alien to each other. One is pictographic, and the other uses a Latin alphabet to represent phonetical sounds. It seems all one can hope for, at times, is a close approximation or imitation of the original’s intent.

I tried this again recently with my third attempt translating Chinese poetry into English. This recent effort involved Qiao Ji (1280-1345 CE). He was originally from Shanxi, but as a imperial civil servant likely ended up traveling all over the Middle Kingdom ended in the greater Jiangnan (regional name for “south of the Yangtze). I found this particular poem by entering “Piling (毗陵)” into gushiwen.cn — a digital archive of ancient Chinese verse. Also, Piling is the older, largely forgotten, historical name of Changzhou. One result with gushiwen included this.

江南倦客登临,多少豪雄,几许消沉。今日何堪,买田阳羡,挂剑长林。霞缕烂谁家昼锦,月钩横故国丹心。窗影灯深,磷火青青,山鬼喑喑。

Google Translate rendered that as:

Jiangnan tired guests come, how many heroes, how many depressions. What a shame today, buy Tian Yangxian and hang a sword in Changlin. Whose day brocade is rotten by the rosy rays, and the moon hook crosses the heart of the motherland. The window shadow lights are deep, the phosphorous is green, and the mountain ghosts are roaring.

After carefully looking up each and every Chinese character and and implied idiom, I toiled away and took my liberties with the original text to write the following poem. By the way, the source lacks line breaks. I imposed that on this for dramatic effect.

An Evening View of Piling

Weary Jiangnan travelers climb hills.

How many high minded heroes,

how many lost in somber states?

This day bears, endures shame –

time to resign duties, time to retreat

to the shadows of sole seclusion,

to hang my sword deep in the woods.

Threads of glowing dusk decays

away from bright brocades of day.

The hooked moon moves harshly

over the heart of my motherland.

Shadows through the window deepen

phosphorus-green will-o’-the-wisps.

Mountain ghosts mourn in silence.

If this poem is truly about Changzhou, the hills or mountains may be around Hengshanqiao part of the former Qishuyan district. Out near the city line with Wuxi, many hillsides are lined with tombstones. The former Piling is a mostly a flat place, between the banks of the Yangtze and three lakes: Taihu, Xitaihu, and Changdang. The hills are always at the edges of town. Another notable candidate involves Maoshan, which is out by the prefecture edge with Zhenjiang. It’s a Chinese-nationally-known center of Taoist spirituality. The afterlife is a big deal in both Bhuddhism and Taoism. Yet, all of that are guesses from a novice translator.

Singaporean Food at Xinbei Wanda

Over the years, Changzhou seems to have an on-again, off-again relationship with Singaporean and Malaysian food. Years ago, both Xinbei and Wujin had Secret Recipe, a chain catering to Malaysian cuisine with some Singaporean and western dishes. Their lamb shank was pretty good. It was also this place were I had tried laksa for the first time. Tianning was about to get one, but then chain went out of business in Changzhou. No more Secret Recipe in this city. There was an iteration or two of other Malaysian or Singaporean-centric places. The most recently departed was located at on ground floor, exterior rear of Zhonglou’s Wu Yue Plaza downtown. For those in town craving this sort of cuisine, there is a reason to be happy again.

The fourth floor of Xinbei Wanda is home to 星洲小馆 aka Singapore Restaurant. Singapore is well known for it’s curry, and it would put it up there with Indian and Thai as some of the best in the world. Naturally, whenever I am trying a new-to-me place selling this cuisine, the curry is the first thing that must be tried — as a general quality determinant.

They were out of the their curry beef brisket, so I opted for the fish instead. This also had eggplant, tomato, okra, and slices of cinnamon bark. Most other Singaporean places I’ve been to, I always leaned towards brisket. This fish variety was not that bad at all. The fish itself was white meat without any bones, and it soaked in the curry very nicely. The next item was a ordering error.

Laksa is another signature dish that should be sampled up a first visit to a Singaporean joint. I actually pointed to this noodle dish on the menu, and somehow that got interpreted as fried rice. Still, it was good. Topped with meat floss, the rice also come with shrimp, ham, cashews, egg whites, peas, raisins, and chunks of pineapple mixed in . This taste ended up being sweet but in a subtle, non-overpowering way. Typically, there is one more dish that should be ordered on a first visit.

Hainan chicken. While this dish did originate on the Chinese island of its namesake, it’s considered a national dish in Singapore. It’s also very popular in Malaysia and other parts of Asia. Typically, the chicken is either poached or steamed and served cold. This leads to meat to tasting moist and juicy. Also, there are condiment sauces meant to gussy up the taste. One is green and involves basil and lemon grass, and the other is orange an has a spicy bite to it.

My dining partner preferred the green sauce, but I personally liked this more. Usually, I am not one for super spicy food, but the taste of this struck me as familiar. The more I dipped slices of chicken into it, it reminded me a lot of the chilies used to make American buffalo chicken wings. Once I realized this, I abandoned the green goop to my dinner pal and hogged the orange sauce for myself. The person I was eating with didn’t mind this at all.

So, is this place at Xinbei Wanda the best of Singaporean cuisine? No, but it’s pretty solid — especially if there are not a lot of other options around. Also, the menu is in both Chinese and English, so that’s convenient. I am definitely going back. I can’t wait to see what the curry beef brisket and the laksa noodle soup has to offer.

TIANNING TEMPLE’S LUOHAN HALLS

This was originally published back in 2016.

Someone once joked that I visit too many temples. It’s something I freely admit to, as well. The beauty of Buddhist and Taoist temples are the ornate attention to detail. If you love art, you will always see something you never noticed before. You just have to look closer.

This is especially true at Tianning Temple in downtown Changzhou. One of the things I most often like returning to are the two halls of luohans. These are relatively close to the front entrance — so, nowhere near the pagoda. Here are some of the shots from my recent visit.

SUN JINCHUAN IN QISHUYAN

This post was originally posted in 2016.

Chinese revolutionary monuments are sometimes difficult to find. Half the ones mentioned on Baidu maps are simply not there. I know because I’ve tried to find them and end up walking or riding in circles. Or wading through drainage ditches. Or looking at piles of garbage. So, it’s always fascinating for me to find one that is actually where the map says it is.

It’s in Huaxi Park 花溪公园 in the former Qishuyan district. The area within the park goes by the Martyrs Memorial Plaza 烈士纪念广场. The memorial itself contains two stone markers. One is of a more abstract shape, but the other is a bust Sun Jinchuan 孙津川. His life story, and the placement of his statue has an interesting correlation.

The railway industry is still a huge in Qishuyan, but it used to not always be that way. One of the big players was the Wusong Machinery Factory, who has since changed names several times. Before it relocated to Changzhou for national security reasons, the plant operated in Shanghai. At the time, the nationalist Koumintang ran the Chinese government.  Underground communist organization and agitation was ongoing at the time.

This carried into trade unions like the Shanghai-Nanjing Railway Workers Association. Sun Jinchuan was elected into a leadership role within that union. He helped organize strikes and even armed action around the Wusong factory before it relocated to Changzhou. As the story goes, the KMT eventually arrested him and repeatedly tortured him for information. The official story goes on to say the Sun Jinchuan remained defiant up to the end in October of 1928, shouting CPC slogans and singing while being dragged to his execution.

JINTAN’S REVOLUTIONARY MARTYR’S CEMETARY

This was originally published in 2017.

I once asked a Chinese friend why many cemeteries were located in out of the way places. “Plenty of reasons. Feng Shui is one. If you are putting somebody into the ground, there should be a mountain behind them and water out in front.” He took a sip of his beer “Also, some of us are a afraid of ghosts and we don’t like going near those places. The only reason to go is to pay homage to a relative or ancestor.” So, as I have said before, cemetery walks — where you take a stroll around a graveyard even when you don’t know anybody there — may be common in America, but they certainly are not in China.

Recently, I visited the Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetary in Jintan. Much like many burial spaces in Eastern Changzhou, it seemed in a more remote location. This one was located far away from Dongmendajie, the commercial center of this western-most district of the Dragon City.

There is a wall with the names of all the Jintan people who died fighting the nationalist KMT during the Civil War / Revolution.

The people here are in ground plots. This is unlike the Martyr’s Memorial in Tianning, where long hallways have urns stored on shelves.

There is a museum dedicated to the local history of the war. When I went, it was closed. It was also Spring Festival, so I don’t know if it is always closed, or if it was closed for the holidays.

And, then you have the standard monument pillar. That’s pretty much all to see here. However, there are a few other things in the vicinity. There is Baota Temple and Gulongshan Park nearby. Getting here actually takes a lot of effort. Since Jintan, as a district, is so far away from the rest of Changzhou, you have to take a one hour intercity bus to just get to their coach station. A visitor could either take a taxi here, or they can walk. I walked. And my feet hated me for that.