Tag Archives: shopping

Hunting Yankee Hats in Qishuyan

Curtesy of the British TV show Spitting Image

If there is an utterly trivial thing I often complain about, it is about having chronically silly hair — like in competition with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson when it comes to crimes against geometry. I blame Chinese barbers for that. Johnson and Trump, however, have nobody to blame but themselves. For me, it has gotten so bad I have actively thought about shaving my head and being done with being a foreigner in Chinese barbershops . In that regard, I would stop being a Chinese hair stylist’s art project against my express instructions as to what I want. Seriously, I have been photographed and featured on their Wechat moments more times I care to think about.

Yet, I really don’t want to shave my head, and as a result I have developed an obsession for buying baseball hats. However, many of my follicle-challenged male friends complain that I am being childish. They point to their receding hairlines and my lack of one. They tell me I should be content with Chinese barbers butchering my hair and should not hide the resulting crap-do under a cap. To put it simply: Stop complaining! At least you still have hair! Should I should rock out whatever avant garde style Changzhou barbers have bestowed upon me — against my wishes — in public? Um, no. No, I will not.

Typically, though, I’m looking for New York Yankees hats. It’s not because I’m into baseball, per se. It’s more of a regional pride thing. I’m not from New York City at all, but New Jersey is next door, and as I often point out, New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia have a lot culturally in common when it comes to food, extremely rude language, and much more. Additionally, the Yankees logo has evolved beyond sports and has become a global fashion symbol — and that makes them easy to find in most Chinese commodities markets. Though, when I go on a hat quest, I may not always leave with NYC related merch. This was a case recently in the former district of Qishuyan in eastern Wujin..

The market in question was tucked away off of Yanling Road. This is the same Yanling that cuts straight through downtown. In fact, taking the #7 bus route from Hongmei Park to this part of Qishuyan is essentially a straight drive with no turns. I left the area to return to Xinbei on the #99, which terminates at Dinosaur Park. The plaza itself seems to be a reminder of how commodity markets are not the bustling places they were many years ago.

While there are empty, abandoned, decrepit-looking booths and stalls here, there is still some life. Not everybody relies on Taobao and the Internet, I guess.

So, how did my quest for NYC-related merchandise go? I only found one thing.

The glitter on the bill was a deal breaker for me. I have no glitter in my soul! Just utter, complete, and all-consuming darkness! Wearing this would be flamboyantly out of character for me. Yet, I did find a silly hat nearby. It was highly tempting.

It took all of my will power to NOT buy the pink one in the middle. I mean, I almost caved and just had to leave that particular vendor before my penchant for and love of absurdity could win me over.

I left with arguably a lamer hat. Still, it did do its required job of hiding my chronically silly-looking hair.

Where in Changzhou to Buy Trees

As far as I know, nobody has woken wide-eyed from a dream and stammered, “I need to find a place that sells plant sculptures in the shape of cartoon animals!” Then again in the 1990s, I have had a number of university dormitory roommates complain that I talk loudly while slumbering after a night of drinking. Apparently, I once blurted “My name ain’t Big Dick De La Rocka!” And, that was between heavy, throat-ripping snores. So, who knows?We can safely assume I wasn’t a very good college roommate.

As for the aforementioned plant sculptures shaped like cute animals, I actually have found a place that might sell those in Changzhou. You can also buy fruit-baring orange trees there. Bonsai? Yes, those too. My is guess if you needed to find a tree, a type of plant, or seeds to plant and cultivate something, you’d find it there.

I am speaking of the Xiaxi Flower and Tree Market in Wujin. This is not the part of Wujin that most Changzhou expats know. That would be either Hutang or the College Town. This is more in the Xitaihu region down by the lake; yet, it is also not exactly the stomping grounds that Wycombe Abbey teachers work at and call home. This whole area dates back to the 1990s — incidentally, the same time I lived in West Virginia and blurted nonsensical, surreal word salad while sleeping off a drinking bender.

Getting here wasn’t actually easy. I took the B15 bus to Jiazezhen — the community near the Flower Expo park and Ge Lake / West Tai Lake (same body of water, two different public names) and walked like three kilometers. Jiazezhen is actually the terminus of the B15 route. There is likely a bus combination to get out to the Xiaxi Flower and Tree Market, but saying this area is in a remote part of Changzhou is not putting it lightly. And, I actually haven’t found that route. The public transport infrastructure in this part of the city is fundamentally lacking, which is odd since the market itself is an AAA-rated tourist spot by Chinese government. However, I digress. Let us run a battery of questions!

Can you actually buy orange trees here?

Yes, you can!

Can you see fork lifts moving trees around with some dude standing in a very precarious, very dangerous position?

Yes, you can!

Can you find a bonsai to enhance the nature vibe of your urban living space?

Yes, you can!

Well, how about those plant sculptures that look like cute cartoon animals? You know, the super adorable chia pets that just happen to be very large?

Um, no!

Those look actually like rejected props from horror movies that involve zombie animals. I remember the Resident Evil franchise and their undead dogs rather well. Consider this horse trying to give you the evil eye.

Kidding aside, people who like to garden and cultivate plants might find the Xiaxi Flower and Tree Market a wonderland. If you are one of those people, here’s the address. It’s likely going to be a super expensive Didi trip, a very long walk after getting off a bus with multiple interchanges, or a piece of cake if you can con a Chinese best friend into driving you there after promising to put gas into their car’s tank.

No Logic at Computer City

If one tried to follow the plot of the original version of Suspiria, one would be likely driven insane. An American girl goes to a German dance academy that’s secretly run by a cabal of witches. However, the plot twists and turns and contorts into so many absurd directions that it would laughable if it wasn’t for the uniquely terrifying ambiance Dario Argento brought to his art-house horror masterpiece. The interior layout of the Tanz Dance Academy makes even less sense — multiple secret passages, hidden doors, and so on. There is one room that exists only to be filled with razor wire, and one of the students meets an untimely fate there. I reflected upon this movie multiple times over the years while in Changzhou. Specifically, while in the Computer City mall near the city center.

By no means am I accusing Computer City of being a hotbed of the occult or home to a secret hive of evil witches posing as ballet instructors. That would be silly. The bloody gore factor is also nonexistent. But there are a lot of things that have not made sense over the years in terms of Computer City’s layout. It should be noted that Changzhou of 2014 is not the Dragon City of the 2020s. A lot has changed both here and across the Southern Jiangsu region. Computer City had its heyday, but online shopping has both crippled it and other commodity markets. What now remains is an illogical and half-shuttered mess. For example, consider the elevator that nobody uses, is closed to the public, and has absolutely no practical value.

And take a good look at that track and field painted on the floor. It used to not be there several years ago. By the way, the gate to this playground has a D-lock on it, and every time I’ve gone technology window shopping in this half-deserted mall, I have never seen people actually use it. Then, there’s this.

The basement level used to be substantially larger. You can actually see it here. This was from the pre-painted-track-and-field years of this particular location. Recently, I returned to take a similarly angled photo. Keep in mind the above was taken from the third floor, and the below was taken from the fourth.

Floor space was created when there was none before. Anyhow, the weirdness persists. Some of the Chinglish in the elevators is epic.

Why? Most of them are currently abandoned! Their storefront windows are caked with dust. Is this an admission that those hallways and corridors are haunted? Will a scary ghost girl with hair hanging over her face chase me if I do? Will she try to eat my face? Um, no. I don’t buy it. It’s just years of neglect and reduced foot traffic.

But amateur doors are okay? And by which international credentialing committee will you be using? I know the Olympics has been tarred by doping scandals for decades now. You can’t trust them. However, last I checked, doors do not compete in either the winter or summer games. Believe it or not, this is not the worst when it comes to Chinese-to-English translation errors. The basement of Computer City used to be home to one of the most outrageous bits of Chinglish of all time. Consider this photo.

Yeah, nothing to see here. I know. However, keep in mind of what used to be here years ago. And I’ll leave this as a final word about how strange Computer City can be.

Near Cuizhu Station

Cuizhu Station 翠竹站 is one stop north of the Changzhou railway station on Line 1. The characters 翠竹 refers to “emerald green bamboo” — according to the Pleco Dictionary app on my phone. If you look around the station, it’s kind of hard to see why this subway stop has this name.

Well, there are thatches of bamboo here and there around the subway station, but none of them currently live up to the descriptor “emerald green.” That implies something lush, and the bamboo here is not. This would be in a tiny green space. Despite the moniker, this would definitely not be a reason to get off the subway here. Actually, there would be two more practical reasons.

Changzhou has three Auchan supermarkets, and Cuizhu is home to the Tianning one. The other two can be found in Wujin and Zhonglou. Truth be told, Auchan really isn’t what it was a few years ago. Back then, I would have rated it a firm second behind Metro. Times change, and the selection quality has gone downhill. However, I’m speaking more from the perspective of a lunch meat and cheese buyer. G-Super in the basement of Zhonglou Wuyue has easily taken Auchan’s spot as one of Metro’s credible competitors when it comes to imported foreign goods. That’s not to say Auchan has gone useless over the years; I have just come to rely on it a lot less for my personal shopping needs. Again speaking personally, there is one other reason why I have taken the subway to Cuizhu in the past.

Nike has a factory outlet here. For most of the years I have lived in Changzhou, I have done a lot of my shoe shopping at Decathlon. This isn’t because I necessarily like their shoes. I am a man with large feet, and finding footwear that fit me in a retail setting is next to impossible in the end of China. Besides, those shoes were always incredibly cheap, but they tended to last about two to three months before the soles started developing cracks.

Not only are Nike shoes more comfortable than Decathlon’s, the factory store here has competitive prices. Along the back wall, one can find clearance shelves and prices that do not make you feel like you are being gouged over a signature western brand.

If one shifts their attention back to the metro stop, however, one other thing comes to mind. There are currently only two entries and exits. One is obviously on the side of the street Auchan and the Nike store call home. The other is next to a walled-off bit of undeveloped land. While nothing is currently there now, it would be easy to assume the same wouldn’t be true 10 years from now.

The eBike Market of Old

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More than three years ago, I went shopping for a new eBike. This was before this blog even existed. My desire was simple; I wanted something heavy duty that could go long distances. I wanted to be able to go places most other foreigners couldn’t as an effort to learn all I could about Changzhou. Part of my comparative shopping process brought me to a massive eBike market on Zhongwu Dadao. The above grainy cell phone pic was from that time.

Eventually, I did buy the powerful bike I wanted. Only, I didn’t get it there. I got three solid years out of that vehicle. In the end, it started falling apart. Besides, the city government was also about to change regulations and enforcement. Larger bikes were basically going to become illegal. This shift has likely had a profound impact on businesses that sell what was essentially electric motorcycles. I can only guess, because recently, I returned to that massive market. It’s a ghost of what it once was.

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What used to be a thriving place that sold electric bikes of all shapes and sizes is now desolate and empty. Three years ago, all of these store fronts were open.

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One could argue that regulations and policies could have had a shaping influence, but it’s quite possible that this sort of death of a place didn’t happen overnight. It seems other markets have been shrinking in size. The digital plaza near Jiuzhou New World Mall seems to have gone out of business the last time I went there. The cellphone markets on Youdian Road downtown are half empty. Even Computer City isn’t quite what it was a few years ago. Given the city’s continuing growth at a breakneck speed, one can’t argue that this is a sign of a bad economy. Still, it is an indication of a change in consumer buying habits.

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As for eBikes, the current shift in regulations and enforcement does mean one thing. The demand for super bikes clearly isn’t what it was a few years ago, and this old market is now — as I mentioned earlier — a ghost from the past.

Grand Metropolis Mall Vastly Expanded

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This is certainly not breaking news to people who live in Wujin, but sweeping changes have come to the Grand Metropolis Mall. This is the shopping center that contains RT Mart and is near an on ramp to the elevated road. Grand Metropolis used to share the building with Golden Eagle, but that high-end store shut down in Wujin around this time last year. In the period between then and now, Grand Metropolis renovated the unused parts Golden Eagle left behind. This means more shopping and dining options. One which appears to be a new-but-forthcoming location of Summer — one of downtown’s oldest surviving western restaurants. This would be the third Summer location in Changzhou that I know of. This new restaurant is set to open after Spring Festival.  It also appears that the Grand Metropolis’ Starbucks has been shut down, but the “coming soon” poster plastered over the windows makes it unclear if its permanently gone or just undergoing renovation.

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Way To Delicious in Hutang

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There are a number of small little grocery stores that specialize in imported goods throughout Changzhou. Way To Delicious is a chain of them, and Xinbei has two of locations not all that far from each other. One is on the same street as the media tower, and the other is down the road from Dinosaur Park.

Wujin used to have one across the street from Tesco on Heping / Changwu Road. Burger King is in the same complex. The 2 and 302 buses used to pass by. And then, it disappeared. I thought it went out of business, but as it turned out, it didn’t. It just simply relocated to another part of Hutang — specifically, the South Town neighborhood. This is a pair of streets that runs between large housing communities that has everything from small restaurants to a tiny museum dedicated to Hutang’s history. These streets connect Huayuan and to Wuyi Road and is not that far from the shopping complex Jagerwirt calls home. The B11 passes it on Huayuan and the B1 passes it on Wuyi.

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Way To Delicious, as a chain, can be unpredicable at times. For example, one of the Xinbei stores carried Polish plum juice when the others didn’t. It seems that the Hutang location is similar. There, I saw Russian wheat bread that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There was also Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — which I have only seen in Xinbei’s Metro — and a range of gluten-free snacks. These stores are only worth the trip if you live near them. Plus, there also doesn’t seem to be a guarantee that specialty items will be restocked once they sell out.

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One Day Left on Dragon Fair

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“The goal of Dragon Fair,” one of the organizers told me, “is to give Changzhou an internationally themed market event. Over the years, the city has become much more cosmopolitan, and I think that is something that really should be celebrated.”

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This outlook can be directly seen in not only in the goods being sold here, but the food as well. Vietnamese, German, Thai, Russian baked goods, and so much more food can be had here. Xinbei’s Istanbul Restaurant was in attendance with some of their Turkish desserts and their belly dancer, for example. This also includes long-time Changzhou veterans like Summer, to newer bars like OK Koala serving imported drinks. A shopper looking for high-end and organic dried fruit and honeycomb can even peruse a booth here.

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While international in design, the fair seemed to be pulling in interested people from the foreign community as well as a lot of curious Chinese locals.

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The draw, one has to say, though, is definitely the food. Changzhou’s culinary landscape has been steadily growing, and the fair certainly did well to showcase diversity. Wujin’s Chocolate’s Bar was on hand with warm mulled wine, German sausage, and very, very good sauerkraut. Changzhou has also had newer and lesser known attractions like the Vietnamese restaurant downtown, and a new Thai hot pot restaurant in Xinbei. These are places that really deserve a visit and your money. In retrospect, I am kind of frustrated with myself for not taking more food pictures at the stalls.

Chocolate's German sausage and sauerkraut for 20 RMB.
Chocolate’s German sausage and sauerkraut for 20 RMB.

 

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Saigon Maison’s beef noodles and Chicken dish. Both were 10 RMB each. Yum.

 

Sunday, December 4 is the last day of Dragon Fair. If you go, you might see a nameless, and rather hapless, city blogger dressed up like Santa Claus. How he let himself be persuaded for the job is a tale for another time. Even on the threat of torture, he would not divulge the times he would be masquerading as Father Christmas. So, you might see him, you might not. Think of it as a gamble. And, that’s irrelevant and beside the point, anyway. There is great food to be had, here. Plus, in the run-up to Christmas, unique gifts for loved ones and friends can also be found.  Dragon Fair is currently located on the basement level of the absurdly large Global Harbour Mall in Xinbei. It is easily accessible by taking a B1 bus north. The mall has it’s own BRT station. The event ends at 8pm.

Three Things at Emall Worldwide

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Emall Worldwide is an imported goods shop near the old Parksons complex on Beidajie Road. Honestly, it carries a lot of the same goods other import shops carry, but here are three products that make the place unique.

It carries cans of chickpeas and jars of beet root. Chickpeas are not always on the foreign goods shelves in many of the large, international supermarkets in Changzhou. If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, it can be a staple food. I know it was for me during the many years I didn’t eat meat. Carrefour used to carry them, but all three of their locations shut down over the last year. I do see them at Auchan at times. The jarred beets are more of a unique find. The only other place in Changzhou — that I know of — is Metro.

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As for the third thing, I’m not sure having it in Changzhou is a good thing. Four Loko is one of the nastiest alcoholic drinks America has ever produced. It’s an alcopop — well, sort of. For those who have never heard this word before, it’s a recent coinage for a soft drink or soda that has alcohol in it. For example, Jack Daniel’s makes a premixed whiskey and cola. As for Four Loko, it’s like somebody noticed how many people like to mix Red Bull or Monster with vodka. So? They created a highly caffeinated energy drink that punches you in the face with 12% alcohol. It tastes absolutely disgusting. Even worse, it has actually killed a few people, and it became highly controversial in America. There were even lawmakers and protesters trying to get Four Loko banned. It faced a few lawsuits as well. Eventually, Phusion, the company producing the drink, agreed to stop making it. So, I don’t know what is sitting on Emall’s shelves. Is it leftovers from 2014? Is it being produced only for export to countries that don’t know any better? Is it a new beverage concocted under a different, less dangerous recipe? Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m never going to buy it. I’m writing this more as a buyer beware.

America produces so many good beers and hard drinks. It’s a shame that Samuel Adams and other craft beers are not widely imported here. It reminds me of when I moved to Changzhou and went grocery shopping for the first time. I saw retail endcaps celebrating cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and started laughing hysterically. Many Americans hate that cheap, bargain-basement swill, but in China its exotic. Go figure.

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Shoes at Decathelon

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When you are an Westerner / North American who takes a big and tall size, shopping for clothing in Changzhou is nearly impossible. I have a size 46 foot, and my usual 2XLT (T stands for “tall”) size back in the USA translate into a XXXXXXXXL. My access to Taobao is really messed up and nonexistent. Besides, even when I have been able to order, it turns out not all 8XL jackets are the same size. So, I prefer to shop in person. This is why Decathlon has always been a go-to place for me. It’s a sporting good store — one where I bought my elliptical machine. It’s also the one of the very few places in Changzhou where I can find shoes that fit. That’s not saying much, because even there the pickings can be slim. There is an expression, though: Beggars can’t be choosers.  Changzhou only has one of these stores, and it is Wujin / Hutang on the B1 BRT line. The Yancheng historical area and amusement park are also nearby.