How can one have an zoo where one never feeds the animals, never cleans up their poop, or never actually render any tender loving care? All while never getting in trouble with the authorities or locals who care deeply about creature welfare? The answer is quite simple: create a fake zoo with totally fake animals. I don’t mean once living animals that have been preserved via taxidermy. That would be highly expensive to do and hard to pull off in an outdoor setting; besides, that would also be highly creepy to the point of possibly scaring small children, too. So, why not just fabricate some “allegedly” cute animals and put them in cages?
Such a place actually exists in Changzhou, and it’s in Xishu Village 西墅村 that’s incorporated into the town of Huangli 湟里镇. This would be in Wujin, but on the strip of land between West Tai / Gehu and Changdang Lakes. Xishu can easily be classed as a demonstration village. This term refers to tiny little towns that a greater municipal authority invests a lot of money into as a way to promote rural tourism. Next to Xinbei, Jiangyin has done something similar with the rather surreal Beardtown.
There is more to Xishu than just a fake zoo. There’s the obligatory patriotic statue, a memorial to a brick kiln, and more. It’s just the fake zoo is the weirdest thing there. Consider some of these pictures.
This donkey is one of the funniest things in this tiny little spot. Each of these enclosures with a fake animal comes with a sign that purports something the creature is trying to say to a visitor. The donkey’s message is bit odd.
To paraphrase the translation: I am such a useful animal. I carry heavy things around for you guys, and people still want to eat me because you think I am delicious. It makes me so sad!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
There is one municipal employee in Changzhou that is perhaps the easiest to find — street cleaners. If you think about it, it is probably one of the most thankless jobs in the city. Even in humidity and high heat, these people are out picking up cigarette butts and other errant bits of trash on roads and sidewalks.
There is a statue dedicated to these workers. It’s located at a cheng guan — municipal code enforcers — headquarters in Wujin. There is another statue of the cheng guan nearby. Like that one, the street cleaners are depicted in a strange sort of buttery yellow. The chinese on the statue reads as 奉献, which loosely translates as devotion.
Qingming Mountain, over in the northeastern arm of Wujin, seems to be a spiritual destination in Changzhou. Dalin and Bailong temples are located there, and both are equally large as Buddhist and Taoist religious destinations. Both cost about 10 RMB to get in. But Qingming seems home to other places. A cemetery covers a lot of the hill. There is also a perpetually closed martyr’s graveyard, and then there is also Fushou Temple.
Every time I have visited Dalin or Bailong, the doors were usually closed and locked. Recently, I returned to Qingming Mountain to visit Dalin — as part of ongoing research into who and what louhans are in Buddhism. This time, Fushou’s doors were open, and there was a red and yellow banner over the entrance. Cars were parked there. I parked my bike and I walked in.
Unlike Dalin and Bailong, nobody was at the door to collect an entrance fee. I have seen this in temples around Changzhou when they are attempting to focus more as a place of worship and less as a tourist destination. As I walked around the temple grounds, one other thing just reinforced this. I passed by the main hall and heard chanting and a drum. I stopped to peer in. However, whenever I hear religious activity in progress, I tend to leave it alone. So, I didn’t enter that hall. Half an hour later, as I was leaving, I noticed the door to that big altar hall had been closed.
One of the most intriguing things, however, was not that shut entrance. Fushou Temple is the home to three large golden statues. There is also a room of what looked to be white-jade sculptures — one of which is a reclining Buddha. In this building, I climbed a set of stairs to the second level and found an empty space. Still, I was able to get a good shot of the three gold statues from behind.
The empty space reminded me of something else about Fushou. A lot of it seems to be renovation in progress. This isn’t like what you see at neighboring Dalin Temple, where new additions like an underground parking lot is being added. This looked like Fushou’s main facilities are getting an upgrade. After all, there was a cement mixer laying out in the open, as well as large stacks of concrete tiles. This puts the temple, like so many other places around Changzhou, on my “to watch list.” With a lot of facilities under renovation, this place could look completely different in one year. My guess, though, is that the three statues will remain.
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.
If you have been to enough Taoist or Buddhist Temples around Changzhou and other cities, you would see a lot of sculptures, carvings, and artwork displaying Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, lohans, Taoist gods, and much more. Temples are particularly ornate in the their decor. In most cases, no two temples are alike either.
Crafting the works of art must be an industry unto itself. I only just realized this by accident. I was riding my ebike along the S232 highway in western Wujin. This is the part of the district that borders on Jiangyin. Dalin Temple and Qingming Mountain are also nearby. Out of the corner of my vision, I saw something like a Buddha sitting in an alley. So, I backed up and pulled into the alley. There, I saw something I have never, ever seen in Changzhou before. These were half finished, almost cast aside religious statues. For instance, a Buddha without a head. There was a fat Milefo laughing Buddha covered with splintered wood.
The varying degrees of incompleteness was also a bit interesting. Sometimes, when you see a statue in a temple, you may mistakenly think that they were carved or cast in a forge. Not the case with this lot. Much of what I saw consisted of smaller pieces that were numbered and riveted together almost like three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles.
This had me intrigued. It wasn’t the least bit unnerving to look it. Logically, it made sense if these was a religious sculpture workshop nearby. After all, not only is Dalin Temple nearby, but so is the Taoist Bailong Monastery — both seem to have ongoing construction for additions, too. But, quickly scanned the area. I took a picture of one factory’s name, but a Chinese friend quickly informed me, via WeChat, it was a business involving water treatment equipment. Maybe I saw it but didn’t see it. In the end, I gave up and left it what it should be, a bizarre mystery. Sometimes, that’s more fun than actually having a real answer.
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.
I sometimes forget how large Wujin actually is. Most people know the area typically as Hutang and the College Town, but there is more to it than just that. Recently, I took an bike ride to Lijia 礼嘉镇 which is roughly about 12 kilometers from Changzhou University if you are going south and east. The 320 bus swings out this way. So, what is out here? Keep in mind this was an unplanned trip. This was the “point my bike in that direction and see what’s there“ sort of thing.
This can be easily described as small town China. Still, the central shopping area was quite busy. While stopping here, I checked Baidu Maps if there was anything historical nearby. That lead me here.
I got chased by a dog, twice. Eventually, I found what I was looking for, and I survived without getting bitten. What I was looking for was behind the above buildings.
This is 王氏宗祠，or The Wang Family Ancestral Hall. Most time, when I find these places, they are closed to the public. I ran into another up the road a few kilometers …
This one was 何氏大宗祠，or The He Family Great Ancestral Hall. Like it’s counterpart, seemed closed to the public. However, this building had large tomb nearby.
Because I wasn’t careful in conserving battery power, my bike clunked out when I hit downtown, on my way back to Xinbei. In trying to figure a few things out, I ended up consulting the town’s Baike encyclopedia page once I finally got home. Turns out, I might have missed something. That just means instead of going there on a whim next time, I should do something new and different and actually make more of a concrete plan.