An Ode to Oak Ridge’s New China Palace Restaurant

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Dec 022013

Never heard of this place, but apparently a lot of people in Oak Ridge are fond of it:

The New China Palace was established in September 1973 by Chuang Nan Chou and served authentic Chinese, Mandarin-Peking Hunan, and Szechuan style food.

Over the years, it became well-known in the Oak Ridge and Knoxville area and to many customers from other countries who came to Oak Ridge to visit the government facilities of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, the K-25 plant, and Oak Ridge Associated Universities. A large customer base developed, and the restaurant prospered.

In 2010, the City of Oak Ridge delivered a letter to the New China Palace saying their lease for the city building at the Oak Ridge Marina would not be renewed. Ideas for developing a facility for rowing and a “casual restaurant” were mentioned as the reason for this sudden change of heart by their landlord. This was announced in the newspapers and caused a huge negative reaction by their customers.

We drew up a petition for the Chou family to use in soliciting help from their customers in convincing the city that there were great numbers of people who did not agree with this decision. More than 3,200 people signed the petition, and this was presented to the City Council and city manager….

After several months of searching, they settled on a location in the famous Jackson Square area….

The city was again very helpful with extensions to the old lease. There are many changes to the old Village building—a drive by take-out window, plus a separate room for special meetings and celebrations. The new interior is beautiful with much of the “old” Palace decorations and a newly designed ceiling using the tiles from the former location.

The second oldest restaurant in Oak Ridge will be back for another “35-plus years of great food,” Ren said.

The China-Tennessee Ginseng Connection

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Oct 062013

Cocke County, producing moonshine for the local market and ginseng for the Chinese market:

NEWPORT, Tenn. — State Rep. Jeremy Faison, with a team of researchers and administrators from MTSU in tow, set out in the woods of Cocke County Friday morning to dig for Appalachian gold.

He was with scientists from the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, based at MTSU, who sought his help to collect samples of the East Tennessee-grown ginseng to compare with varieties of the herb found in China.

MTSU’s partnership with the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in China is exploring the uses of ancient herbal remedies in modern medicine, an effort that has yielded almost 40 results showing promise in the treatment of cancer, viral infections and other aliments….

Ginseng has been a valuable medicinal herb, particularly in the Asian markets, for centuries. The American variety of the herb was discovered in the 1700s and has long been a part of Appalachian culture. Historians say legendary frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone were ginseng traders.

Demand for ginseng remains strong to this day, where aggressive harvesting of the wild herb in Asia has increased demand for American ginseng. State officials say ginseng is a multimillion-dollar industry for Tennessee….

It thrives in East Tennessee’s mountain region, where the forest soil is rocky, moist, light, and porous with a high content of rotten leaves. But, as a cultivated crop, it grows well throughout Tennessee in forest clearings, such as after selective tree harvesting….

“It’s all because of the Chinese market,” he said. “There’s something special about Appalachian ginseng — and they will pay premium dollars.”

Todd Steed’s Beijing-Inspired “Songs on a Stick”

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May 072013

Album notes from CD Baby:

Songs on a Stick is the result of two pals going to Beijing for a month and documenting what happened in songs. Owen Davis from West Virginia and Todd Steed from Tennessee turn listeners on to a vivid aural postcard. Songs about friends, pollution, cheap guitars, questionable beer, dorm living and trains all come together to form a tasty traveler’s stew.

And more from Bandcamp:

All songs were written or nearly written in China during the summer of 2012. Or pretty much, so. Or at least about China. Honestly, we aren’t sure. This is the first duo recording from Owen and Todd, who have been musical and human pals since 1986. Thanks to Tsinghua University for the inspiration.