Asia,  China

24 hours in Beijing

Walking down a street looking for a place to have dinner, music attracts us into this park like honey attracts a bear. Without any warning a party was imminent, we were upon what looked like a middle age Chinese street club. People dance in pairs in this improvised dance floor at sun down to the music that echoes from speakers installed on top of a motorbike parked in the middle of the square. A quick screen of the place made me realize there were no westerners here, only my friend and I. I didn’t know how our presence was going to be digested by the Chinese people. We had been in China for no more than 2 hours and so far, apart from our hostel receptionist, every Chinese person we had encountered had been very serious.

As we stood there watching, we felt the courage building inside us and we decided to take the plunge. Slowly we let our bodies follow the Chinese rhythms. Observing eyes started to notice us and I must admit that I was relieved to see smiles emerging with the looks we were getting. As we got more comfortable in our skin, we started taking more space. A woman in her 60’s decided to join us and with some mimics she directed us to follow her dance moves.

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Song after song, it must have been a good 30 minutes before we realized we haven’t had dinner yet. It was time to leave the Chinese-street-club and find this famous Donghuámen night market.

Donghuámen night market…

 is perfect if you have a particularly brave appetite. (Not me!)
It makes you feel like you are in a food zoo market: from snake to quail eggs, to scorpions and grasshoppers on a stick and things that I have no idea what they were and I’m not sure if I want to know. You will find it all here. Safe to say I enjoyed my pork wrap very much. This market is also a great place to get those little souvenirs.

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Forbidden City * people and more people *

The following day we woke up early to be at the Forbidden City at opening hour to beat the crowds. Well, we were only 15 minutes late and the place was already chaotic.

The Forbidden City is a complex palace composed of 980 buildings with 9999 rooms. (I really meant to write four nines!) . It was the home of emperors and their households and the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government for almost 500 years until 1912. Yellow is believed to be the symbol of the royal family and therefore it is the dominant color, reflected in the roofs tiles and decorations. It is so big, that even without visiting everything we spent 4 hours strolling around.

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Summer Palace

After lunch we got on the subway and headed northwest of Beijing to visit the gardens of the Summer Palace. Declared by World Unesco Heritage “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design”, we weren’t disappointed. However we didn’t go inside the Palace as by the time we got there we were already quite tired. So we just decided to enjoy the garden at a slower pace.

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When night fell upon the city, it was time to get some food before heading to a night train to Datong. Following the directions of our hostel’s receptionist we found a restaurant to eat traditional Peking Duck.

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Ordering traditional “Peking Duck” and being taught how to eat it…

Peking duck 1Fours waiters and the manager stand at our table, eyes wide open, arguing with each other in chinese. Probably discussing what I asked?

The menu provided to us has beautiful photos of a roasted duck, well, next to a photo diary of his life: the duck’s eggs, a baby duck happy in the field, an adult duck swimming in the lake, duck’s meat being prepared by a butcher and finally the duck in the oven… These photos were at first disturbing but I have long debated with myself wether or not to be a vegetarian, and I’m not. So, doing my best to ignore the photos I had made my mind about the duck, I just wanted to ask the waiter if it was server with rice? Or vegetables?

The first waiter kept repeating pancake and sauce. So another waiter joined him in attempt to help. She didn’t add any new words, so another one joined until they were four plus the manager! It was clear to me that it was a restaurant for Chinese, not for foreigners.

I was ready to give up on the duck when I heard “I can translate!” – another customer approached our table. Everybody let out a relieved “ahwwww!” and in two minutes we had the whole thing figured out!

It turned out the duck is served with 3 difference sauces, tiny slim pancakes, fried dough balls, bamboo sticks and cucumber.

When the food was served, the smell of sweet roasted honey quickly filled the air. The meat was beautifully cut into three different plates in front of us: the skin, crispy and sweet; the back, tender and succulent; and the belly, juicy and tasty. Being closely observed by the waiters I indulged in mixing the sauces, meat and pancake together. Soon the waiter came in my rescue and showed us how to mix and roll it properly. Ha! Thank you!

Well worth the struggle to order it and the waiters had the patience of the world to serve us! I totally recommend it!

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Time to say goodbye to Beijing. 再见

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