Beijing II

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September 29th 2018
Published: October 12th 2018
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29th Sept: Well, a three hour flight delay meant I arrived in Beijing quite a bit later than I had intended. It didn't take me too longto get to my hostel by subway and after getting slightly lost, I managed to find it. I had stayed in this hostel 12 years ago when I first visited China, so it was a nice trip down memory lane. The hostel and the neighbourhood hadn't changed too much. After some umming and ahhing, I decided to stick to my original plan for the day, which was to visit Beihai Park. It took me about half an hour to walk to the park from where I was staying and the sun was already starting to dip as I headed on my way. The park's entrance fee was 30 RMB and when I stepped inside I was surprised at how quiet it was. I had expected a lot more tourists, but as it was early evening I presume the park had cleared out. I enjoyed my walk around the lake, but like I had read online, it would definitely be better to visit the park in the day time as all the buildings were closed for the evening and the boats to the island in the centre of the lake had stopped running. The park covers an area of 690,000 square metres and I didn't have time to cover it all. I intend to come back in the future to see what I missed. One thing that surprised me about the park was the number of cats that were roaming about. They were totally unfazed by the humans around. I was also totally disoriented when I left the park, as I had taken a different exit. Since I had to buy some stuff for later in my trip, I wanted to head to the shopping area nearish to Tiananmen Square. It looked far on the map to walk, but I had nothing else planned so I walked along the edge of the Forbidden City not that I could see anything as the walls are far too high, but still it was nice to walk through a traditional neighbourhood. I came out on the main road near Tiananmen Square and then continued my walk to the shopping area. Along the way, I passed a woman wailing to the police/security guard. It is times like this when I wished I understood Chinese as this is a very politically sensitive area and I would have loved to have known if it was something or nothing that she was talking about. A few steps further on there was a big gate with soldiers standing guard outside of it. There were no English signs around, so I will remain ignorant about what it was, but lots of Chinese people were taking photos in front of it, so I feel it must be of some importance.

I finally made it to the area with all the shopping malls. There were only two stores that I wanted to go to so, I headed to the first one, that was tucked away around the back of one building and got what I needed. I was feeling pretty hungry by this point and since there was a Yoshinoya, a Japanese fast food place, next to the store I headed in there for dinner. This was also a trip down memory lane for me, as there is also one located near the hostel I was staying in and it was the first place I tried Kimchi, traditional Korean food in a Japanese restaurant in China. It's funny because I kind of wanted to move to Korea, but by the end of my RTW trip all those years ago, I knew that I would definitely move there. The food was fine, I had a kimchi and bulgogi rice bowl, which came with a side salad and a drink. I headed over to the other shop I had to go to and then made my way back to the hostel, I was going to walk since it was pretty much a straight shot from where I was, but the temptation of the subway was too great and it meant I would get back earlier and could rest up for the next day.

30th Sept: It was an early start as I had booked a breakfast food tour. I headed over to the meeting place near the Lama Temple and since I was there early, I headed to the KFC close by for a cup of coffee. I liked that the KFC and Costa were in buildings in keeping with the local neighbourhood. Coffee in hand, I headed to the meeting point to meet up with my guides and the other people on the tour. There were two guides, Candice and Marco, and nine tourists on the tour, which was a nice small number. Soon, we were walking through the hutong towards our first food stop. I liked that we were walking down quieter streets and since it was still early, there were only a few people going about their daily business. Our first stop was a Halal snack shop in Xilou Hutong called 清真小吃 (qingzhen xiaochi). Since this place was pretty busy and quite small, we waited across the street, while one of the guides went in to order the food. We took turns going in for a quick look, but as it was quite busy I couldn't really see much. After 5-10 minutes, our guide reappeared with small plastic bags filled with the first snack we would try 糖油饼 (tang you bing). These are fried brown sugar dough. Normally, I am not a fan of sweet things for breakfast, but I really enjoyed this. It was so good. Since we would be consuming a lot of food, we were sharing one between two people in order to pace ourselves, if I was alone I would happily have had one, possibly two, all to myself. I was surprised at how much I had enjoyed something sweet as my first bite of the day, as I would never have picked it myself. Yet another reason to love travel, expanding my horizons. We made our way to Lao Tang Restaurant, which was on a main street nearby. Here, our guides ordered a variety of things for us to try: 菜包 (cai bao) veggie buns, 肉包 (rou bao) pork buns, 油条 (youtiao), which is a savoury deep fried dough stick, and 豆浆 (doujiang) sweet soy milk. I enjoyed the pork buns and really had to stop myself from consuming more than my fair share. The veggie buns were okay, but a bit too bland for me. I was surprised by this as they were filled with egg and green vegetable, which I really like, but I think if I were to order them in the future I would have to add a hefty does of chilli sauce to the vinegar dipping sauce to give them a bit more bite. When I eat breakfast, which isn't too often, I normally have a youtiao, so this part of the meal was like a normal breakfast for me. You are meant to
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Beihai Park
dip the youtiao in the sweet soy milk, which I did try. However, it wasn't for me and I will continue to eat my youtiao in my usual manner. The soy milk was okay, not something I would rush out to have again.

We didn't have far to walk to reach our next tasting, the stall was only a couple of doors down from the restaurant we had just been at. This stall was called Jin Yun Shao Bing and its speciality was shaobing. I love shaobing; it is one of my favourite foods, but I have discovered that there are many different types. Shao bing just refers to the unleavened bread and the way it is cooked in a traditional wooden barrel looking oven. There are many different fillings. Since Beijing is trying to clean up its act pollution wise, this stall had an electric oven inside the barrel as opposed to the normal coal fire inside. I think the places I go to in my local neighbourhood may still use a traditional fire. Our guides order us 瘦肉梅干菜饼 (shou rou mei gan cai bing) a pork and preserved green shao bing. The shao bing was quite nice, but not the best I have had. I still prefer my local one. We crossed the street and headed down an alley to come to next stop, which was 豆汁店 (dou zhi dian), a small store selling fermented mung bean juice. This store felt very local and an old guy, who had come to purchase some stuff seemed delighted to tell us what a good place it was. I hadn't heard of fermented mung bean juice before and our guides did a good job of warning us that some people can find it pretty nasty. We were each given a small cupful. I can't remember what the others said it tasted like, but to me it tasted like the juice left over in a jar of pickles. It wasn't too bad, but I wouldn't be in a rush to have it again. We also got to try some sweet pastries 糖火烧 (tang huo shao), which I think were from the same shop as they sold things other than just the fermented mung bean juice.

We headed back to the main road and went to a 煎饼店 (jian bing dian), which is a stall selling 煎饼 (jianbing) fried pancakes. These pancakes are a traditional street food breakfast in China. This dish is said to have originated in the army, as the soldiers cooked the pancakes on their shields and it filled them up before they went off to battle. I love watching jianbing being made as the cook pour the batter onto a big moving metal disk and then spreads it out. It is quite mesmerising to watch. Also you can choose from a few different fillings, but we went with the original option. The jianbing were very hot when we got them and it took a while for them to cool down. I love the contrast between the softness of the pancake with the 薄脆 (baocui), the thin and crispy fried cracker, that is place in the middle of the pancake. This is definitely a good breakfast for a cold winter morning. We were all feeling pretty stuffed by this point so we headed to a small store that sold another Beijing speciality, 北京酸奶 (Beijing suan nai), which is a locally produced yogurt drink. The store had some stools piled up outside, so we grabbed some of those and had a sit down. I'd had a similar yogurt drink when I visited Qingdao last year. The yogurt drink was tasty and I like that they are fresh and locally produced. I could definitely drink a few of these. I like how the glass bottles are recycled and that they don't have proper lids, just paper that you pop with your straw.

I think most of us were starting to settle into food comas by this point, so the next stop was a good respite from all the food. We were near the Confucian Temple now, and we headed to a nice cafe, Cafe Confucius for a coffee. It was nice to sit and chill and talk to the guides and other guests on the tour. The cafe was quiet and had a relaxing atmosphere. I liked that the doors/windows opened onto the street so you could watch life go by. Feeling recharged, we headed off to our next restaurant, which was 安内老妈稍麦 An Nei Lao Ma Shao Mai. This store specialises in shao mai, which are a type of dumpling. The dish is said to have originated in Huhhot in Inner Mongolia and was sold in teahouses an an accompaniment to the tea. Our guides told us a story, which I can't remember if it was about the origins of the dumplings or this particular store, but it was a cute story about how one brother created these dumplings as there wasn't enough business to sustain him and his brother in the family shop, which was already pretty popular and that these dumplings became much more popular than the originals. We ordered two types of shao mai dumplings; vegetable shao mai and pan-fried lamb shao mai. Once again, I found the vegetable dumplings to be a little bland, I think I have to stop bothering to eat them and just stick to the meat ones. The lamb ones were really tasty and if I wasn't feeling so full, I could have happily ate a lot more of them. I like that lamb features quite a bit in Chinese food, as it was none existent when I was in Korea. Our last stop was Exceptional Chef Restaurant. This place was pretty busy and since people generally like to eat early in China, I think most of them were there for their lunch. We tried two dishes in this restaurant: 杏仁豆腐 (xing ren dou fu) almond tofu and 炒麻豆腐 (chao ma dou fu) fried mung bean tofu. The almond tofu was sweet and pretty slippery to eat. I think this would be a good dessert dish for me, as it would be too sweet for me to eat as an actual meal, but to finish a meal it would be good. The fried mung bean tofu was awesome! I think I have found my new favourite Chinese dish. Our guides were referring to it as Chinese hummus and it really was. The look and texture of the dish were exactly that of hummus, although it was rather green in colour. It had been cooked in mutton fat, which really added to the taste. We were given some small white rolls to eat the tofu with and it was great. I wish I hadn't been so full as I could have eaten a lot more of this dish.

Once the tour was over, Marco walked those us who were going to the Lama Temple back to where we needed to be. Honestly, I have to say both of the guides on this tour were utterly fantastic. They were both so friendly, informative and enthusiastic about the tour. They could have easily just pointed us in the right direction, but Marco walked us back to Lama Temple through a different hutong and was still giving us information as we walked. He totally went above and beyond in my opinion. I headed into the Lama Temple and paid the entrance fee, which was about 30 or so RMB. Yonghegong Lama Temple is the largest Tibetan temple in Beijing. The architecture and artwork of the temple combines Tibetan and Han Chinese styles. It is part of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty to be the home of Emperor Yongzheng, who was the third Emperor of that dynasty. I was worried that the temple was going to be extremely busy, but it wasn't too bad inside. There were quite a few people, but still plenty of room to move around and the temple retained its peaceful atmosphere. The temple is stunningly beautiful and I enjoyed walking around, looking at all the little details in the architecture and artwork. The colours and patterns are just so vibrant. The temple is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for the 26 metre tall Maitreya Buddha. The Buddha is carved out of one single piece of white sandalwood, and 18 metres is above ground while the other 8 metres are under the ground. The Buddha was pretty impressive, but I really wished that you were somehow able to view the part underground.

From the temple I retraced my step of the streets we had walked earlier and headed to the Confucian Temple. I paid the entrance fee, which was about the same price as the Lama temple and headed inside. This temple felt a bit busier, but I think that it was because there was a school group there and a couple of other tour groups, whereas the previous temple seemed to be more individuals, families and small groups of friends. The temple was built in 1302 and it was used by officials to pay their respects to Confucius until 1911. I enjoyed walking around the temple complex. It is another example of how well maintained the sights are in China, the place was absolutely spotless. The complex was pretty big so there were a few nooks and crannies to explore. Attached to the temple is the Imperial College, which was the highest educational institution of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The college was very peaceful and it must have been a very nice place to study, especially on a warm autumn day like today.

I was feeling pretty tired, so headed back to the hostel to have a nap. I didn't sleep as much as I would have liked but it was nice to give me feet and legs a rest. The evening was pretty uneventful. I headed out to the supermarket that was about a ten minute walk away to pick up some gifts for the next part of my trip and some other bits and bobs. I was still quite full from breakfast, so just got a couple of half sandwich from the bakery to keep me going. I also needed to get money from the bank as I needed it for the next day. I had looked on the map and headed to where I thought the atm was. I really need to study maps better as I walked for miles and then realised that it was on the back street, not the main street I was walking on. I found another atm that looked like it was the closest, but it was still roughly a 3 kilometre diversion from my path. Oh well, looking on the brightside, it meant that I got to explore a random neighbourhood. I finally made it back to the hostel and got myself a beer as a reward for all the walking I had done that day.

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