After uploading some 300 pictures from our Beijing trip, I decided to chronicle the experience in a series of posts instead of one gigantic entry. I’m going to start with the Random Fun Stuff, move onto the Historical Stuff, and end with the Great Wall Stuff, since that really does deserve its own post. I might throw one or two extra posts in between, depending on how this story tells itself.
When we left for the Hangzhou Airport on Tuesday morning, we had a few sights to see on our Beijing agenda. We also had Matt’s work iPhone, so we figured the rest of the details would reveal themselves once we got settled in the city.
Our hotel was a very short walk to places like the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square (more about them in Historical Stuff), so we went most places on foot, some places by taxi, and one time, back to the hotel via Tin Can.
The view from the inside of Tin Can, which is what Matt called it. I called it Death Trap. Matt disagreed, pointing out that our driver considerately slowed down before running every single red light en route back to the hotel. And yes, we’re facing backwards into traffic.
This happened on the night after our day-long excursion to the Sacred Way and to the Great Wall. We were pretty beat and wanted to relax after so much touring, and Matt’s iPhone found us an actual brewpub- owned by an American expat- within walking distance of our hotel. The only good beer I’ve found here comes in bottles, so I was pretty excited about finding hoppy, dark, rich beer from a tap.
The route to the brewpub took us through a hutong (an old-China-style alley) that had been renovated with little shops, lots of restaurants, and bars with live music. It was sort of like a Chinese Uptown, but with no traffic. This boded well for the brewpub, until the iPhone directed us to turn off of Luogu Alley and into…total darkness. No streetlamps, no people, no nothing. And still we continued to walk. I was getting pretty nervous and told Matt I was turning around, and then we passed a door that opened to a courtyard and saw some white people sitting at tables.
The brewpub we were looking for was actually just some guy’s backyard. He had tables set up in his little courtyard, and he poured our beers from the taps that sat atop his bar/kitchen counter. The brewmeister/bartender wasn’t super talkative (he and his wife had delivered their first baby just a week before, so he was probably pretty tired), and as we sat in his backyard, drinking his delicious beer with a bunch of moody foreigners who were bemoaning the State of the World in General, we decided that something was missing.
We realized what that something was when we abandoned the back alley brewpub in favor of another bar with a Chinese man and a Chinese woman performing karaoke for everyone: Chinese people. The beer was weaker at this new place, but the atmosphere was much brighter. That probably contributed to our reckless abandon in choosing to ride home in Tin Can/Death Trap, but hey, we made it back all right.
As I mentioned, we walked most places. Matt hadn’t yet gotten a Chinese foot massage, and since I’d made him walk several kilometers on almost every day he’d spent in China, I decided it was time he experienced one.
One of the massage techniques that our therapists used on us was what I like to call the Beijing Surprise, because it shocked the heck out of me. Near the end of my massage, my therapist pulled out these two little glass bulbs, sprayed some sort of alcohol into them, flicked open his lighter, and before I knew what was happening, he’d suctioned one glass ball of fire to the bottom of both of my feet. It was crazy hot, even after the short flame extinguished itself, and kind of painful. But a productive painful. I felt like he was exorcising my foot demons. I had a nice pair of matching red welts when he was done.
Matt got the same treatment about 20 minutes after I did.
Unlike the other massages I’ve had here, this time my massage therapist spoke a little bit of English. He worked on me while we waited for Matt’s (female) massage therapist to finish up in the other room, and unlike the brewmeister, this guy had a lot to say.
Every time he pushed and prodded a part of my foot that made me wince, he’d tell me what was wrong with me. The following paraphrases what he said, but it is in no way exaggerated:
“Left shoulder, no good.”
“Left ankle, no good.”
“Right wrist, no good.”
“Waist, no good.”
“Lower back, no good.”
“Neck, no good.” (I wished I had my physical form to show that indeed my neck was perfectly healthy.)
“Stomach, no good.”
“Right shoulder, no good.”
“Left breast, no good.”
“Right breast, no good.”
“Left ovary, no good.”
“Right ovary, no good.”
“Your face is so red! Why?” (Hmm, I wonder…)
Matt’s massage therapist didn’t really speak any English, and although Matt had very little wrong with him, she did pantomime that his pelvis was “no good.” If we ever want to have children, we might be in trouble.
But there’s nothing like Chinese food for drowning your possible reproductive woes, and we took full advantage of the multitude of restaurants nearby. And there’s nothing like translations of Chinese into English to brighten your mood.
The name of the restaurant across the street from our hotel. Some of the dishes on their menu included “Students Addicted to Beans” and “Muttered the Old Meat.” I’m not kidding. We ordered both, and the food was outstanding.
Many people- friends, students, our Great Wall tour guide- told us that we HAD to try the Peking Duck while we were in Beijing. Our friends Ryan and Michelle recommended a place called Da Dong, so we made a reservation and walked over.
Peking Duck is roasted, and the skin of the duck is crispy and juicy, like something you’d get at the fair. A chef carves it at your table, and you roll your own little duck tacos with steamed pancakes and condiments like sweet plum sauce and radishes. We ate ourselves into a duck coma here. One of the best meals I’ve had in China, and that’s saying something.
The dessert. Served on a bed of dry ice.
We also tried hot pot when Matt’s cousin’s fiancee, Amanda, joined us for the weekend. (She’s teaching at a school in Baoding, which is about an hour-long train ride from Beijing.) Hot pot is sort of like Chinese fondue: you choose a broth, a sauce, some meat, some veggies, and maybe some noodles, and cook it all at your table. The broth boils the whole time, so everything takes just a minute or two to cook. When it’s ready, you rescue it from the brew with your chopsticks, dip it in sauce, and enjoy. De-lish.
We had plenty of other random stops, like the tapas restaurant we tried one windy afternoon and the blues club that features almost certainly the only Chinese blues singer and bassist in the world, and the Beijing Zoo.
These jellyfish look pretty sweet, but they taste even better.
(Is it weird that zoos make me a little hungry?)
I have only one regret among the random, unplanned things we did in Beijing, and that is getting my second and absolutely last haircut in China. I really did need a trim and I patted myself on the back for thinking of this plan: ask the woman at the front desk to write down exactly what I wanted in Chinese and take it to the salon across the street. I was 100% sure this would work.
Things seemed to be going well at first: once the stylists (two people worked on my hair) read my note from the concierge, they squeezed their index fingers and thumbs together until they were almost touching, and I nodded and smiled and gave a thumbs up, certain they would just take 1/4″ off.
I’m still not sure how this happened, but suddenly I saw my stylist grab a big chunk of hair near my face and lop off 3 inches. I tried to protest, reminding her of our earlier agreement with my own index and thumb, and she just laughed and mimed that she was giving me layers.
Yeah. Well, on one side of my head, my shortest layer is about 3 inches long. Just on one side though. On the other side, my shortest layer is maybe 5 inches long. Everything is blunt and jagged and uneven, and because she cut it so that I’d extend my part all the way down the back of my head and flip my hair under my chin to rest on the front of my shoulders, I basically have a Chinese mullet. A chullet.
Luckily, my hair grows quickly and I’m hopeful that by our wedding, there will be no trace of the chullet left. And speaking of getting married, THANKFULLY Matt proposed before the haircut; otherwise, I might be Chinese Ginger, the Bachelorette and Chullet Enthusiast.
But a bad haircut as my only regret speaks well of Beijing, and I’ll write the next installment of our trip soon, which will include the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Jingshan Garden, and (in my opinion) the most interesting of them all, Tian’anmen Square.