Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beijing: China Trip Part I

Our trip to China was jammed full of lots of awesome adventures so we had to break up the posts into 2 parts, Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing was the first part of our trip and boy was it awesome. Thanks to some friends of friends, we were allowed to stay in a couples apartment while they were visiting their family, so the above picture was Danny in front of the apartment building. It was a huge place that could have fit our whole Korean apartment in the living room, so needless to say, we took advantage of the REAL couch and flat screen TV. As soon as we got to Beijing on Saturday morning, we dropped our stuff off at the apartment and headed out for our first experience: a Beijing bike tour.

We got on cruisers and headed out on the Beijing (very busy) streets to see the city. Danny and I did a bike tour in both cities and we both agree it was our absolute favorite thing we did. It was just such a great way to see so much of the city in one afternoon. We rode through the tiny alleys and streets of Beijing (the Hutongs) and really felt like we got to see the "real" side of Beijing.

We got to see some really interesting places, some great shopping areas with unique Chinese boutiques, but one of my favorite areas was Houhai Lake. As my Chinese brother put it, it is kinda like Wash Park in Denver but in China! There are shops and restaurants all around the lake (with some delicious happy hour mojitos I might add) and it is a great place to people watch and see the local Beijing scene.

You can walk or ride around the whole lake, which we did, but we also came back later in the week to ride in a paddle boat around the lake. (One tip: if you have been walking basically non-stop for 4 days straight, splurge and get the electric boat so you don't have to do the paddling... trust me, the extra $4 is worth it!! ; )

We saw many couples on romantic dates, we saw about 15 brides doing a photo shoot, and we even found that the Chinese have no problems with wearing speedos to take a dip on a hot summer afternoon. And when I say hot, I mean HOT... July and August are usually the hottest times of the year and with what felt like 100% humidity, I was about to jump in the lake myself.

Our bike tour continued around the lake, through more hutongs, and then toward the end, we even rode around the Forbidden City. The great thing about the bike tour was that we had our own personal tour guide to tell us all about the city so we discovered that there are 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City and they were all for one man, the emperor. He was the only one who was technically able to live in the city even though it it the biggest palace in the world. Riding around the outside seemed to take forever, so I can only imagine that the emperor must have been a Hide-and-Go-Seek enthusiasts with all of his eunuchs or else he would have been pretty lonely in such a huge place!
As we were taking everything in, we noticed a few differences between China and Korea. One big difference was how casual the Chinese seemed compared to Koreans. Koreans seem to dress rather nicely most of the time, but it was a common site to see shirtless men or really casually dressed people all over China. After coming from a basically "shirts at all times, even at the beach" country, we were kinda amazed at the difference between them.

Of course when you go to China, you have to go shopping so Danny and I decided to try out our bartering skills at the famous Silk Street Market. We weren't quite sure what we were looking for, but pretty soon, shoes and bags all over the 1700 vendor shops seemed to be speaking to us. We got some great deals, but we could tell that our skills got better and better with every attempt. Danny considered it a complete success when the sales girl would throw the money back at us in frustration after we were victorious in getting a good price. We came away finding that the "good cop/bad cop" routine worked the best and of course Danny enjoyed being the stingy husband while I got to be the frivilous wife. (Not at all like reality, just so you know : ) In the picture above, Danny is proudly wearing our new backpack full of fake Calvin Klein underwear, Chinese paintings, Croc shoes, and many more delights.

When it comes to food in Beijing, from our last post and below you will see there is not a lack of strange things to eat, but one of my favorite spots that we hit twice was a little cafe called "The Bridge". It was one subway stop from our apartment and as you can see from the breakfast below, there were many delicious reasons why we went there twice. Korea, and especially Andong, is basically void of any breakfast places so when we saw fried eggs, sausage, and pancakes we couldn't say no. Danny and I took a few (or many) opportunities to eat western food mainly because WE LIVE IN ASIA and getting a good hamburger or french toast is a rare occasion...SO BACK OFF!! (just kidding)
Beijing is a very historical and cultural city so of course we had to go to Tianamen Square and stare at the huge portrait of Mao Zedong. Unfortunately the museum, Mao's mausoleum, and basically anything else we could do there was closed so our stay didn't last long. It is interesting to see how they idolize Mao still to this day and Danny and I still came away wondering if they like him or not...I guess its time for some Chinese history books.

One night we made sure to get Peking duck, which is of course the most famous dish in Beijing and we went to a fantastic place. Many travel books said Da Dong's Roast duck was the best in the city and we definitely weren't disappointed. A very distinguished chef came to our table to cut up our duck which was gleaming in the light, and I finally learned why duck is so famous. We ate the duck in sesame rolls, wontons skins, and dipped the duck skin in sugar which sounds weird but is actually fantastic. It was really delicious and Da Dong's won't disappoint you. Even if you are wearing shorts and a Tshirt, like we were, you will feel like you are getting a 5 star experience.
After Da Dong's we went to maybe the most interesting or most disturbing experience of our trip: Wangfujing Street. This street is notorious for crazy food and we definitely got an eyefull of skewered animals and bugs.
Wherever you looked, there were sea horses on sticks, scorpions, lizards, and even centipedes that you could get deep fried and salted. This street is only for the brave and not weak stomached, so Danny and decided that we had to at least try something.

After being tempted with snake, lamb heart, and yes even the tiny sad little birds below, we decided that a bug would be our best option. (And when I said tempted, I really meant we both made gross faces down the whole street and tried to choose something that wouldn't scar us mentally for know, that kind of tempted) Scroll to the bottom if you want to see what we finally decided on.

The last, but definitely not least, event that I will highlight in this obviously ridiculously long post, is our time at the Great Wall. A site not to be missed while in Beijing, Danny and I decided to rent a car for the day with the help of a new friend, and we headed to Mutianyu: one section of the wall.

Maybe because it was insanely hot, or maybe because God was smiling on us that day, but we were really lucky to come on a day that hardly any people were at the Wall. We took a ski lift up to the wall and got to hike on it for hours... and I mean hike. People always image the wall as a mostly flat wall that you can take a leisure stroll on, but that is not the case. Mutianyu is especially mountainous so we were climbing quite a bit while we were there. I don't know if it was smog or the humidity, but unfortunately the sky wasn't very clear that day but that didn't ruin our experience.
It was just amazing to see such a historic and old place and I am very glad we did it. After we finished our trek on the Wall, the great thing about being at Mutianyu is that you get to ride an alpine slide down the mountain to get back to civilization. Most people I've talked to have said the wall was crazy crowded when they went, so I think we were pretty lucky to have it all to ourselves!
Lastly, after the wall, we headed to the Summer Palace which we were told is similar to the Forbidden city, just more beautiful. I was just amazed that a man with 9,999 rooms needed a summer home to vacation in!
Hope you enjoy the videos of me eating fried scorpion. Danny and I both had 2 scorpions each, and basically they just tasted crunchy and salty...not bad at all ; ) The thing that just freaked me out was when I thought my scorpion was still alive, as you will see in the video, as the tail hit my face when I was trying to eat it. I survived though and neither of us got sick after that so I would say that "bug eating experience" was a success!

1 comment:

  1. it sounds like you got to see several of the same things I did while in Beijing, though we didn't get to see the Hutongs or that much of "real Beijing". Still, it's an incredible experience. We took 4 hours walking THROUGH the Forbidden City, so yes, it's quite large. From what I understood, the whole royal family lived there - wives, concubines, children, etc. They aren't joking when they call it a city :P

    I love hearing all your adventures!