I arrived in Beijing in the early hours of Saturday morning, excited to be visiting a completely new country, and even more so to be reunited with Tyrhone. It was like christmas! He greeted me at the gate and we chatted away for the whole taxi ride to the hotel and into the wee hours. After a month apart, communicating only via email, there was a lot to catch up on!
I had read of his adventures on his blog, but was happily filled in on his other varied and crazy experiences in this fascinating land.
We woke late and headed straight for The Forbidden City, otherwise known as The Imperial Palace. In the searing heat of a Beijing summer’s day, it may not have been the best idea, but as we shade-hopped (and seriously considered buying the umbrella hats donned by so many other punters), we were sufficiently impressed by the ancient grounds.
But it was the masses of Chinese tourists that provided the biggest spectacle, and of course we were happy to return the favour by posing for a few photos with friendly people.
Beijing has been one of the most pleasant surprises of my travels to date. We are staying in a funky new guesthouse in the hutongs, the residential alleyways that contain a huge numbers of homes, stores, restaurants, tiny bars and quirky cafes. It’s awesome!
Entrance to a home in the Hutongs
Meandering around the hutongs today, our eyes were drawn from quaint shop-fronts (one such shop on our hutong is entirely dedicated to vintage Polaroid cameras) to weird bar-names (like The Satan Bar, I mean, what the?) and we were almost cleaned up a number of times by the ultra-quiet electric bikes that zip along the narrow lanes.
Beijing is super-hip. It’s ultra modern and yet holds so much tradition. Old men gather outside the grey buildings of the hutongs playing cards and smoking cigarettes, whilst young trendy things totter around on impossibly high heels. I wander around thinking “I’m in China!’ wondering why the hell I feel so comfortable here.
On our second evening we got chatting to a young guy from a far-flung province, who is studying medicine in Sichuan. He is visiting the capital for the first time, and kindly invited us to experience a traditional Beijing breakfast with him the following morning.
Excited, we met him downstairs at 7am, and walked for about half an hour to find the restaurant that serves doujiang. We knew we had found it from the crowds lining up almost out the door of the simply furnished establishment, and the rows of people seated at long wooden tables, slurping down bowls of weird-looking brown soup.
Yuhao and Tyrhone line up for Doujian
Our host, Yuhao, ordered for us (thank goodness!) whilst I secured a narrow space on the table, then he and Tyrhone returned with steaming bowls of… umm… grey goup.
It looked different to the brown stuff most of the other diners were enjoying, and when the lady in front of me gave my bowl a filthy look and shook her head as if to say, “What the hell did you order that for?” I should have guessed that we had made a fatal mistake.
But I took a polite sip from my spoon thinking, “how bad can it be?” and found out. Just. How. Bad.
Arrrrrrrgh. It was nothing short of revolting, and I immediately went into panic thinking that I would have to eat it in order not to offend our new young friend (he had insisted on paying for our meal).
The grey stuff
But thankfully he also found the stuff revolting, so we re-ordered, and found ourselves tucking into a sweet rice and red bean porridge, which was comparatively delicious. Turns out the grey stuff is the hard-core traditional breakfast, generally only now enjoyed by certain elderly people in Beijing. The younger generation opts for the sweeter stuff, or another soy-milk type dish.
Otherwise, it’s off to Maccas…
We have another week in Beijing to soak up the sights. We’ll hike 10km of the Great Wall on Thursday, eat Peking Duck, and perhaps catch a Beijing Opera. But other than that we’ll be hangin’ out in the hutongs taking whatever comes our way!
Xie xie! (That means thank you and is about the extent of my Chinese)