Welcome To Beijing!

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)

 


Comments

Welcome To Beijing! — 23 Comments

  1. Hi Sarah,I am really enjoying your blog. I don’t know how much the Chinese Opera tickets cost because they were included in the price of the tour that I took to China. I would go to the opera to look around, stay for 5 min. and wrap it up. Much longer is a chore, in my opinion. I just loved my trip to China and if there wasn’t so much more of the world I want to see I would go back for a long stay.

    • Thank you for the heads up Janet! It was the theatre that I was most interested in anyway, so that’s a great tip! I’m enjoying China so far, though it’s so BIG, and there are so many options as to where to go. We’re off to Xi an (terra cotta warriors) next then Chengdu in Sichuan :)

      • enjoy the warriors Sarah.They are right up there with the most amazing thing I have ever seen. You read about them and see pictures but there is nothing like that first sight of them when you walk in the building. The discoverer was there autographing books when I was there. Someone tried to take his picture and he yelled at them pretty loudly. Just another heads up. :)

    • Hi Mike, I really don’t know. I assume it is rice based, though it tasted like grainy, salty, bitter cement. Really strange, my palette immediately rejected it! Gotta try these things once I guess :)

  2. Wow. I hope our faces and demeanor are as kind as yours so we can meet locals wherever we go! I can’t think of another reason why you have so much “luck” in encountering so many people in all the countries you’ve visited so far.

    I’m very happy for your sake that the grey goop was equally repulsive to your new friend. That looked awful.

    • Thanks Carmel, that’s really sweet of you:) I am sure you will have just as much ‘luck’ during your travels, a smile does go a long way (particularly when you don’t speak the lingo!!!!).

  3. You! are! in! China!!!! Everything sounds amazing- I am envious of your trek on the Great Wall, can’t wait to do it myself. I love reading about your travels. It sounds like you are meeting some amazing people.

    • I know, crazy hey?! Yes, we have encountered some very generous people, it amazes me how kind people can be. Let you know how the wall goes, I’m a bit nervous about the heat, but when in China…

  4. Note to self: avoid the grey goop when in China! I just had congee for the first time here in Toronto, and that first mouthful was a bit terrifying because of all the bits in it that I couldn’t identify. It wound up being find, but I do not like putting unidentified foodstuffs in my mouth!

    So glad to hear you are loving China & Beijing! I hope you continue to enjoy your time there!

    • Hi Steph, so far it’s been the only weird thing I’ve eaten here, but surely not the last! I’m just glad I didn’t have to finish it!!!!!!! You’re planning to go to China right? I’m sure you’ll love it too :)

      • Yes, we definitely want to go to China! It was originally going to be our first stop after Japan, but now not entirely sure… Depending on plane ticket prices, we may pop to HK, get our visas, then head to China. No matter what, I am determined to see this glorious country!

      • Cool! Sounds like a plan, I got my visa in KL, took 4 days, really simple, then I got a cheap flight to Beijing ($180). Just remember this country is HUGE and coming from the south you will travel large, long distances on the train, otherwise fly, but that can be expensive. Anyway, email me if you want to know anything!!!!

  5. The adventure continues! I love how open you are to each new place and experience – you have a very generous soul. I’m excited to see what China has in store for you guys, and to enjoy more of your fab photos :)

    • Aw Hannah you are the sweetest. I’m really not that nice honestly, sometimes I think my blog incorrectly portrays me!!!! Kidding, I’m okay. But don’t be getting your expectations up okay?! I get cranky when I’m hungry :) :)

  6. Sarah.
    I enjoyed your post. Obviously a great deal of us do not speak Chinese. How difficult is it to navigate Beijing, with only English as your primary language?

    • Hi Mike, Beijing is pretty accessible for foreigners. Local restaurants can be a gamble, but slightly more upscale places have English menus. The subway system is a breeze, and very cheap, 2 yuan per journey (about 30 cents!), no matter the distance. Once you’ve used it once, you are set! We haven’t tackled the buses though, that would be more challenging. Most tours can be organized through hostels and hotels, with staff usually very helpful.
      Taxis can be a challenge, try to get your destination written down by someone in Chinese, otherwise there’s not much chance, and counter 16 at Beijing Railway Station is English Speaking if you want to book train tickets. This time of year, the trains are booked out early, tickets go on sale ten days in advance so it pays to book ahead. There are agents who can do it for you for a small fee also.
      Hope that helps, feel free to email me if you would like more info :)

      • I am more than appreciative of your response. It obviously is like any other country. You can navigate successfully, with the proper planning as you state. Thanks so much and I hope to visit China on my next trip to see my son in Japan.

    • Hey Kristy, we were there in July, it was roasting hot!!! I guess it will cool down a little by the time you are going, and I hear the winters are freezing, so be prepared for all conditions I guess! Enjoy :)

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