Wednesday, July 3, 2013

72 hours in Beijing

I left on a Saturday afternoon and arrived quickly to the capital of China. The flight from Seoul is around 1.5 hours, so it is roughly the same flight time as DC to Chicago, a trip I have taken often.
Chunguang was waiting for me in the arrivals area and we jumped in her car to head to her apartment, drop my bag, and take advantage of the afternoon. I had forgotten how chaotic the traffic is in China. The cars, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians all seem to believe they have the right of way and will aggressively move to prove they do. Driving, and walking(!), in the city is not for the faint of heart.
My hostess with the most-est

We went to the luxury shopping and foreign area known as Salitun. When we were here 6 years ago, most of this did not exist. I only remembered I had been here when I noticed the Embassies on the other side of the street. We wandered a bit and then met up with our friend Jenny and her friend at a bar. From there, we jumped on the metro back to Chunguang's neighborhood to meet her husband, daughter, and in-laws for a Sichuan dinner. I was looking forward to a spicy meal, but there was no heat in the peppers just excellent flavor. From there, we met back up with Jenny at The Emperor hotel's rooftop bar that had an incredible view of the Forbidden City. My pictures do it absolutely no justice. If you go to Beijing, this is a must see. The bar is removed from the hustle and bustle of the streets and is a quiet retreat with the Forbidden city lit up in the background. Just, wow.
View of Forbidden City at night 
Girls after rooftop drinks

The next day, I requested that we head to the Olympic village, as it was just being built when we last visited in 2007. First, we had breakfast at home of a porridge that reminded me of a soupier cream of wheat and some sticky rice and meat/beans wrapped in banana leaves. It unfortunately rained that day, but we did not let that stop us. We did a quick tour of the village, took photos and got back to the car. For lunch, I had asked if we could have dim sum and dim sum we had!! I do not know how those little bites of food can fill you up so quickly, but this was one of the best meals I have ever had. We had a variety of things including: durian puff pastries, fried chicken feet (a bit difficult for me to eat around all the bones), shrimp dumplings, pork buns, vegetable buns, spicy noodles, and these incredible custard and mango things. We had to be rolled out of the restaurant.

The Nest 
The Cube
Dim Sum remnants

Due to the rain, we decided that an indoor activity would be best, so they surprised me and took me to a really cool spa for a foot, neck, shoulder and arm massage. It was a perfect afternoon.
Private room for our massage
Relaxing during the foot massage

I had told Chunguang that I wanted to see the local Beijing, that the last time I had followed my guide books, but it was all the touristy things, so I just wanted to eat what she normally ate and do what she normally would do with her friends. That night, we went to their neighborhood restaurant for another mouthwatering dinner. They ordered far too much food but it was hard not to keep eating, each dish was different and delicious. On our walk back to the apartment, I saw beautiful watermelons and asked if they were expensive here. They said no and bargained with the woman to get a good deal and we walked home with a big fruit :) In Korea, they are prohibitively expensive, so even though I had no room, I couldn't pass up on a taste of the famous Beijing watermelon. That night, I slept like a baby.
Local restaurant, enough for twice as many people and cost about $15 with beer
In the morning, we went to her local breakfast shop and we ate dumplings, soup, porridge and a fried dough reminiscent of a churro, but not sweet. She had told me that she did not order much food, but we could not finish everything. The total for the two of us? Just over $1.50. From there we wandered around some of the old hutongs, or tiny streets with traditional Chinese style homes. We had to stop and try some street food. The first was a strange crepe/omelette thing stuffed with some fried dough and three different types of sauces then sprinkled with cilantro and green onion. My stomach kept saying no but my mouth and heart kept saying yes. Then we got to the small "sea" or lake and walked a bit and then tasted the fresh Beijing yogurt that everyone seems to eat, as can be guessed from all the little ceramic bottles littering the tables outside small shops. I have lived in Switzerland and this may have been the best yogurt I have ever eaten. It was so fresh and creamy and tangy. I had no idea that they even made yogurt here! It is so fresh, it is only covered with a piece of paper and a rubber band, no plastic seal or expiration date.
Small breakfast... 
Street food- crepe/omelett goodness :) 
Cluster of empty yogurt containers
Delicious Beijing Yogurt
With even fuller bellies we headed to the Lama Yonghe Temple. We prayed for money, health and happiness and took many photos before heading to our friend Tingting's home. We had a drink and chatted for a while before we headed to dinner. As you can guess dinner was spectacular. I drank Chinese rice wine and ate many delicious dishes. The girls were so impressed with how I handled the spicy food they challenged me to a lunch of hotpot the next day. I heartily accepted the challenge.
Blue skies in Beijing, rare site :) 

The next morning, Chunguang, Jenny and I went to 7.9.8 area, which is a really cool artist neighborhood that used to be old factories but was converted by poor artists who were eventually kicked out by wealthy ones once they had made it popular (sound familiar lower east siders?).  It was really funky and cool. We sat in one of the coffee shops and chatted over a very light breakfast of a latte, all I could bare to eat. After spending the morning there, we met up with Tingting and Chunguang's husband for hotpot.
Chunguang's awesome daughter! 
Jenny and I arrived first, so we ordered some fried rice and spicy noodles, so I had something in my stomach before I ate spicy, oily food. Albeit, the spicy noodles might not have been a good idea for the cause, but they were super tasty!
Hotpot! Check out those peppers :) 
Plum juice- yum! 
We split the pot and had one side completely mild and the other spicy. Although some of them thought it was spicy Chunguang and I thought it was just flavorful. I have no idea what I must have done to my tastebuds, but I do not seem to sense spice anymore. They were so happy that I eat and try anything so they ordered what they normally would, including lots of vegetables and then other things I have never had before, like cow throat and coagulated (think jell-o) blood. I didn't think I would be able to handle the blood, but I found it to be really enjoyable. The cow throat, not so much. The texture was hard for me to handle. We washed it down with flavorful plum juice.

From there, I had just enough time to grab my bags and head to the airport.

This trip was more of a culinary tour and catch up than a touristy one for me. Just how I like to travel :) If you head to Beijing, send me a message for recommendations!

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