Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Day With Yim.


Today is Bro's and Yim's birthday so Happy Birthday to both of them!  My plan is for us to celebrate with a roast duck dinner tonight but that will depend on whether or not everyone is in the mood to go out for dinner.

Birthday day or not, I had a very relaxing time, exploring Beijing with Yim while Bro and SK went off on their own to see the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.

We all woke up to gray skies and cool weather.  The clouds were heavy and it looked it could pour any minute.  It was not looking to be a promising day for sightseeing or even just walking around the neighborhood streets.  All I could do was keep my fingers crossed that it would clear up as the day went on.

We all split up before breakfast which was fine by me.  I knew exactly where I would take Yim.   As we walked down the stairs to the front entrance of our apartment building, Yim finally had a good chance to look at all the graffiti on the walls.  I told her it was intentional.  She did not look impressed.  Her first impressions of the place last night were definitely not good 😁



I led Yim down the alley that Bro, SK and I had walked along yesterday.  I was in search of the man who was making those crepe like things.  I figured he would be open for business and there he was....working pretty much non stop making up one crepe like thing after another for waiting customers.



We watched him at work as we wanted to see exactly what he was making and to give Yim, who can at least speak some Mandarin, albeit as she describes it - "kindergarden level", an idea of what to order for us.


In the end, we ordered up one crepe.  It was pretty much the same thing that the customer before us ordered but perhaps minus some of the chili sauce.  I like my food spicy but I've learned to go mild unless I know for certain how hot *spicy* is.  This mild was really mild.  My overall opinion of this thing was *meh*.  In the end I decided I'd rather have the traditional jianbing which has a thin egg  omelet as the base rather than a piece of pasta. 


Lucky for us, there was a competing vendor right across the alleyway.  He was making the traditional jianbing.


We watched him make up one before we placed our order.   This one was done right and I was a happy camper and ready to hit the hutong streets!


We nibbled on our jianbing while we wandered the backstreets around our hutong.






It's a mix of traditional homes and more modern multi story apartment buildings.


Apartments must be awfully small in size.  It wasn't unusual to see balconies being used as overflow storage. 



There were several large structures.  Given that the doors were closed tight, I think these are actually private residences and not commercial establishments.  I guess if I could read Chinese I could tell from the plaque hanging above the front door.  I am a lame Chinese.  Very sad.


There's not a whole lot of street art in Beijing, at least not in the part of town we're staying in.  I don't think it's part of the Chinese culture to essentially deface a building with art work.  I did see these two pieces which I thought were quite nice.


On my 2009 visit, I also came to one of the hutong neighborhoods.  I remember my guide telling me something about the knobs above the doors....that they often indicated the status of the person living there.  I don't know if these blue colored knobs are status indicators or not.


The hutong area is becoming a very chic place to live.  It's essentially becoming gentrified.  Despite that, there are plenty of streets where life has probably not changed for decades.  I do notice more cars here than on my previous visit.


I think China is working to address the smog issue so gas powered tuk-tuks have been banned, replaced by more modern, electric ones.....like this cute little thing in the photo below.  If I lived in Beijing, I would be happy to get by with this.  Notice how the owner protects it from being dented by passing cars by placing the plastic cones around the car.  This was a common sight so I guess the method works!


This might be TMI but we had to take a toilet break.  There are plenty of public toilets around.  I tried to use one the day before yesterday but was immediately turned off when I entered the facility because the squat toilets were in a communal room - there were no individual stalls.  The women were just squatting over the toilets and doing their business in the open.  Going to the toilet is a private affair so seeing the communal approach was not a sight my eyes were used to seeing....not to mention the stench.  It was gross.

So, I was dreading the same today but perhaps we were in a nicer section of the 'hood because these toilets were spanking clean.  It was a good relief!


We eventually found our way back to a main road and came across this guy who was making up what looked like a version of the classic Chinese scallion pancake.  His oven looked like a very makeshift thing - just a metal cylinder inside a barrel.  No matter.  The bread that he was taking out of the oven  looked very tasty so we had to have one.


He had a very simple menu.  You can't go wrong with pork belly.  Just saying.


Yim and I shared a piece.  Not bad.  Piping hot from the oven so you know it's freshly made. 


I love eating street breakfast in Beijing!  In fact, I think it's a very popular way for the locals to eat.  No worries on trying to figure out where to go.  All you have to do is look for a crowd of people and then go check it out.


As we saw, I noticed the metro sign for the Beixinqiao station.  I suggested to Yim that we take it to go to the Houhai area which I have been to and I think she has as well. It's a nice place filled with small shops and restaurants.  I was thinking we could do a bit of window shopping and then grab lunch in one of the restaurants.

Houhai is name after one of the three lakes that are located in the Shichachai area.  So, to get to Houhai, you just take the metro to the Shichachai station.  It's a short walk from there.  Yim's a veteran of the Beijing metro so there was no need to show her the ropes, so to speak.



From the metro station, we miraculously managed to find our way to Houhai.  You can't miss it as you can easily spot the lake from the main road.  I didn't enter the area from this direction the last time around but I was pretty sure I could find my way back to the small lane that I did enter from as that lane was pretty much all shops and restaurants.

As we walked towards Houhai, I did mention to Yim that somewhere nearby is a famous mansion that's suppose to be worth seeing but of course, I couldn't remember the name.  I guess I'll have to put it on my sightseeing itinerary for my next visit to Beijing which will be in September as it is the starting point for our overland train journey to Moscow.

Houhai is a popular shopping and dining destination for locals, expats and tourists.  Today it's a work day and the place was relatively quiet as most of the eating and drinking establishments were closed, keeping many people away.


Yim also came here with Mal in 2016 so she also had good recollection of places to go.  We didn't get far after arriving as a very upscale home goods store called us inside.  They had a lot of nice things inside but nothing really caught my eye so much so that I wanted to plunk down yuan for it.


Peach trees were in bloom all over Houhai.  Spring is here though yesterday's snow would have said otherwise.





Following our mutual instincts, we took the small footbridge over to the other side of the lake and lo and behold, there was the street.  I'm certain that many of the stores and eateries that were here when I visited in 2009 are no longer in business so in some ways, it was like visiting the place for the first time.  This part was crowded with people. 


I don't know if the buildings are old or not but if they are new, it's nice that they were designed to look like traditional Chinese buildings and there's nothing that stands more than two or three storys tall here.



I was surprised to see the cycle rickshaw drivers working the lanes here; they were here in 2009!


We did a bit of window shopping along the one alleyway.  Both of us were drawn in to a couple of the stores, especially one that offered up a very nice selection of little sculptures.  Even I was tempted to buy one but in the end, walked away.

We decided to have our lunch in Houhai and after checking out a few places, settled on one that specializes in Yunnan cuisine.  I have never had Yunnan food before so I was game to try it.  I don't know the name of the restaurant so it might be a challenge to find it again but I will always remember the sight of dozens of bamboo lampshades that hung from the ceiling.  They gave a lot of charm to the otherwise very small and simply decorated, albeit very modern interior.


Clueless about Yunnanese cuisine, I left it up to Yim to order.  She spotted diners at another table sharing a very large bowl of noodle soup and I have to say, it looked mouthwatering delicious so we opted for the same.  Apparently, Yunnan is well known for a chicken noodle soup dish called "Over the Bridge Chicken".  This wasn't it but it was very tasty thanks to the very flavorful broth.  If we have time, I would love to bring Chantale here for lunch when we are back in September.




After lunch we did a bit more window shopping.  It had been a cloud day and chilly day all day long but as afternoon came upon us, the skies were really threatening to open up and it was cold enough that it would snow.  Crazy Yim was praying for the snow.  I was hoping for sun!  What is wrong with her?

Our next break was at a Caffe Bene for some coffee and drinks.....and free Wifi.  It was good opportunity to figure out where the closest metro station is so we can head on back to the apartment.


On our walk to the Metro station, we passed by the Drum Tower.   Snow flurries were falling and Yim was giddy with joy.  Me....no.  I wanted sun!!  On my 2009 visit, I climbed up to the top of the Bell Tower.   The snow really dampened my sightseeing spirits otherwise I would've suggested to Yim that we visit the Drum Tower.  Instead, I was solely focused on getting on the train back to Andingmen station!


When we were eating lunch in Houhai, I got a text message from Bro letting me know that they had just finished up visiting the Forbidden City and were on their way to the Summer Palace.  They really took their time at the Forbidden City!  I hoped they enjoyed it.  I figured they would spend the afternoon at the Summer Palace and that would be it especially since that complex is just as large as the Forbidden City.  When we were at Caffe Bene, I got another text message from him to tell me that they had arrived at the Summer Palace.  Given the way the weather was going, I was certain they would not be there for long especially once we saw the snow falling on the way to the metro station.

Flash forward a few hours and we're all back at the apartment.  Bro and SK did make it the Summer Palace but as I had suspected, had a very brief visit due to the inclement weather.  We were all glad to be back in the apartment where it was dry and warm!  Sadly, we all go so comfortable that no one wanted to venture far for dinner as all the roast duck places would require us to take the metro.  So, we opted to go back to Spring Trees for dinner.  This time, the wait staff was a tad bit nicer....just a tad.  Thankfully, we enjoyed the food.

Seaweed salad.

Braised bamboo shoots on the left and shrimp with gingko nuts on the right.

Mushrooms with more bamboo shoots.  It's the time of year to eat fresh bamboo shoots so we're going for it!

Pork belly with steamed buns.  You can't go wrong with this dish.

Everyone is definitely feeling a bit lazy today.  Back in the apartment, we all scattered into different corners and enjoyed a bit of time alone.  SK is happy to be in front of the TV watching her serial shows.  Bro, who has been battling a code, was hiding out in his room reading and Yim was doing a few tasks before joining SK on the couch.  I've been spending most of my time organizing my photos and repacking for our trip tomorrow.  We are off to Xi'an on the highspeed train!  The next leg of our trip is about to begin and I'm excited to be going back to Xi'an (for the third time). I'm just hoping that the bad weather we've had in Beijing will not follow us to Xi'an.

So, I do still have to do some packing and take a shower before calling it a night.  Time to sign off and say....

Goodnight from Beijing!