Sunday, July 17, 2011

Duck Dinner and Then Some

Beijing has become a sprawling city and the taxi ride from Jen's apartment to our hotel, where Robert and I were to be staying the duration of the time in Beijing, was about 45 min. It was a few feet outside a subway station, not far from the "tourist" area of Beijing, so Robert and I could explore while Jen was at work. 5 star hotels in China are about the price of a Best Western in the US and the Swissotel was lovely.

Can one go to Beijing and not eat Peking Duck? I had very fond memories of a favorite restaurant and the three of us, lured by the thought of crispy duck skin and pancakes, found our way to the Duck King. Together we devoured countless pancakes and duck, practically rolling out of the restaurant, too full to move. This was just the beginning of our gastronomic adventure, which was to tantalize our palates throughout the week.

Robert and I began our foodie journey searching for a Chinese breakfast the following morning. The options were many, ranging from street vendors outside the hotel selling fried eggs, the small roadside stands serving bowls of soybean milk and fried crullers, to bakeries with buns galore. We opted for a steamed buns in a somewhat dark and dingy place that was self serve. A floor to ceiling board listed a huge variety of buns and other delicacies. With my limited reading skills, I feigned ignorance and ask what was being offered. As usual, I am one who looks educated, but is by all measures,illiterate, with the reading skills of a third grader! She looked at me quizzically, and pointed to the board, of course. 20UScents for a pork bun - the cost of our meal, less than $!. An old man, skinny as a rail, was seated next to us, eating a dozen. We chuckled in thinking what could be in the buns if he ate a dozen every day, and still remained as thin as he was!

By then, the streets were filling with people on their way to work. We explored Beijing on foot, walking almost 6 hours, and squeezing ourselves on to subways back and forth across town. As the day progressed, we were to learn that we should have rested along with all the other government workers who were supposed to be working in the museums - Mao's Mausoleum was closed, as was the Ancient Observatory and inside of the National Theatre. The Museum of Architecture was closed for renovation and we were out of luck. As a last resort, the taxi driver dropped us off at a new tourist promenade, the size of which stunned us. Miles of wide boulevards, still somewhat under construction with upscale retail stores and restaurants on both sides, complete with its own streetcar, was filled with strolling Chinese visitors.

Watching the masses of workers heading for the subway station, we opted to take a taxi to meet Jen and her friend's family for dinner. It is sometimes the most nondescript places that are the best eateries. Around the corner from her apartment complex, we had a distinctively Beijing meal of unique and mouthwatering dishes, we could never have ordered ourselves. It was delightful meeting a new friend and spending time learning about their lives as educators at Tsinghua University.


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