Monday, October 22, 2007

Delightful Hutong Life and the 17th Congress

Liu Li Chang
Quite impressively, I manage to get up at about 10:30am! There’s a queue for showers, the annoying aspect of not having en-suite. Otherwise this is the place to stay in Beijing. I head out to Liu Li Chang, the other traditional shopping area of this hutong. It’s a lovely area in the cool, blue skies and sunshine.

Traditional hutong life

I walk past the small single story buildings, grey, tiled on the roof, along dusty paths with bicycles everywhere. Old men wearing caps totter past. It’s so peaceful. I’m looking for a stamp for Yi Jun. Eventually after a few false starts I find a nice shop run by a family, with honest pricing and the mother speaks good English.

Busy alleys

Get two stamps made and buy a picture of a horse (I was born in 78, year of horse). Whilst waiting for the stamps to be carved, I go for food.

Pancake for brunch

On the corner I find a friendly girl who serves some sorts of pancakes. I ask for one, and it turns out to be quite a involved affair, with pancake, eggs, vegetables, crunchy papads, some sort of savoury sauce, all wrapped up in a bag. I sit at the end of the road and watch local life pass me by.

Happy slogans on the wall

It’s not really enough though, so I head into a noodle shop, pointing at someone else’s bowl. Mine takes forever, but eventually comes. Somehow I’ve got a vegetarian one, with just tomato and small amount of egg, whereas the woman who came after me gets a tasty bowl full of beef! The perils of pointing!

Next I walk up to Tiananmen Square. Unfortunately the 15th congress, like election time in democratic countries, but without the election, is occurring, so they’ve sealed the whole area off as big convoys drive in. Presumably Hu Jintao is in one of the limos rather than the buses.

Instead, I head to the Summer Palace, without Leo so I’ll use public transport. I take the rather dated tube system to Xizhimen station on the “circle line”. There I can’t find the bus 375 as LP says (more out of date LP information!), but by examining every character on the bus destination listings I work out that another bus goes there!

When I arrive, I head in. There’s a sign saying lots of things are closed for renovation for the Olympics next year.

The gate in

Girls in traditional costumes

A touristy shopping street down below

It’s not immediately that impressive, but I later work out that I’ve effectively come in the back way.

Lots of pine everywhere

I walk up the hill, whence I should have a decent view over the whole palace.

Tile ends

The first open square

The tourists here are mostly Chinese, which is something I always like – it’s a bit depressing when sites are priced out of local budgets. They do tend to have lower prices for locals, but it’s not Indian in outrageous 40x differences.

Further up

Beautiful detail on the temple doors

Buddhas everywhere

The large Buddha inside

Strange rocky staircases

I wonder how much of the feature was here already. The rocks seem artificial.

At the top there is a lovely view over lake on the other side, with the main summer palace buildings stretching down to the water.

Over on the other side of the lake, there is a long footbridge leading to an island. Boats ply the lake.

The hills roll in the distance, now silhouetted in the low sun. A pagoda sits on top of the nearest ridge.

I walk down the steep hill to the lake. There are lots of groups of people strolling back and forth, chatting. It’s very pleasant, and even the Chinese are being quite reserved and well-behaved!

Stone bridges

The lake

Walking round, I find myself across the water from the palace. Locals are sitting at the edge of the water, fishing for absolutely tiny fish, how ridiculous to catch these babies – barely larger than my thumb. There’s no sign saying it’s banned though, so presumably officials don’t mind.

I walk back round to the palace, where I hoped to catch the boat across to the other side of the lake.

It wasn’t to be though, as there’s a huge queue, mostly of Americans squealing in delight as some attention-loving Chinese children play in front of them.

The boats ferrying people across

It’s getting cold now, so I walk quickly round. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to get back, as I’m in a quite different area to where I arrived.

A beautiful sun set

Strange “historical objects”

Covered walkways

It is the East Gate where I emerge, leaving the lake close to the bridge I could see earlier from the top of the hill

I get back to town on a bus which I feel happier taking when I find a Hungarian couple also on it. We chat on the long standing journey, packed in with unimaginable numbers of locals. These guys wanted to go to Tibet but apparently because of a protest the authorities have suddenly clamped down on permits and stopped issuing them to foreigners.

The entrance to the Palace

Wang Fu Jing
The bus takes so long, I’m late to meet Leo at WangFuJing, a smart shopping street.

Here we head to another branch of the Qianjude duck restaurant which is apparently the place to eat the stuff. It’s so popular, we’re told we have a 40 minute wait! Leo uses this time to take me to Donghuamen Night Market, a food street a few minutes up the road.

Most of it is tasty local food, but there are one or two stalls which are clearly there just to bait tourists:

Larvae and scorpions

Tasty though this stuff looks, we stick to lamb and milk balls, and not together I might add!

Qianjude Peking Duck Restaurant
We head back to the restaurant, and find we’ve missed our place. Leo does the honours by talking us in anyway.


The restaurant

This dish is the traditional food associated with Beijing (Peking). A cooked duck, sliced up or with the flesh clawed off, this flesh then taken and wrapped up in a pancake with plum sauce and some bits of onion and cucumber.

The ultra-oily skin only bit

The first bit we are given is only skin, and it’s horribly oily. I pretend I like it and encourage Leo to try too. We agree we’re going to an early grave if we eat any more of that.

The chef with knife and duck

The chef goes to work

Whilst we wait, we are provided with the other bits we require, the pancakes and condiments.

The accessories

Finally, the duck arrives!

The duck

I try some. The duck is good. But not amazing, I have to say. I’m not a Peking Duck connoisseur, but I think the best I’ve ever had was in Hong Kong, when Leo’s gastronome mother chose a Beijing-style restaurant. I get on and roll some pancakes.

Ready for rolling


So overall, a good experience, but not an incredible flavour, merely nice.

Happy boy

After dinner, we head back to Leo’s to relax for a bit before we taxi out to the bar districts again!


This time we’re going to what is possibly the most famous bar in Beijing - Susie Wong’s.

Inside it’s nicely appointed, but I notice is full of mostly foreigners. Chinese are in the minority here. We have some beers, which are expensive but more affordable than the cocktails on the menu.

There are some girls hanging around waiting to be chatted to, but they don’t seem to hassle Leo and I, presumably as we’re clearly gay! After hanging round for a bit, and almost getting chatted up by a girl who laughs when she notices her hair is almost the same as mine, we leave, and as we walk along the street I notice a pub which must be either English or Australian – it’s called the Goose and Duck!

Getting late

After more beers, and being asked whether I want a massage, we’re driven out and home by the pub putting the American football on at extremely loud volumes. I crash at Leo’s.

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