Tag Archive | Beijing

Lasting Memories in China

May 2011

Last time I was around so many Chinese people, besides Flushing and NYU, was 2008 Jay Chou concert at Mohegan Sun. And there, it was packed to the limit with ballistic Jay Chou fans, me included. This time around, I was in a country of Chinese people, a much different community than in America. As evident in my endless posts for my China Travel series, I found every experience eye-opening and tasteful. I have compiled lasting impressions, feelings, and insights in this finale until the next expedition.

Flip Flop

During the entire week in China, particularly in the beginning, Kelly and I were getting confused with each other.  At the first restaurant outing, Wai Po and Yi Ma looked and smiled at me, but called me Qing Qing (Kelly). I stared back and responded awkwardly, “I’m not Kelly, I’m Connie…” pointing at my sister to my right. To make matters more amusing, even my own mother started getting us mixed up! I would also poke at Kelly and correct her, “I’m not Kelly! I’m CONNIE!” My own mother?!  Kelly and I would blink at each other, “Seriously, they are getting us mixed up??” This may be a bad and inappropriate reference, but I’m drawing up a parallel with… love-making. I’ve seen it on television soap operas and movies and heard it happen amongst gossip tables. Amidst the pleasure, the girl (or guy) gets a little carried away and screams the wrong name. Everything stops and all is awkward… o.O

Clearly, my flip-flop situation is nowhere near as inappropriate and compromising, but I would like to point out a few key things. First, Kelly and I are not twins; we are actually a wide 5 years apart. Second, confusing Connie and Kelly meant one of appears older or the other younger. That can be disappointing, or flattering, depending on who you’re looking at.  I guess 10 years time really makes a difference in people’s minds, especially after the initial excitement of meeting us again. I do not notice the changes because, well, I’m in my own body, but for an outsider, I have undergone a dramatic transformation. Even within that same week, I went through a makeover for myself.

Rocky Roads

Let me make a point about driving in China. IT IS FREAKING CRAZY!!! Not just in Beijing, but Shanghai as well. Driving into Beijing was like driving a NASCAR race, not like I’ve done that myself, but judging by how much my heart rate skyrocketed, it was fast and furious. Seriously, I thought New York driving was bad. People in China do not follow lines on the road, pedestrian right-of-way, rules and regulations such as signaling, and roadway etiquette. It does not help when the streets are crowded with miniature carts, bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds, and pedestrians, the elderly and young alike. A few times, in Beijing and Shanghai, we got stuck at intersections where we were blown away by all the honks and besieged by cars from all corners, interspersed with bicycles, mopeds, and pedestrians.

I swear, these Chinese drivers really know how to live in the fast lane. They can speed so fast down the highway and avoid bumps & bruises in the crowded streets. They are aggressive and nonchalant at the same time. No one pays attention to the white or yellow lines. No one signals. No one wears seatbelts. There are no second thoughts when it comes to honking. Everyday is like orchestra of honks and bleeps.  I really wonder if their road tests are modeled after Mario Kart.

I was both frightened and amazed at how people drive out there. Even when I was on the streets of Shanghai, I was never so uncomfortable with jaywalking. Drivers had no mercy; they will mow you down and beep at you. When I was crossing the streets with my uncle from Kang Jian Park, I had cars and bicycles flanking from both sides! Never before had I felt like a poor squirrel just trying to get to the other side! Another time, I was walking back from one of the University restaurants on the last family dinner, I had a moped come up behind me, lights blinding my eyes. The pissed-off lady on the moped, on the cell phone, yelled at me to get out of the way… I was arm-in-arm with my Xiao Jiu Ma, and she and I complained about how unsafe walking around is all the time, even on the school campus. Never before had I felt like a deer stuck in headlights, literally! And man, was my family’s personal driver Xiao Wang an Asian Speedy Gonzalez. He got us to places quickly, but on a wild van ride. He would zip down the highway, high speed, maybe as fast as the Dongche (D-train). He would change lanes as quickly and smoothly as a motorcyclist on the LIE.

Ooops, Epic Trip

Dad’s terrible fall on the Great Wall was an epic vacation fail.  It was still the beginning of our week-long family fun, and BAM!, one slip on the rocks ruined many parts of the week. That day, we had to deal with a fretful Dad, frowning and complaining. When he wanted to go to the bathroom, Kelly and I were supporting him on both ends to the bathroom at the base of the mountain. Instead of thanking us, he was complaining we were slowing him down and he would rather not go to the bathroom after all. Dad was being a big baby, and we had to bear the brunt of it that morning.

Aside from shelling out 2000 yuan for a wheelchair, pushing him everywhere, carrying him up endless stairs, and really, treating him like a big baby, he will be fine. He had to withstand the rest of the week immobile, in pain, in bandages, and in tethers to a wheelchair until we arrived back in the states.

Update:  Dad went to visit an orthopedic surgeon. He got surgery on his fractured ankle. For the next three months, he will rest and heal in a cast at home. That means, no work for three months and plenty of time in front of the television watching his Asian dramas and variety shows and cooking channels…

Culinary Delights

Speaking of food and cooking, I was in such a well-fed state all week. That one week, I cycled from eating to sleeping, eating to walking, sitting to eating, then back to sleeping… It was mad tiring though!

My pancreas was on over-drive producing insulin to temper my carbohydrate bonanza and meat frenzy. I believe I ate enough meat that week to make up for 3 years of vegetarianism. I was okay with eating oily duck skin, chicken stomach, gizzard, braised eel, and many other exotic animal dishes, when a few years ago, I would puke at the mere thought! I’ve come a long way since eating purely plants. When I think about it, I still do not eat that much meat, only during special occasions or when people cook for me. On my own, I prefer to cook simple vegetarian dishes with rice or noodles. I have not dared to play with fire and whip out extravagant meat or seafood dishes. Sadly, I do not know how to cook meats, plain and simple =/

I have a greater appreciation for Asian cuisine now. Traveling is all about trying new foods (or going back to old roots) and becoming a part of the culture. Let’s say I was still a vegetarian, I would be missing out on culinary specialties; I would be in the background, watching other people enjoy the array of delicacies. I would also come off as ‘weird’ because Chinese people especially do not understand the concept of vegetarianism. There would be some explaining on my part; I would get frustrated talking about my healthy lifestyles and people might get offended if I choose not to eat their foods. My family cooked for us, took us out to dinners, and liked seeing us eat merrily; if I was the lone girl who refused to touch meat and fish, of course they would look down upon me.

Good thing I’ve reconverted myself to omnivorism over a year ago. I still prefer to eat healthy, but occasional, portion-controlled drifts to the exotic side of the dinner table are OK. And now I have the desire to perfect the art of cooking and make food that smells like Shanghai. I want to have my mom’s culinary magic. The foods I ate at Shanghai stimulated my nose and brought me back to home. I vividly remember the first night we arrived in Shanghai, Xiao Jiu Ma cooked us a lavish dinner that breathed home.

Pickpocketing

You do not know how many times Mom cautioned me to watch my bag. I kept clutching it and making sure it was securely zippered. Pickpocketing is infamous on the streets of China. Mom has told me stories of Chinese people sharpening their fingers as sharp as chopsticks. They are quick and sneaky, stealing your precious jewels and cash from right under your nose, gone before you can even blink and cry. I had to be particularly careful at Wang Fu Jing, because the nightmarket scene is where you will find prowling jackrabbits. Everyone is bumping into each other and taking out their money to buy street foods. When I was walking through the narrow streets of the nightmarket, I noticed many women like myself, grasping their side-bags and holding them in the front.

I also believe we saw a lurking pickpocketer in Shanghai, the first night after the Golden Jaguar International Buffet. Bunched together on the night streets, we were all chatting and enjoying the evening breeze. A suspicious-looking man walked by and kept looking at our shopping bags, which contained mostly shoes and clothes. I kept my eye on him as he walked off, but he kept circling around and looking back at us. I gave him the death stare right back, not sure if it kept him away, and watched him drift off. What a creeper!

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Lasting Thoughts on Beijing

1) The city is not as industrialized and modern as I thought. I do not believe anything compares to Shanghai, because that is what I am doing in my head now. The air was dusty and foggy. The weather was uncomfortably hot. It definitely did not help with so many people squished into one city. On the streets, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians constantly collided. They were not real accidents, but near-accidents with how quickly cars flew down the roads and how close pedestrians and bicycles came to these aggressive drivers.

2) Because it was so hot and humid already, I had early onset-allergies. By the end of the first day, I started sneezing and spreading my germs. My nose began to stuff and my eyes itched, classic signs of immediate hypersensitivity! It also did not help that I went to Yi He Yuan, the Summer Gardens that first day, where I was besieged by trees and greenery. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the scenery and Beijing’s Best. Curse you pollen, I did not (and will) not let you ruin my wonderful spring cheers!

3) Never mind the spring, it was summer already. It was warm and green colored the city. And it was raining fluff everywhere, fluff from a type of willow tree there called 柳樹 Liu shu. It was almost mesmerizing, sometimes annoying, to see the raining cotton balls.

4) There were many old people, like OLD people. I saw many wise elders pondering and looking back on their long lives, sitting on street corners. They were also relatively fit people, driving carriages and riding bicycles and walking about. It’s stunning to compare old people in China and old people in America, mostly bumming on couches and getting fat.

5) And lastly, and honestly, I cannot stand the Northern accent. I cannot bear to listen to the rolling “R’s” mainly because I can’t fathom to understand it! It may be the accepted Mandarin, but personally, it’s ugly and vulgar. See, I am a Southerner at heart, with Mom from glorious Shanghai and Dad from Taiwan’s best, Taipei. Kelly and I are somewhere in the middle, mixed in with the American-born Chinese. We have clear accents, somewhere between Shanghainese and Taiwanese. In general, it’s a Southern accent where we do NOT roll our “R’s.” We piss off the Beijing headquarters and the Northern territory with our Mandarin, because to them, it’s not the real Mandarin. To me, it’s the Mandarin I understand and practice. When I watch Taiwanese television shows or the news, THAT’s the Mandarin I accept and love to hear. No big deal, just personal taste =)

Taiwan love~

A Night to Remember

Wednesday, April 20, 2011:  Beijing Nights

Wang Fu Jing 王府井, Beijing’s Nightmarket

How do you end a night in Beijing with a bang?! Roam around Beijing’s Nightmarket of course! The best Nightmarkets in Asia belong in Taiwan, but a Beijing Nightmarket experience is still worth a wander. Beijing’s well-known Nightmarket, or 夜市 Ye Shi, called 王府井 Wang Fu Jing is where we explored.  Located in 東城區 in the Eastern District, Wang Fu Jing is an avid, dynamic shopping area for nightlife, exotic snack foods, souvenirs, and merchandise.

Mr. Kang joined us for a last walk through Beijing’s city streets, mostly pushing Dad in his wheelchair. The first thing I had was this sweetened candied fruit on a stick called 冰糖葫蘆 Bing Tang Hu Lu. There was a small side stand with a handicapped gentleman selling these snacks. We all had soft hearts, so Mom ended up buying several sticks of candied snacks from him. Instead of paying him in Chinese dollars, the nice man was content with an American dollar with Washington, just for fun. He was obviously getting the better end of the deal, with an American dollar equivalent to about 6.5 Chinese renmingbi, much more than how much the cheap snack foods cost. So the nice vendor man was happy with his new Washington, and we thanked him for a delicious evening snack. ‘Bing Tang Hu Lu’ is a well-known, fun winter kebob snack in Northern China similar to the American version of candied and chocolate-covered apples commonly eaten at street fairs and outdoor venues.  It comprises of small Chinese hawthorne fruits, or 山楂 Shan Zha, that look like miniature Macintosh apples, coated in hardened sugar syrup. There are numerous seeds to spit out, but otherwise, the fruit is mushy and mildly sweet. The external layer of sugar adds an extra bite (and glucose overload) to the enjoyment. What an adorable snack to nibble on a pleasant evening.

We stopped by a local shop with plenty of small gifts and merchandise. Mom and Kelly went to look for gifts for teachers. I was gravitated toward cell-phone decorations. I LOVE cute cell phone key chains, but obviously I cannot buy every cute item and overload my poor smartphone. Nevertheless, I like browsing for cute Sanrio characters, jade decorations, smiling baby animals, and meaningful charms with Chinese characters, sings, and names. I did not find a charm I absolutely adored by the time we started walking again, except maybe for a little playful panda one.

Look! It's Barbie Hsu!!!

We hit one of the main streets of Wang Fu Jing, with the billboards, department stores, larger food shops, and crowds of Chinese people. And of course, we were gravitated toward another food shop with plenty of snacks and goodies. I was walking in a sugar wonderland, with so many stands of colorful mochi candies and biscuits! I usually do not get excited at American candy shops like the M&M’s store or It’s Sugar in Atlantic City, but it was different at a Chinese dessert shop! Chinese sweet treats are more what I enjoy, because they are not too sugary or overdecorated with food coloring. Instead, they tend to be natural, tonic, and plain exotic. Here was a sampling of what we loaded back to America.

It's like window shopping for cavities!

1)   Chinese pastries, and cookies!!! Uber tasty goodies!  One of my favorites is 老婆餅 Lao Po Bing, or Wife Biscuits. Curious name indeed! It is soft and flaky on the outside, filled with sticky and chewy pineapple paste on the inside, or 鳳梨. I love these treats so much because they taste just like my favorite Taiwanese pineapple tarts called 鳳梨酥 feng li su. The magical explosion of sweetness from the pineapple is atomic. The other second-best pastries include red bean and green bean cakes. Similar to the Wife Biscuits, these cakes are filled with mildly sweet bean paste on the inside, buttery and flaky on the outside. They are small portions, but beware of grabbing one too many biscuits and taking whirlwind rides down the alimentary canal. I usually limit myself to two biscuits and I am pleasantly satisfied =)

2)   茯苓夾餅 Fu Ling Jia Bing – This traditional Beijing snack is styled like a mini-pancake, round like the full moon.  It is made with flour, honey, sugar, and fuling, a type of herbal fungus from the Perenniporia genus. It appears as a sandwich, with a gelatinous sweet filling and taste of fuling stacked between the white, paper-thin flour sheets.  It also comes in different flavors and decorations, including sesame crusts.  Well-known for its taste and nutrients, Fu Ling Jia Bing contains proteins and vitamins that help nourish the liver and kidney, lubricate the intestinal tract, restore vitality, improve complexion, and protect the delicate skin. Once again, this special snack used to be reserved for the imperial family or government officials, but has since become a snack for everyone to enjoy.  Here’s an interesting tidbit. During the Qing dynasty, Empress Dowager Cixi fell ill. Imperial chefs utilized the Tuckahoe herb derived from the Perenniporia fungus and grown in Yunnan and Guizhou to create tonic effects for the sick Empress. Medical effects included stimulating the spleen, calming the nerves, and improving fluid circulation. Nowadays, Fu Ling Jia Bing has become more than just a specialty, well-crafted snack; it has become a symbol of Beijing’s best treats.

3)   打滾 Lu Da Gun – Another delicious Beijing specialty snack is Rolling Donkey. It is a type cake made of rice flour and red bean paste. To achieve a yellow tint on the outside, soybean flour is added as well. The filling is diversely delightful:  鳳梨味 (pineapple, needless to say it’s my favorite), 花生 (peanut), 豆沙 (red bean), and 山楂 (hawthorne). They are akin to little mochi balls, very glutinous and chewy. With these delectable treats, I did not find chewing to be such a nuisance, like I usually do with meats and Laffy Taffy. Battling through the glutinous balls of goodness never felt so rewarding and pleasurable. When I arrived at the heart of the filling, a supernova exploded in my mouth and a burst of stars flashed before my eyes. These miniature sweet rice dumplings did wonders to my taste buds, perhaps yours too!

We wandered the small streets next. There, we really had to watch our bags. In general, China is infamous for creative criminal ways of pick-pocketing netizens and tourists. Especially in the small streets when you are enjoying the street food or the environment, you are prone to prowlers. So walking down the small streets, I was clutching my purse like a baseball bat. Aside from looking out for pick-pocketers, I was finally enjoying the famous Nightmarkets of China! It was very dynamic, noisy, and classically oriental. Down one of the side streets was an opera performance on the balcony. The streets were lighted with traditional red lanterns and golden decorations. The aroma of street foods, or 小吃 Xiao Chi, stimulated my olfactory cells. I absorbed the wonderful smell of roasted meats on skewers, called 串兒 Chuanr. Lamb, chicken, pork, beef, and other animals probably were marinated in various spices. There were also fried insects and exotic bugs on skewers, still wiggling their helpless legs in agony or even excitement. We passed more souvenir shops and finally made it back out.

It was a pleasant stroll through the night, but all good things must come to an end. It was time to move on to the next series of good things, in awesome Shanghai again. We returned to Beijing’s South Train Station to catch the Dongche. Mr. Kang was incredibly helpful throughout the trip. He parked his car outside, and came with us into the train station, helping us with a crippled Dad and getting us to the right station. He even took us to the train and into the cabins. He has practically been adopted into our family during our stay in Beijing! We were very fortunate to have met him that first day in Beijing. Without him, we would have been lost souls wandering the streets and catching random taxis. We probably would have spent more money getting around the region. We would not have met such a good friend either! And with him, we had a memorable, fulfilling trip in Beijing, since he took us to all the best places Beijing has to offer. He went out of his way for us, whether it was waiting in the car outside Yi He Yuan, buying vegetables and water for us, or carrying Dad up and down staircases. Let’s say, in the end, we tipped him a great deal for his company and incredible service and we will forever remember this amazing young man. Good-hearted people do exist in this world after all! We promised to come back and see Mr. Kang again next time we visit Beijing. Until next time Beijing!!!

Mega-tastic Makeover

Wednesday, April 20, 2011: Beijing Bound

Mega Makeover 大改造

I got a haircut along with Mom and Kelly. Since the beginning of the trip, I’ve been ambivalent over whether or not I should curl my hair or leave it straight. The last time I curled my hair was during middle school into most of high school. That was many curly years. In college, I got lazy and left my hair straight. I learned to love silky, smooth hair because 1) it was cheaper and 2) it was easier to manage in the mornings. No more gel and mousse. No more stuck combs. No more frizz and hair frenzies. I liked my long, black hair. So when Mom asked me if I wanted to perm my hair in Beijing, I was not too sure I wanted to part with my long straight hair and trade in for the Shirley Temple look.

Even on the car ride to the salon, I was still debating whether I should perm my hair. Mr. Kang took us to a pleasant, classy beauty salon called 東方柏麗 Belle Salon. I walked up the steps and immediately greeted by some lovely ladies in green dresses and nice gentlemen in sexy white-Tees. Again, it was not part of their job description to appear dumbfounded and using all their strength to lift my poor Dad up the few steps. I walked in casually and the next thing I knew, I was escorted to a comfortable, leather seat and offered a cup of hot tea. One of the masters (who also happened to look slightly like Chinese version of Ryewook from Super Junior, with his face shape and haircut), there began playing with my hair and commenting on my ‘horrible’ layers. Apparently my hair was too choppy and messy. I was never an expert on hair, always expecting my master stylists knew what they were doing. I guess for the first time, I had a real stylist who knew what he was doing, perform his best with my hair.

Never before did I experience such star treatment. Next thing I knew, they were pampering me, dressing me in a smooth robe, washing my hair, massaging my back, and handing me rose tea. I asked for a perm like Mom and Kelly. Specifically, it was an Electric Perm, where your hair gets rolled onto electric curlers. The heating part only takes maybe 10 minutes maximum, as they were also careful not to burn my scalp. I asked to keep my hair length, leave some bangs, and use medium curls.

The whole process, from washing to styling, took a full 2 hours. During that time, I was chatting up a storm with my hairstylists, a young girl student and one of the professionals they called 老師 lao shi, or ‘teacher.’  Kelly was next to me with her noob, a little on the quiet side. She later said I was practicing my Chinese. I disagreed and responded I was just being friendly.  And I was, I enjoyed talking with my stylists, more than I have ever with my other Asian hairstylists in America. The girl spent most of the time with me, serving me hot tea and asking me if I was comfortable and happy. She told me to call her 小雨 Xiao Yu, and she likewise asked for my name. The only thing I was proud of was writing out my Chinese name, which is 虞鈺淇 Yu Yu Qi. I filled out a questionnaire form with them, and the only thing I could do was 1) write my full name and 2) draw circles and attempt to read a few phrases like “Name.” When I pointed and said 性名, Xiao Yu said to me, “Oh wow, you CAN read!” I shook my head modestly and responded, “Only a little bit,” making little flapping motions with my index and thumb. We chatted about life and such, basic girl talk to pass time. She was young, around Kelly’s age. She moved from the countryside to Beijing just recently. She loved to play around, get in trouble, always a tomboy. In turn, she asked about my American lifestyle, what I was studying (medicine), where I lived (Long Island, Manhattan), what I was up to in China (Shanghai, family), how I enjoyed Beijing (wonderful), etc… A few instances, I turned to talk to Kelly, strangely quiet for once. With her, we spoke mainly English. While we exchanged sisterly chat, our hair stylists were fascinated with our conversation. I saw out of the corner of my eye how focused Kelly’s noob stylist was on us. He was smiling and appearing curious. It was rather cute. Then, I switched back to Mandarin with Xiao Yu again. On and off, I juggled between English and Mandarin, between Kelly and hairdressers. Kelly would later laugh at me, with her high-pitched girlish tone and crossed fingers, “Client-hairdresser relationship for life!” in that Valley Girl voice and attitude. Boy would she not let me forget that line.

I was very satisfied with my new look. My main hair stylist did my hair so well. He did not spend too much on my hair, only applying the curls and then finishing up at the end. He was also very nice and talkative. He had a nice Mohawk atop his head, with a good build and height. I got to know him as much as he learned about me. He moussed up my hair and Voila! I was looking at a new person. I thanked him and Xiao Yu, as well one of the other stylish masters and Kelly’s noob.

It was by far the classiest, most enlivening salon I went to. The atmosphere and aromas catered to my inner chi. The place was spacious, clean, and hospitable, fully equipped with Internet and storage lockers for our belongings. They played music I enjoyed, including SNSD “Gee,” K-pop music and Mandopop. It really shows how Asian I am when I actually recognize what songs are played at various Chinese venues. Anyway, the place was absolutely soothing. Multiple times, I almost fell asleep in my chair because I was too comfortable. When I was getting my hair washed at the sink, I laid down on the leather recliner with my head nestled into the semicircular indentation. What would you expect with warm rose tea, massages, roomy leather seats, white walls and floors, and enjoyable music? I believe Mom actually nodded off, as I saw her head tilt forward heavily several times.

When we left, nearly everyone at the salon left his or her clients to bid us goodbye. Yes, the ladies and masters stopped cutting or washing, and came out to send us off. They also had to get Dad down the stairs again. They were probably extra polite to us because Mom paid them REALLY generously, in tips. But mostly, I think they were generally congenial and happy people who liked to interact with American people. On the way out, I was tempted to ask for a photograph with our hairstylists for doing such a remarkable job on all of us. But I felt awkward interrupting their duties and just asking for a random picture. My sister said it should be fine, speaking we ARE tourists and they’d understand. In the end, I did not have the guts to document our splendid time at the salon, in our new hairdos. This was the one time on my trip I did not take a picture unfortunately, and I am still hitting my head for it. Instead, I came out with a pink business card and a promise I’ll return next time for a professional perm. On the good side, I came out of that salon feeling very clean and fresh. I was going to step back into Shanghai and New York as a different Connie =)

Down for Dumplings

Wednesday, April 20, 2011:  Beijing Bound

Down for Dumplings

We were finished with Tianamen Square by high noon. The day felt muggy and gross, especially after standing on the endless line to see Mao Zedong. All that sweating and squinting made us hungry.

Our wonderful Mr. Kang took us to a local dumpling shop. To begin, Dad had a hard time getting in the restaurant, for there were only steps and no ramps for the handicapped. For a few minutes, we all stood there dumbfounded as to what to do. Three ladies were still too weak support systems to lift a heavy combination of Dad plus wheelchair. Luckily, the waitresses and a manly manager came out, looking as dumbfounded as we were. The ladies were useless with us, but the manager helped Mr. Kang lift Dad up the shallow steps. The scene was slightly comical, just knowing that the heavy labor entailed in lifting a man in a wheelchair up several steps, long or shallow, was not part of their job description. Seriously, walking down the streets of China anywhere, most elder people were not wheelchair-bound or crippled like Americans here. In general, people are less lazy and more health-conscious. People take stairs, ride bicycles, take walks, exercise in the parks, etc…

Chefs hard at work

Dumplings, or 餃子 jiao zi, from Beijing were authentic and astounding. They were handmade (手工製作 shou gong zhi zuo) and stuffed with yummy mixtures, NOT the bootleg frozen dumplings born from machines. Chefs rolled the dough and mixed the stuffings consisting of pork, chicken, shrimp, eggs, vegetables, etc… in their glass-enclosed isolation room for the public to see. We offered Mr. Kang to join us, but he kept politely resisting our offer. For helping us this entire trip and taking us all about Beijing, we really wanted him to join in our festivities. But I guess he did not want to intrude on our family gathering or he was just being polite. Either way, Mom packed some fresh dumplings and dishes we ordered on several plates and walked out of the restaurant. Yea, it looked weird when she tried walking out the restaurant with plates of food and of course, she was stopped at the door. I was sure the lovely waitresses were dumbstruck again that Mom was casually leaving the restaurant with their food and fine utensils. But, Mom has her way with words, and she went out to Mr. Kang. He was very thankful, and we were glad he was with us as well.

Now, to the delicious family pig-out.

1)   Pig Skin Jelly – 肉皮凍 Rou Pi Dong

It sounds disgusting, but worth a try. It is seriously no different from eating Jello, gummy bears, marshmallow Peeps, and other sweet goodies, just minus the dental consequences and holy cavities. It’s a cold dish made from pig skin:  gelatinous, savory, and probably fattening. The gelatin that makes the consistency so elastic and chewy is derived from collagen typically found in animal skin and bones. Most gelatin comes from pork skins, and hence, arises one of Beijing’s ethnic dishes. If I talk more about this Pig Skin Jelly goodness, I will probably be arrested by the PETA police or even envision my fellow readers puke on their sparkly clean Macbooks, so I’ll move on to something more universally appetizing =)

2)   Chicken Stomach/Intestines – 雞腸 Ji Chang

– This was a bold dish to try. I gobbled it down because 1) I was hungry and 2) I didn’t think about what I was putting through my system.

3)   Chicken – 雞 Ji, specifically Shou Si Ji (Shredded Chicken)

– Pure white meat chicken with browned skin… enough said.

4)   Kiwi-Banana fruit juice, 100% au naturel

– I’d just like to comment on how much I love fruit juice in China. It is freshly blended and 100% juice. It has the pulp and the fiber, no added ingredients such as sugar or preservatives. It is pure, fresh, and revitalizing. Now I want to invest in a blender and more fruits in my pantry =)

5)   Dumplings – 餃子Jiao Zi

– Steaming dumplings straight out of the boiling water could not have tasted any better. The dumpling skin had the ideal chew factor. That is, the bite down into the hot dumpling was enjoyable because the special flavors meshed well and complemented the elasticity of the dumpling dough. The dumplings also came with ‘Dumpling Soup,’ which was just the water the dumplings were boiled in. The waitress served the dumpling soup from a kettle. I found the dumpling soup particularly refreshing and tasteful, but Kelly just stared at me. She said to me, “How could you LIKE the soup?? It’s just dumpling WATER that is just BLAND!” I shrugged my shoulders, gave her a smile, and slurped down the last drops of my dumpling soup =)

Shrimp and cucumbers:  Titillating combination! Usually dumplings are stuffed with various meats and vegetables, but tender shrimp and cucumbers are out of the ordinary. Also, I’m used to eating cucumbers the Shanghainese way, mixed with sesame oil, vinegar, and seasoning for a light appetizer. So these dumplings were a twist to my normal culinary preferences that were surprisingly satisfying.

Egg and chives:  Chives and green onions are frequent additions to various meats in dumplings. Now, with eggs, a classic breakfast ingredient in America, in dumplings, dumplings have

Pork and mushrooms

We left the restaurant satisfied. Again, Dad had to get out the way he came in. The restaurant workers were prepared for us this time, as they promptly came to the door when we were leaving. Going down for Dad was a little easier for the men, since gravity gave an extra nudge.

Tian-An-A-Man Square

Wednesday, April 20, 2011:  Beijing Bound

Tianamen Square 天安門廣場

Into the Forbidden City...

Bright and early in the morning, we checked out of the hotel and looked forward to our final day at Beijing. The first place to go was Tianamen Square 天安門廣場 (tian an men guang chang). Police officers in ugly jungle green patrolled the entire square. There was a line of them marching right before us, in perfect unison. They looked like unwound wooden soldiers with their rigid expressions and super-straight limbs swinging like pendulums. It was funny when they marched by and Mom was like, “Hurry! Get a picture of them!” Lol~ There was a security check center we had to pass through. I never imagined mainland security to be this tightly regulated and stringent. As the world knows, Mainland China is very harsh against political dissent, Communist outcries, and democratic tendencies. Tianamen Square is the site of the infamous 1989 democratic protests, where hundreds of vocal students and political activists were gunned down mercilessly and unnecessary tanks blazed down the unfortunate. And nowadays, you will see Chinese policemen, or 公安局 ‘gong an ju,’ stationed about the corners and streets of the square. My sister joked to me, “I wonder if I say something mean against China or Mao, if a mysterious white van will pull up and I will never be seen again… me with the white van. Dun Dun DUN!”

There were SO MANY people, AGAIN! Every freaking day, every hour, every year, and every season!!! I cannot escape tourists anywhere I go. And there were just way too many elderly people from the villages who spoke their native harsh-sounding dialects.  In addition to the exhausting heat and mugginess of that day, I had to deal with old villagers and tourist crowds. Oy~

I still made the most of my time at the Tianamen Square. There was the Memorial for the People’s Republic of China Heroes. It was located at the heart of the square, standing tall and simple, made of primarily granite stone and pure marble, or 大理石 da li shi/花石 hua shi. It was constructed in honor of those who sacrificed their lives for the Chinese people during the revolutionary struggles during the 19th and 20th centuries. Engraved in the front was an inscription by Mao Zedong:

“Eternal glory to the people’s heroes!”

Monument for the People's Heroes

At the back of the monument, written by Zhou En-lai:

     “Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people’s war of liberation and the people’s revolution in the past three years! Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people’s war of liberation and the people’s revolution in the past thirty years! Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who from 1840 laid down their lives in the many struggles against domestic and foreign enemies and for national independence and the freedom and well-being of the people!”

Oh Dad~

Nearby was a grand conference hall and Chinese history museum. We took a few pictures with the Tiananmen gate to the Forbidden City behind us and Mao Zedong’s prominent face smugly looking, glaring, around the city. The gate was further down the square, with probably more people lined up again.  My mother really wanted to see the 毛主席紀念堂 Mao Zedong Mausoleum. Yes, there were crowds of people lined up and looped about, but people were moving. We figured the line looked short to the entrance and things were rolling along. Oh, how much we were wrong… First, we dropped off our bags and camera with Dad, because they were excluded from the memorial. Dad looked funny with a mountain of purses piled on his lap. Too bad he could not do anything besides sit in the wheelchair and get pushed. Then, we waddled onto the mob of people and moved with the flow. My sister got kicked out of the line for wearing flip-flops. She went to join Dad at the wheelchair under the blazing, rising sun. Chinese government people in suits and with megaphones kept yelling at people to stay behind the yellow line, and not one smidget beyond!  We were strolling forward towards the front of the mausoleum, where we overhead people mentioning ID cards. No one mentioned anything about showing ID cards. We saw all the way up front that there was a sign asking to be ready with some form of identification. Mom and I were like “WTF, we came all the way up here to hear about this?!!!!” I told Mom to run and grab our passports, while I stood in line with our spots. I mean, we already made it this far, and more mobs shuffled in far behind us. Mom came running back with the passports. By now, the heat was coming down hard.  With Mom running so far up, she started complaining about the sun and how far she had to run to find me. Well, I saw her in time and I did move up in the line to keep up with the traffic. A little further down, we realized the line LOOPS all around the back and up front again. Judging from the front entrance screwed with us, because the bulk of the line was hiding along the sides and back exit… To add to the frenzy, there were announcements about what not to bring into the building, such as guns, knives, lighters, bags, cameras, etc… And we thought we heard watches too. I was saying to myself, “What? No watches??? There’s no time turning back now!” Mom put on her jacket to hide her classy pearl watch. I took off my new white Swatch and put it in my bra. Yes, my bra. I figured when they search me through the security check, they cannot feel my rather private bust area. It had to have been a decent hour + on that line. Finally, back up front again, we realized we could wear our watches. Besides, Mom worried that if they did find watches in my bra, we would probably get in trouble and see ourselves in the mysterious white van =/

Through the security check we went. The officers were rather aggressive, giving hard nudges forward and yelling out in their harsh Beijing accent. Even past the security, there was ANOTHER line. Again, more pushing and people stepping on your feet. At one point, I was so pissed at people pushing around I just yelled out, “Slow down there! No rush. No need to step all over people.” And then, FINALLY, we hit the entrance…

毛主席紀念堂 Mao Zedong Mausoleum is the final resting place of China’s revolutionary leader. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Mao, as he may have done plenty of reforms for China, but he also was a ruthless, stubborn, and selfish person. Enough about my personal feelings on Communism and Mao. Mom lived in China during the Cultural Revolution. She explained how she carried around the Little Red Book with Chairman Mao’s wise words of worship. Life was poor, hard, and limited, nothing glorious or particularly satisfying. Either way, Mao is an respected figure of history throughout China, with his face plastered on pins, books, posters, frames, etc… The mausoleum is the ultimate place signifying the country’s devotion and appreciation for him. Upon entrance, there was a whole area against the wall filled with white flowers. In a moment of silence, I walked down with Mom to see the former Chairman. We waited seemingly endless hours to walk a brief 15 seconds past the glass display. His body was embalmed carefully, resting peacefully behind glass windows and before awed netizens and tourists alike. He was dressed in his uniform, only his upper body exposed and illuminated. Xenon lamps inside the crystal coffin radiated his serene face, giving him a wax-like, but human color. It was an unbelievable encounter for Mom, as she probably remembered her childhood days in Shanghai.

FREEDOM~

At the back entrance, there was also the 正陽門 Zhen Yang men, which translates to the Gate of the High Sun.  As a historic symbol of ancient Beijing, Zhenyangmen served as a gate protecting the entry into the imperial city, the tallest among all the surrounding gatehouses. Again, the architecture was impressive:  colorful exterior, intricate awning design, sharp protrusions, and mounting presence over Beijing.

Zhenyangmen

Where the BEST Beijing Ducks Quack

Tuesday, April 19, 2011: Beijing Cuisine

全聚德  Quanjude: Peking Roasted Duck

Man we were hungry by 5pm that day. We met up with our driver, who was incredibly nice that he brought us fresh vegetables to eat. He drove us back to the hotel, and all the while, Mom and I were munching on a long cucumber. Yes, I took my time with my cucumber, and Kelly later told me I looked pained eating the raw green vegetable. I never craved to have salt at hand as that particular time =/

We fetched for Dad and went out for dinner.  He had to hobble like a tortoise with his ‘Lucy’ walker. I never had to walk this slow in my life, but I had to support my pops like a good daughter.

Hobbling off to dinner

Starbucks = 'Xin Ba Ke Coffee'

I loved how amidst the high, old Chinese style buildings there was a Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks, every medical student’s crash concoction and every New Yorker’s morning addiction. It’s like Starbucks was teleported back in time to the Ming dynasty and served up the imperial rulers and concubines.

Our driver/tour guide now suggested we ate at this famous Peking Duck House called 全聚德 Quan Ju De. What does the restaurant’s name symbolize? Quan (全) means complete perfection, Ju (聚) means gathering without departing, and De (德) means virtues to be supreme. Therefore, Quanjude together implies perfection, union, and benevolence.

全聚德 (Quan Ju De), Home of Beijing's Finest Peking Duck

Lady in Red attracting the customers

Serving the best roast duck in all of Asia since 1864 during the Qing dynasty, Quanjude has kept its traditions and continues to attract tourists and natives alike every day. The chefs cook the perfect duck using open ovens and non-smoky hardwood fuel such as Chinese date, peach, or pair to add a dash of fruity flavor. To top of the wonderful aroma and flavorful flesh is the golden-brown crispy skin oozing with glittering grease. Originally made for the imperial families, Peking Duck is now enjoyed by all of Asia, the West, young and old. Under the first Quanjude manager, Yang Ren Quan, who obtained an old chef from the imperial palace after selling street meat, the restaurant became the first to bring roast duck to the common people. Multiple Quanjude branches operate together, forming one of the biggest, busiest food enterprises in China.

A Grand Staircase

This is by far my absolute favorite restaurant! THE BEST. Of course, it’s expensive, well-decorated, and high class. You also have to wait in a LONG-ass line. Good thing Mr. Kang went ahead and got us a ticket while we were escorting Dad. Even then, we had a solid 15-minute wait. The place was packed to the limit, downstairs AND upstairs, but everyone was merrily drinking and festive. The place had a radiating atmosphere, thanks to the expansive restaurant, superb service, camaraderie, and stomach-satisfying cuisine. You certainly get what you pay for.  It is the place to eat the original and most authentic Peking Duck. Perfect for families, friends, and couples, Quanjude is absolutely delightful!

My family ordered a whole slew of appetizers, cold and hot, with Peking Duck as the main course, of course. As China’s pride and joy, it’s 北京烤鴨 ‘Beijing Kao Ya’ in Chinese, literally translating to Beijing’s Fire-Roasted Duck. Here’s a sample of what we ate:  spicy pepper and potato slices, mushed light taro, Chinese dates, duck, gimbap vegetable roll, lemon-flavored sweet and sour meat, flaky and crunchy taro cake, and liver.

Spicy Vegetable appetizer: green & red peppers, thin potato slices

Spicy veggies, Chinese dates, Savory Duck, Mashed Taro

Little Gimbap rolls... cute!

Sweet & Sour Pork with just a tang of lemon

Crunchy and Flaky Taro Cake atop my cold appetizers

Meat Fest

The highlight of the dinner was obviously the Peking Duck. I’ve been raving about it since way in the beginning.  One of the master chefs comes out with a cart and skillfully carves the gorgeous duck right in front of you. Boy was it cooked to perfection! The tender, smoky meat is wrapped with sliced cucumbers and green onions with just a light slab of savory oyster sauce, all bundled together in a thin tortilla wrap called 餅 bo bing.  We had two different types of 薄餅 bo bing, one was made from corn and the other was regular white wheat.  I think I ate maybe 5 of those babies. So delicious!!! By one of my last ones, I was still too excited I dropped a bo bing onto the floor. I got a frown from Mom, and Kelly gave me another one. Oops!

The Duck has Arrived!

Sliced to Perfection

Our first night at Beijing concluded with a major food coma. On the drive back to the hotel, our driver, who’s name is Mr. Kang, took us near Tianamen Square. We got a night view of the square ahead of time, as we would be visiting it the next morning. That will be next post!

天安門廣場 Tianamen Square, 晚上 @ Night

Good Night! 晚安!