Thursday, July 28, 2011

Holidays: Beijing-part one

Beijing is a fascinating place. It's more urban than we found Shanghai, yet is still a combination of modern technology and rural basics. Add millions of people, building sites everywhere and massive parks with grass you aren't allowed to sit on and you'll see it's a place full of interesting contradictions.

Our flight to Beijing was literally sickening in that it was woefully hot on the plane and constantly turbulent. Quite challenging and I was extremely glad to depart the plane!
We stayed in the suburbs which gives a great insight into local life outside of the tourist precincts. The area included massive apartment buildings of over 2000 apartments per building and a communal park area.

Our host grew her own vegetables in pots in the window, a great idea!

Modern phones in Beijing

Eating out in Beijing was certainly a challenge. Our greatest successes with veggie food were when we had our hosts with us, otherwise we'd point at a vegetarian dish on a menu and they'd come back with beef noodle soup! I found very few people speak English (fair enough too) which made daily transactions quite exhausting. Pointing, smiling and please and thankyou only get you so far. The dish above was a cold tofu and vegetable dish which was delicious. In general, most vegetable dishes were cold salads or sides rather than a meal in their own right, assuming you could decipher the pictures and chinese characters on menus.

In general, the Chinese food (which differs from region to region) bore little resemblance to what we eat in Australia bar the rice. Meals were often bland or heavily oily which sides of chilli oil and vinegar, no soy sauce in sight. Tofu was typically used only a thickener and served with something else, goose pate anyone? Alcohol at most places was limited to Chinese beer so I had to stock up on Chinese spirits which tasted similar Jaegermeister. The chronic heat meant I was dying for a gin and tonic to no avail hehe.

We did visit a middle eastern restaurant which had a bizarre fusion of Chinese and Middle eastern food. Delicious bread! There were also plenty of roadside bbq carts with omelettes, sausages and the like in the morning, (ahh the joys of not eating eggs either)!

As always, I struggled with the guilt and shame of not speaking the language. I feel embarrassed that I do not learn languages easily.

I found Beijing less frenetic than Shanghai, roads had traffic lights and pedestrian crossings and there was generally signage. Public toilets were amusing, taps and soap (where available) would be operated by a sensor motion yet all the toilets were squat toilets. Somewhat precarious after drinking lots of rice wine and spirits! It was odd, I saw very few western women walking around alone and it was a challenge being stared at and talked about constantly, we even had people taking our photos at some of the tourists site as they are visited by all kinds of people, some of which may never have seen an anglo person in the flesh.

I'll write about some sights and such in my next post...
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