Sent: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 10:27 PM
To: Family and Friends
Subject: Crouching Soupstall, Hidden Guesthouse
Ni Hao from Beijing!
I hope you are all well.¡¡´ó¡¡°Ó¡¡Èø¡¡·¤ (That’s not Mandarin it’s nonsense; I hit the wrong button on the keyboard and I thought it looked cool so I left it).
I had a very interesting introduction to Beijing by an American guy who had been drinking since Ohio. He spoke reasonably good Chinese, even whilst drunk, so we were able to negotiate a taxi from the airport and found my guesthouse. We only had to stop on the freeway (!!!???) twice to call the guesthouse to ask for directions. And after checking in, we only had to walk for about 7 minutes up the road to the actual room! But it’s a nice, Beijing court-yard-house-style place, comfortable, and there’s some good company here.
I was out and about very late on my first night here (after a sleepless night and long journey, I was delirious) and had an interesting food experience walking home at about 1.30am. I was hungry by this stage, and convinced my new friend to eat something from a hawker stall. I pointed at what looked like an omlette, and indicated that I wanted one.
The stall-holders were extremely welcoming, pulled up (tiny) stools and settled us in. Then proceeded to cook up two bowls of something that looked like my favourite noodle soup. I didn’t hesitate to have a try, and immediately realised it was absolutely rank but I had already committed.
My friend poked in a chopstick and tasted the broth, then started looking closely. He identified a number of different types of offal. I had assumed that I had tried omlette and tofu, but it could just as easily have been tripe and brain. I dunno! ERGHHH!!!
I smiled/ grimaced at the stall holders, ate some *obvious* vegetable from the bowl and pretended I was full from this delicious meal, then shook their hands saying “Xie Xie” and ran for it! We couldn’t get the taste out of our mouths for ages! I didn’t get sick from it, thank god, and I’ve since found some good local specialties and won-ton soup.
I have walked so far it’s not funny. The maps are extremely deceptive, because the main roads indicated are huge, broad boulevards. It is exhausting to cross one of them. The bike lanes on the sides of them are as wide as our roads. So I was amazed at how long it took to “stroll” (read: hike) down to Tian’anmen Square to see the huge portrait of the “Great Helmsman”. I haven’t visited the pickled man himself, yet.
I’ve seen people playing ping-pong and mah-jong in the park, and crazy people swimming and fishing in the green lake, and people selling sausages or mangoes or shoes off a cardboard box in the middle of a laneway. And people gesturing at my nose (hey! That’s a sore point, guys!) and little girls doing traditional fan-dancing routines to the Black Eyed Peas… ah, Rudyard Kipling was wrong about East and West “never the twain shall meet”
I’ve also visited the Forbidden Palace, which is huge and under renovation.
Speaking of huge, the Communist buildings are amazing. Big, square, imposing structures that are SO UGLY. As I was trying to find my way back from the palace, I got lost amongst the big buildings and wide streets. So I risked a subway train (easy) and then asked a cab driver. Only once we were on the road did he tell me he knew the street but not the specific address. I said no worries, I’ll remember the rest of the way.
I was wrong. Everything seems familiar here, because everything is unfamiliar, if that makes any sense. And there are so many of everything… people, cars, bikes, laneways etc
“Oh! There’s the music shop! Oh. There are fourteen of them. Oh! There’s the neon sign next to the red lantern! And the guy selling shoe soles… Oh. There are heaps of them.”
So landmarks didn’t help me one bit. I walked up and down and up and down… Needless to say I nearly fell over when I finally found it.
Love to you all, watch what you eat and look after your feet!