Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nov 2 2010 | Beijing: Rear Lakes neighborhood

Olga in Prince Gong's garden
For the past two days, we have been sightseeing with a number of my coworkers and families. Travel is difficult, and compromises are always made. Going with such a large group meant hitting the high-points of Beijing, sacrificing a deeper interaction with the local scene. Sadly, most of my group departed this morning, which on the bright side left Olga and me to deeply explore neighborhoods, local scene, and get a sense of how people live in Beijing.

The Rear Lakes (Houhai) area is set against a zigzagging lake, a sort of river that flows through this neighborhood. At first, when you walk along the water, you notice:

Snuck into a plate spinning show at the garden
- Pubs of varying specialty (Mongolian, Michael Jackson, Hoegaarden, Mexican) facing the water
- People repairing motorcycles
- An elderly lady knitting while in a room full of organized, boxed bottles of beer.
- Recycling truck that had about 50 empty water jugs tied to the back of it

Beijing is full of old alleys (Hutang), many which have small local restaurants, shopping, craftsmen, and all walks of life. In the Rear Lakes area, we saw some really elaborate doors and cute little Zen backyards.

boys "sell sex-articles"
In this neighborhood, we walked over to Prince Gong's palace. Unlike Yu Yuen garden in Shanghai, Prince's Gong's has preserved both the palace and the garden. This is the setting of novel Dream of the Red Chamber. After exploring the palatial living quarters, we explored the garden a little deeper. Tried to pop into the back doors of buildings, and one more than one occasion we were kicked out. Caught the end of a plate-spinning show. Saw a tea ceremony and concert being setup.

rundown convenience store in hutang has a website
Had dinner at Dali's courtyard, which was one of the best dinners we have had in all of China. It's a set menu and they bring you all of the Chef's specialties for the week. Gave our name and had to return after an hour to get a good seat inside (it was freezing in the courtyard). It turned out to be much less expensive than some other dinners we'd had with the group. Our group tended to over-order and/or eat at some overpriced places - for example our driver to The Great Wall took us to a "special" place he picked out that was a minute from the wall and where he probably gets a big kickback - but the group mentality was to stay.

pedicab traffic jam!
Walked back to the hotel from the Rear Lakes area. Popped into a few warm places that might serve dessert, trying to warm our bodies and our tummies. First place we walked into had no signage in English whatsoever. They sold 3 different nondescript plastic cups, ranging from 6-9 RMB (about $1). Picked the middle one, turned out to be sweet yogurt. We took it home for the next morning's breakfast. Entered another cafe, looked at the menu, saw they only serve cheesecake and tiramisu, not what we were in the mood for. Entered another cafe.

super touristy but cute - had my
Chinese name carved into a stamp
Dave> Do you have dessert?
Waiter> I don't know what is dessert, maybe you can look around and find it?
Dave> Menu?
Waiter> Look and see
(found more cheesecake and tiramisu)
Dave> Cake? not cheesecake, just cake?
Waiter> Come and see (shows us the dessert fridge)

Olga noticed that the locals seem to eat what we consider breakfast (yogurt) for dessert. And they seem to eat what we consider dessert (pastries) for breakfast. Need to start planning ahead better so we can have the proper food at the appropriate time ;)

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