Feeling physically and mentally exhausted, I immediately took a nap after I checked into my hostel. My room was nothing special, just a place to sleep. It had two bunk beds and a depressingly lit florescent light. The room did have a window with a stellar view . . . into the adjacent communal restroom. Yes, if the mood should dare strike you, the room offered pleasant views of people brushing their teeth and of people walking in and out of the showers and toilets.
I was awakened a few hours later by a few English blokes who'd had a crazy night out and were now paying for it, as they were hung over and rushing to catch their flight.
Not able to fall back asleep, I got up and wandered around the narrow streets and alleys, known as hutongs, to find my barrings. Now normally, as I've mentioned in some of my previous blogs, the further away you walk from touristy areas the cheaper and better the food gets. Well, I guess there's always an exception to the rule. Because the further away I walked, the prices for food never seemed to decrease, nor, most importantly, ever became tastier. Culinary lovers will be saddened with the lack of ambrosial food in Beijing.
I loved the location of my hostel, which was a short walk from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was strange, almost eerie at first, to be standing where just 21 years ago the Chinese government had opened fire into crowds of pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds if not thousands of people, including children. And that evening as I was walking around Tiananmen Square, I was approached by three friendly Chinese women. It was their first visit to Beijing and they were excited to practice their English.
After walking around Tiananmen Square with them, they invited me to join them to have some tea at a tradition teahouse. Besides the fact that the teahouse was a bit expensive for my liking, I enjoyed myself. Okay, it was way over my daily budget, costing me around $40 USD. Now for someone who budgets for $15 USD per day, it was a pretty hard blow. My initial thought as we left the teahouse was that I'd been scammed. But I don't think this was the case. Because 1) it was a really nice teahouse, where a woman dressed in traditional garb showed everyone how to properly hold and drink the tea, 2) we sampled a variety of flavors while being provided snacks, 3) everyone evenly paid their portion of the bill, and 4) after we left, they asked if I would like to accompany them to the shopping district and the Donghuamen Lu night food market. I mean, typically once a person has been scammed, the scammers tend NOT to hang around. Plus, $40 isn't an exorbitant amount of money for most tourists to spend on a nice meal or something. But I'm not a typical tourist on a 1-2 week jaunt. So yeah, it was a bit painful. Ouch.
Afterwards I joined them to the Wangfujing shopping district, an area full of commercial activity.
The street was lined with stores and restaurant chains, including McDonald's. That place is everywhere, I swear. The shopping district was extremely crowded with tourists, both westerners and Chinese. We spent some time in a book store where even English books were given its own designated floor. I was having fun and enjoying their company.
Next we went to the popular Donghuamen Lu food market (watch video below). However, it's not your typical food market. There are a number of Chinese food stalls that offer what we westerners may find a bit . . . well, really gross, where you can find crickets, scorpions, lizards, etc. Not the type of Chinese food that has been Americanized. And the smell! My god, the smell. Needless to say, I didn't eat anything. Zippo.
See more of Nick Vivion's work here: