Food Glorious In Beijing

The first post I wrote was about how we got to Beijing and the second post was about trekking at the Great Wall of China. This post is about food — an important part of a good trip.

Peking Duck Central

We’re in Beijing. The world over knows about this city’s special roast duck — Peking Duck. Our first dinner in Beijing was at Quan Ju De Peking Duck Restaurant. This is the best and oldest Peking Duck restaurant in China. The recipe is believed to come from the emperor’s chef. Back then, it was forbidden for commoners to eat this style of roast duck. And now, it’s open season for everyone to enjoy.

The restaurant is beautifully decorated and it has two dining floors. Many dignitaries and famous people come to this restaurant to taste the finest roast ducks in the country. No. It’s the finest…in the world. We had to wait for about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get a table. It was worth it given the fame of the restaurant.

How does it taste? It was mesmerizing. Juicy and tender. The crispy skin has just crisp and no hint of chewiness. It was pure savoury decadent that, at one time, only emperors of China could experience. Below are some photos of our dining experience.

A grand entrance to the Quan Ju De Roast Duck restaurant near Qianmen.

Inside of the restaurant. People waiting or inquiring on the wait time.

Goofing around while we wait for our 2 Peking roast ducks (L-R: Anne, Thanou and Hyeonji).

The chef is carving our first duck. Hyeonji taking a photo and Alex looking calm (yet the next photo tells a different story).

 

Alex is going at it.

Eating the Olympic Style – There are Losers and Winners

The next night, we headed Beijing Olympic Park to check out the Bird’s Nest Stadium and other Olympic landmarks. To our surprise, there was a huge and long food tent just in front of the stadium. Say no more. We’re ready to eat — like a champion. It was huge inside the tent with food vendors along both sides. The shear number of vendors and people got me into a frenzy of hunger blindness. I want to eat everything.

In order to get food, I had to buy a food debit card for 100 yuan. It cost 10 yuan for the cost of the card, so there’s only 90 yuan to buy the food. A plate of food cost between 15 yuan to 45 yuan (multiple of 15). There’s all kinds of food there but the portion to price point is disappointing. The taste didn’t help much. The noodle dishes that I ate were salty and nothing else.

Out of the four of us, Anne deserves a medal for eating scorpions for dinner. She was in the zone and truly ate like a champ. An easy gold medal for her and no medal for the food tent.

The big food tent full of people. I am dazzled by the variety of food. The dishes that I ate were a let down. Salty and nothing else.

Chomping on her 3rd and final scorpion. Give this woman a gold medal!

 

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Visiting The Less Traveled Great Wall of China

In the previous post, I wrote about how a group of me and my friends traveled to Beijing by a train. Now that we’re in Beijing, it’s a must for us to visit the Great Wall of China. It’s not in Beijing. It’s just north of it and it’s close enough to make a day trip out of it.

There are many great wall sections we can visit. The most popular and the most accessible is the Badaling. Given that we’re traveling during the national holiday, the number of  people walking around at Tian’anmen Square and the massive line up to the forbidden city, we know it will be same at Badaling. We want to see the Great Wall of China and not the great wall of people.

Yikes! Crowd at Badaling during the national holiday week. Good thing we didn’t go here. It’s not my image.

Thanks to Alex, he led us to another section of the great wall near a small town called Gubeikou (translated to: ancient north mouth). This town has a train station but the schedule makes it hard to do a day trip. We decided to take the bus.

There’s a bus that leaves at the Dongzhimen bus station. It’s next to the Dongzhimen line 2 subway station. We got on bus 980 to Miyun (runs frequently) costing us 15 yuan each. A lady at the station helped us to get on the right bus (more on her later) and she gave us her business card.

When we got to Miyun( Tai Yang Jia Yuan stop) , we were greeted by many drivers for hire (not taxi drivers) specifically to take people to the great wall (and I assume other places as well). We asked if there’s a mini-bus that will take us to Gubeikou. They say yes, but it’s not frequent, it makes many stops, it takes a long time and so forth.  It’s late in the morning when we got to Miyun, we didn’t want to waste our time. We asked a driver how much will it cost to take us to Gubeikou’s great wall section and allow us about 3 hours to hike. He initially asked for 320 yuan (80 yuan per person). It was too much. Alex barter hard. We got it down to 200 yuan (50 yuan per person). Alex explained to me that he knew we can get a good price because, we’re the only travellers and there were 10 drivers looking for passengers. It’s a buyer’s market. Excellent observation.

The car we rode to Gubeikou was a private car. I got curious. I had Anne and Hyeonji to translate my conversation with the driver. I asked if he, the driver, is working for himself or not? He told us that he’s working for a company. He gets paid monthly and not by number of rides he takes. I assume that the company he works for sets the price point and if he can get a tourist to pay more then it’s a nice bonus (tip) for him. I wonder if he’s getting a bonus from us. Hmmm. In a market economy, we were happy with the price point given our context. It may not be the best but it’s good enough.

I asked the driver for his business card. To our surprise, it was the same company business card that the helpful lady at the bus station gave us. Now it’s becoming more clear. There are people at the bus stations (and I assume at other transport hubs too) that funnel tourists like us to various places that this company operates. Pretty slick.

In one way, I felt like a sheep but in another way, there’s a sense that there’s a well run organization that can take me to the great wall. The driver was good. He delivered what he promised. He stopped at the washroom and the variety store when we asked him.

Was it worth it? Yes! There were at most a dozen people at this section of the wall. It’s rugged, we climbed to the highest point (2,181 feet) of the wall at Gubeikou. It gave us a spectacular view of the area. The weather was perfect. A high point of our trip ( no pun intended :) ).

Enjoy the photos!

Important points when going to Gubeikou section of the great wall.

 

An arial view of our trek path.

The driver’s business card. The same as the one the lady at the bus station gave us. Travel instructions on the card.

Showing of the flag behind Hyeonji. Taking a breath before we scale the steep stairs (wall more like it) behind us. It’s not a cake walk but I love it. Photo by Alex or Anne. I can’t remember.

Standing on top of a turret and looking onward. Two more turrets to go before reaching the highest point of our trek. No one but us.

Our driver. This picture was taken after we finished our trek. We were tired and elated with our time at the Great Wall. (L-R) Hyeonji, He Qiang, Alex and Anne.

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Taking a Train from Hangzhou to Beijing

I had a week off from school at the beginning of October. It was for the mid-autumn festival and the national holiday. It’s time to eat a lot of moon cakes (ate about 6 of them) and travel.

A few of my friends (who are excellent in Chinese) and I went to Beijing.  We took the train instead of flying because we have time and we wanted to see more of China.

I have heard of not so nice stories about train rides in China. Each often involves crowding, dirtiness, hard benches on a rickety train and people invading your private seating space. I was preparing for the worst.

On the day of our departure, we arrived at the Hangzhou train station at around 6:45am and our train is scheduled to leave at 7:20am. The train station’s floor was a bit of a mess. It’s likely that the cleaning staff hasn’t yet reported in for the morning shift. As well, there are more travellers going through the station this week than normal because of the holiday. Unfortunately, it supported those not so nice train stories.

When we got to the train’s platform, I was surprised by the train. It’s a high speed train with comfy seats. It’s sleek and clean. Wow. It took us 6.5 hours to get to Beijing but it didn’t feel like it despite some stops. Each stop along the way was fast and efficient. My negative perception has just got thrown off board. It was a fun experience!

Facts and tips about trains in China:

  • Our train seats were assigned when the tickets were purchased.
  • Trains can leave early. Ours left before the scheduled time. It’s best to come early.
  • Beijing train station (some other stations may too) requires us to have our tickets before we can exit the station’s platform. The lesson is don’t throw the ticket away until you have exited the arrival gate.
  • A train numbering is coded as AXXX (A is an alpha and where X’s are numbers). A train number starts with a G means it’s a 300+ km/h train. For example, our train number to Beijing was G32. This means it’s a high speed train. Other letters are:
    • C – Intercity super fast (e.g. Hangzhou to Shanghai)
    • D – 250 km/h (older generation of fast trains)
    • Z – direct express at 160 km/h
    • T – express 140 km/h usually have sleepers
    • K – more stops and slower 120 km/h
Below are some of photos of the G32 train my friends and I took to Beijing. Enjoy!

Spacious and clean seating area. This is the second class area. The walk way between cars is wide — a man in this picture is walking to car number 12 from car number 11. First class seating is like that of a modern first class seating on an airplane.

The restaurant car. This is where you can buy drinks, snacks and order microwaveable food. I recommend you bring your own food. There’s hot water facility on each car for tea and instant noodles.

Anne and Hyeonji waiting at the counter waiting for our food. We tried the food and it’s not recommended. Bring your own food. I am so lucky to travel with them. They know Chinese hen hao (very well)! Our another friend, Alex, is already in Beijing and he is waiting for us at the hostel.

 

Plenty of leg room and there’s an AC outlet to charge our mobiles. I got cell/data coverages most of the way except in the mountainous area and going through tunnels.

Speeding our way to Beijing at 305 km/h. The information board shows that it’s train G32, it’s 11:43 am and it’s car number 12. Very comfortable and quiet at speed.

A view from the train. A rural area as the train is nearing Beijing. Photo by Anne.

We have arrived at Beijing South Station. This station is connected to Beijing’s subway system. It made getting to our hostel cheaper than taking a taxi. I believe all train stations in Beijing are connected to the subway system.

 

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