No Crap on Tap
We woke up to our 3rd rainy day in Beijing. Having successfully knocked out two of the three things we had to do (Summer Palace and Forbidden City), we agreed that the 3rd day was not the day for the last item: The Great Wall. Instead we decided to do some more of the suggested items on Beijing’s TripAdvisor after sleeping in and handing some tummy troubles that our previous night’s spicy hot pot had bestowed up on us. Too much information?
At around 11 we were both starting to get hungry so Lynn suggested dim sum to accommodate Doug’s desire for more dumplings. If you have never had dim sum in the U.S., it is a must! We headed up the road from our hostel a mile or so to Jin Ding Xuan, a restaurant recommended via a Google search. Upon arriving we were greeted with a 3 story building decorated in red and gold with many paper lanterns. Ushered up to the 2nd floor we were given four very large menus to choose items from. And, boy did we choose. We choose enough food to feed four people, but instead we overstuffed ourselves like turkeys. Dumplings, xiao long baos, pork buns, rice noodle rolls, red bean piggy buns, etc. were delivered to our table one by one and we delighted in it. Too much. So much that when we were done we had to be rolled out of the restaurant. No really, our stomachs were hurting (but that also could have been from the hot pot still). As we were leaving we found that the restaurant now had a very long line of 50 or so people outside waiting for a table, so it turns out that we showed up at the right time.
On our walk to Jin Ding Xuan we passed the Lama Temple which had a number of tourists headed its way. Not to miss out on something amazing we headed back in that direction only to find that it was 25 RMB per person to get in. It seems as though it costs something to get in everywhere here and we were getting sick of it so instead we hopped on the subway to our original destination: The Temple of Heaven. Before you ask, yes, it has an entrance fee and yes, we paid it. To be fair we knew it was going to be worth it since we had done our homework on this one. The Temple of Heaven is now mostly a park but in the center is the temple and various altars which were used for ceremonies to request good harvests from the Celestial Emperor. The complex also featured the emperor’s Abstinence Palace where he would be stationed for 3 days before the ceremony, free from food, amusement, and women. We attempted to visit the palace, but lo and behold, it required another entrance fee despite the fact that we had bought a “through ticket” which apparently does not translate to all-inclusive, as we were led to believe. We walked the grounds and admired the bright blue paint they use everywhere while simultaneously commenting on how we are happy we live in a society where animal sacrifices aren’t routine. We paid a visit to some more really large rocks and enjoyed watching some elder Chinese get their exercise playing something similar to hacky-sack, but add some badminton wings. After a good 5 miles through the park, we agreed it was time to depart in search of bubble tea.
Our next destination was Liulichang Street, a road famous for its art shops and 5 more miles away. We figured we would be able to find bubble tea on the way. No problem. Well we passed many restaurants, bus stops, car dealerships, parking lots, hutongs, lumber yards, but no bubble tea. Beijing, it seems, is no Shanghai. Instead we browsed the shops of Liulichang Street noting that most sold scrolls and all sold calligraphy brushes ranging from pencil-sized to shovel-sized. You may ask yourself, why would anyone need a shovel-sized brush? Lynn thought it would be fun to paint our house with one, but we don’t think that is their purpose. A few nights back we had actually seen a man using two to write calligraphy on the pavement with nearby fountain water, so this is our only proof that they are used and not just for decoration. We were taken with one shop, in particular, which had very lovely horses on scrolls but did not look any further because we don’t have any room for souvenirs in our luggage (and really, our house). Exhausted and starting to get rained on, we hopped on the subway back to the hostel for some much needed rest.
Arriving, we originally thought it would be nap time but instead we dove into the internet to figure out the plan for tomorrow’s Great Wall hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu. We were very excited about this part of the wall because it was said to be more remote and give us a glimpse of it both restored and unrestored. Many Google searches were initially leading us to believe we could do it all on our own using a couple buses, maybe a minibus, and a packed lunch but as we read further and further we were getting less confident that it would be easy. A number of posts mentioned that there were a limited number of buses or that a certain bus no longer went the route that we needed. We went back and forth for a while. Do we do a tour through our hostel and forgo Jiankou? Do we suck it up and pay someone to take us to Jiankou? In the end we figured we didn’t know when we would have this opportunity again and be as fit as we are now, so we were going to go for it, the safe way. We quickly emailed a tour company that agreed to set up transportation to/from the wall and guide us through the forest leading to the Jiankou entrance. No more bad decisions for Lynn and Doug… yet.
Nodding with satisfaction, it was time for dinner. TripAdvisor informed us that there was a very popular local brewpub called Great Leap Brewing that had excellent reviews nearby so we hopped into the rain once again and headed its way. Upon arriving, it was clearly an expat magnet. Everything was in English, they had westerners working the bar, and all the beers were clearly named with communist references. We sat at the bar and ordered a Ghost General Wheat IPA and a Honey Ma Gold beer along with a cheeseburger, spicy chicken sandwich, French fries, and onion rings for sharing. We didn’t realize how much we were craving western food until we took the first bite of that burger. Either it was the greatest burger in the universe or we are really missing cheese. Either way, the entire meal, beers and all, was incredibly satisfying. So, for dessert we ordered a Banana Wheat beer hoping that the rain would stop before we had to leave. No such luck however, and after we were finished we sloshed our way back through the partially flooded streets to the hostel for a good night of sleep before our 6:30 a.m. pickup.
Daily Walking Mileage: 15.9 miles
- A lot of neighborhoods in Beijing are hutongs, neighborhoods comprised of small alleys which join many courtyard homes together. Our hostel is in a hutong. Beijing has designated some of these hutong as protected so as to avoid demolition of these uniquely Chinese neighborhoods.
- As you travel around China’s historical sites, you may notice that all of the entryways require that you take a 1 ft step up and over an obstacle. Confused by this, we did some internet digging. Apparently this is to prevent ghosts from entering the house. A common belief (note: in China) is that ghosts don’t have knees and cannot step over obstacles. They also can only travel in straight lines. So our question is: if they can’t turn, how can they enter your home in the first place?