Sunday, July 21, 2013

Street Meat and Other Things Not to eat in Beijing

I have spent a thoroughly exhausting day exploring Beijing. Beijing has proven to be the most expensive stop of my trip thus far, however, by Western standards it is still fairly reasonable. I took one taxi ride to go and purchase tickets for a Acrobat show this evening and couldn't help but feel that I was being ripped off. I'm sure the taxicab driver was being quite honest and he probably caught on to the fact that I was suspicious of his intentions as I carefully followed his route on my map. I have a long history of distrusting taxicabs and do not hide this well. My distrust is only heightened when I can't speak the language and he insisted on giving me a lengthy explanation about something. I need to stop saying "neehow" since people seem to think I can speak Chinese after uttering hello.
Tiananman Square

I would prefer to get to my destination by any other means possible. After this episode I decided it was best to start using the subway system which was a good decision. I was able to purchase a Beijing Smart Card for 20 RMB and 20 RMB deposit. Each trip costs 2 Yuan (about 35 cents)and I don't need to trust that I am not being swindled. Armed with my trusty map of the Beijing underground, I was on my way!

First stop was Tiananman Square followed by the Great Hall, and the Palace Museum. These are all basically in the same place but bring a good set of walking shoes, plenty of water and a tolerance for crowds. The palace was built during the Ming Dynasty and was occupied up until the last Emperor, Puyi, was deposed and the Republic of China was instituted in 1912 ( The movie, The Last Emperor, tells the story much better than I can. My GPS electronic English tour device informed me that when this last Emperor was ceremoniously inducted at the age of three he cried in fear and his father told him, "Don't worry, it will be over soon." This apparently caused bad luck as these words foretold the end of the Qing Dynasty.

The electronic guide was a handy little device that told me wonderful little tidbits of information as I wandered from place to place in this massive site. Forty yuan (about $7) well spent. I would have spent more than the three hours I had at the palace but hunger was setting in since I hadn't really eaten anything since lunch the day before.

The non-melting lolly!
As I left the palace from the south entrance I joined the throngs of people walking along the street and took the time to buy an ice lolly. Now I'm not sure what cancer causing, DNA altering artificial chemical they add to these lollies but despite the fact that it must have been at least 45 degrees Celsius this thing did not melt a bit...not one drop. Scary!

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Helsinki seemed to have no homeless beggars on the street. Unfortunately, Beijing more than makes up for this. Outside the exit and along this street were a long line of individuals suffering from a multitude of deformities and injuries. Sadly, there were parents with disabled children in carts and even young mothers with small children sleeping on the sidewalk. There seemed to be someone every five feet or so either sitting with a box or hat or set up with a music system and microphone. One poor unfortunate gentleman appeared to have been horrifically maimed in some type of fire and was holding a microphone with his only limb, his right hand. His face was badly scarred and his mouth could not move. A song was coming from a nearby speaker but it was obviously not him. I really struggle when faced with situations like this while travelling. I have spent the last two weeks with many Chinese people who are enjoying a good standard of living even by Western standards and it was easy to forget that there is a portion of the population which does not live like this.

My little tuk tuk.
I moved on down the street and decided to take a motorcycle tuk tuk to WangFujin Street, an upscale shopping district but also the location of alleyways filled with street food vendors that I was told sold traditional Chinese snacks. I was pretty hungry when I entered that alley but I quickly began to lose my appetite as I saw live scorpions, cicadas, and various other bugs that I couldn't identify squirming on sticks awaiting their fate, a sizzly death on a nearby BBQ! I finally settled on sticks of some kind of meat seasoned with a dry, very peppery powder. Four sticks were 10 yuan (about $1.70). At the time I was thinking this seemed a bit pricey but on reflection I think I am being a bit too concerned over prices when honestly I would pay a lot more at home. I made the mistake of starting to eat my sticks of mystery meat as I continued to walk down the street viewing more delicacies. As I finished a bite on my second stick I looked at a stall of what seemed to be deep fried tofu but it looked black and rotting. Next I saw a dog slinking down the alley and my stomach began flipping a bit. I'm not exactly squeamish and there is a good possibility that I've already partaken in dog meat on this trip, but I just couldn't seem to choke down another bite of my meat on a imagination had ruined any desire I had to eat. I made my way to a little kiosk I had noticed earlier and ordered a nice bottle of Corona! The meat sticks went in the bin!

Wiggly food!

Most of the tour packages for Beijing include a show of some sort, either acrobat, Kung Fu or an opera. My hotel manager recommended the acrobat show so I had gone and purchased a ticket earlier in the day. I thought the price was a bit high ranging from 180 RMB to 540 ($30-$90) and settled on the cheapest tickets. The hall ended up being rather small and I was upgraded, after the the usher saw that someone else was sitting in my assigned seat, by being placed right up front center, in any case. The show itself was slightly entertaining and possibly very entertaining if you are about aged five or six. It was rather amateurish with the central performer being a clown...lots of juggling, some jumping, flashy lights. I left at the intermission and headed back to my hostel. This type of show seems to be a cheaply produced affair, put on in a dilapidated theatre for the benefit of tour companies to fill up the itinerary of tourists to make them feel like they are getting value for money. Unless the one I attended was a poor example of a Beijing acrobat show than my advice is, do not waste your money or time....unless you are in preschool.

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