Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tea in Asia: Day 8 - Beijing, China

My first full day in China (the 8th day of my trip) was a great day for sightseeing. Actually, our whole stay in Beijing was great for tourists who wanted to see some tourist attractions and to buy some cheap things.

Our hotel was right around the corner from the Forbidden City, so we just walked over after filling up at the hotel’s mediocre breakfast buffet. There was much less humidity than Taiwan, but Beijing was still really hot.

Forbidden City
We stopped in front of the northwest corner of the Forbidden City to take some photos and then continued into the Forbidden City. We made our way to the Tiananmen Square, before boarding our expertly driven air-conditioned bus.

We were whisked away to a restaurant for lunch, which was coincidently beside a jade market. As soon as I got out of the bus, I knew this place was a tourist trap. Lovely.

I guess I shouldn’t have expected too much, since our trip was so cheap, but things were not looking too good.

There was hot and sour soup.

I’m pretty sure the stir-fried veggies with pepper had either chicken or pork.

The hot and sour chicken was pretty good. I liked the vinegar in this. It went really well with rice.

The simply stir-fried chicken and vegetable was also tasty with rice, but I could’ve easily made this at home.

For dessert, they gave us sliced watermelon that was really cold and sweet. I couldn’t get a picture, because some people at my table had more than their share… ahem…

We spent a few hours at the pearl market and then filed back into our bus with a man and woman attempting to sell knock-offs. Lolex watch? Lolex? Do you want Gutchy bag? Gutchy? Gutchy?

Gutchy? She was quite persistent, but this was nothing compared to what we would experience later on.

We went to visit the Summer Palace, where the hawkers swooped in and heckled most of our group to buy some cheap bags, purses, and jewelry. As soon as they saw our bus, or any bus carrying North American or European tourists for that matter, they would begin to stalk and aggressively scream out their sales pitch. They were like a swarm of bees!

It first started with a nice and polite approach; Hey pretty lady, you want silk bag? Then as our group tried to ignore them and tell them to go away, they got more aggressive and pushy – literally! It didn't help that some of our group caved in and bought some of their knock-offs. That just made things worse. They knew that as long as they kept at it, people in our group would just buy something; thinking that once they bought something, the hawkers would leave. It was quite the opposite the effect. Fortunately for myself and JV, the hawkers ignored us because we looked Chinese. But just because they didn't heckle us, it didn't mean that we didn't suffer. Listen, if you're going to buy something from them, you have no right to complain about them. Yup, I'm calling part of my group out.

I have a tip for future travelers: politely tell them that you don't want anything and then just ignore them. Don't give them attention. They'll back off.

Anyway, after the brief stop at the Summer Palace, our guide gave us a choice of going to watch a Chinese acrobatic show or to go back to the hotel. I wanted to go watch the show, but I was afraid of running out of energy for our trip up to the Great Wall of China. It was tough, but I decided to go back to the hotel and try to get re-energized with a nap.

CY called to see if I wanted to grab some dinner somewhere with the rest of the group who also went back to the hotel. I was so exhausted that it seemed like a teacher from Charlie Brown was talking to me on the phone. I was pretty out of it, but I made it out of the bed and down to the lobby.

I don't think I did a good job of hiding my lack of energy, because CY suggested that we grab some dinner close by. I had no objections, as long as “close by” didn’t mean the restaurant inside the hotel. Instead, we walked to the small restaurant beside the hotel.

I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I convinced CY to order a deep-fried tofu dish. The sauce, just as it looks, was made a sweet tomato-ketchup sauce. We barely touched it. Looking back, I feel bad for ordering this… sorry CY!

The second dish was some sort of steamed fish with ginger and soy sauce. I remember that the fish wasn’t fresh. The fish was very fishy and wasn’t enjoyable at all.

While picking at the two dishes, the table beside us got a plate of stir-fried chicken and peppers. CY immediately began to fidget and kept glancing over. I still remember. He flagged down a waitress and put in an order. When it arrived, we inhaled most of the dish. The only thing we left behind was a pile of spicy peppers. Man, I’m starting to sweat just thinking about the dish.

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