Today started as a recharge day. I have been going flat out from morning to evening every day for the last 2 months and I figured that I needed a day to unwind and relax. This was before my good friend and co-worker Diogenes Baena sent me a note saying how much he appreciated my work and images from this expedition. As soon as I got this note, it amped me up to head out and capture some more of Beijing!
First of all, I have not stopped eating! My favourite restaurant back in Toronto is a great little restaurant in Chinatown called Rol San. I am getting my fill of every dish China has to offer. You will see a few of my favourite dishes in the images below. I don’t usually like Lamb very much, but the way it is prepared and the spices that are used are making it one of my staples in Beijing.
I have walked a good portion of the city, but this is definitely not a walkable city. It is about 100 kilometres across and all of the sights seem to be at least a 10 minute cab ride from the last. Luckily cabs are cheap. 10RMB ($1.50) can get you quite a distance in a Beijing taxi.
I saw many of the areas that I missed the last time around. The best place for some Chinese culture was Jingshan Park on a Sunday. There were thousands of people enjoying traditional dancing and many people performing in all areas of the park. Jingshan Park is famous for its fantastic aerial view of the forbidden city. As you will see from the images below, the Buddhist temple does have a fantastic view!
The main thing I noticed about Beijing is the commercialization and takeover by western retailers. The last time I was here, the only western restaurant you could find was McDonalds. This time around, it seems as though there are more Starbucks, KFCs and Dairy Queens than locally owned Chinese restaurants! The shopping has also gone down the drain. There were street markets around every corner in 2004, now they have been replaced by western style shopping malls and covered arcades. I have not seen this many Nike stores since the last time I was in New York City. It is actually quite a shame as I feel like the Olympics have bastardized the city and wiped out a lot of the Chinese culture that I came back here to see. I actually find myself searching for small, locally owned restaurants and shops. From what I hear, the government has “cleaned up” Beijing to make it more “tourist friendly”. I think they have spoiled it and the city has lost a lot of its charm and appeal.
I did manage to find a local artisan to carve me a Chinese stamp saying “Andrew Pateras Photography” in both English and Chinese. It was the most expensive thing I have purchased on the expedition so far, but I think it is a great way to put a personal touch on all of your invoices! As you will see from the images below, the master artisan created the stamp on the bottom of a beautiful stone statue.
The last stop yesterday was a place I have been searching for and dreaming about photographing since the last time I was here. It was a line of outdoor stalls barbecuing, steaming, and deep frying anything you could ever imagine! It is located on the North end of Wangfujing Shopping Street. There were everyday items like beef, chicken and lamb skewers. Then there were perfectly prepared, handmade dumplings and desserts. Then there were the items that I came back for… The ultra exotic meats! Snake, eel, centipede, silkworms, seahorses and the one item that is on my list, Scorpions!
I walked by the scorpion stall twice and talked to the owner three times before actually ordering a skewer of the large insects. He popped them in the deep fryer, dusted them with garlic salt and then handed me the skewer. My hands started trembling as I could feel the start of an adrenaline rush. I hit record on my Flip Video camera so I could document the moment and actually misspoke on camera saying that I am trying them again, when in fact this was my first time. I had tourists in all directions snapping pictures and taking their own video footage of me, as no one had stepped up to this counter unless it was to take a picture! At first, I hesitated, thinking to just pitch the skewer in the trash as it was only about $2.50. I then remembered how much I regretted not trying them the last time I was here and I also had a huge audience of people speaking many different languages waiting for me to take the plunge.
What the heck, I bit an entire scorpion off the skewer and started chewing. The crowd went wild! Screams of “Ew” and “Gross” went off in English and various European languages. The taste was actually not that bad, similar to a VERY crunchy version of chicken skin. I have a small fear of insects, so this was obviously a hard thing for me to accomplish mentally. I got through the first scorpion and then realized that I have nothing to drink! I went into a mild panic as all I saw around me were more scorpions, centipedes and other creatures with six legs or more! I found a stall selling bottles of water and then offered my skewer to about ten different people with responses that were obviously a “NO” in whatever language they spoke.
After washing my nemesis down with a bottle of water and about fifteen breath mints, I headed over to one of the many dessert stalls. I also wanted something authentically Chinese and the owner offered me a skewer of Chinese apples dipped in a candy coating. Perfect for killing the taste of a scorpion!
All in all it was a great day, I got to see some culture, eat some very exotic foods and capture some great images. I hope you enjoy them as I start my day today with a walk through a few more of the sights of Beijing… Tienamin Square and the Forbidden City!