After such a late night we oversleep breakfast. Tired and having only slept for 6 hours, we have to get up and run off to see the main attractions: its winter, the day is short and the sights close early. One of the issues we face is that we don’t have any winter clothes with us and its freezing, we layer all we have which is just enough to get by and by no means can you walk around all day and enjoy the sights without freezing. The plan was to get up early and try to find some sort of a shopping place. There are plenty of malls in the center with authentic western labels and the same western prices – something we don’t need when we’re just looking to get by for a few days until warmer parts of china.
There are also fake markets and Chinese shopping malls, but it’s not clear where they are and how to find good deals. So we decide to go to Forbidden City while it’s light and try to go shopping for clothes at night.
We walk to the Forbidden City hungry and cold. There is not much to grab on the way, all we see for sale are coke, beers and cigarettes. There are a lot more people and some tours at the site. We fight off more annoying “Chinese students” and map salesmen and finally get inside.
For almost five centuries, it served as the home of the Emperor and his household, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government. In total 24 Chinese Emperors lived in the Forbidden City from 1416 – 1912. There are a staggering 9,999 rooms and the palace sits on 250 acres of land.
Exploring the Forbidden City can definitely take at least a half day, but in this cold we had to rush through a bit. We entered from the Tian’anmen Square side through the gate that has the big picture of Chairman Mao.
The Forbidden City is divided into two main parts – the outer court where Emperors governed and the inner court where they lived. It’s a straight shot through the entire complex with gate after gate and palace after palace, with long corridors going off to the sides into various complexes of buildings, inner courtyards and halls. In the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived and worked almost exclusively in the Inner Court, with the Outer Court used only for ceremonial purposes. Each section has large gates with a threshold, and certain areas would be off limits under penalty of death to even the highest princes and officials, and reserved only for the emperor. Behind the three large halls lies the Imperial Garden. Relatively small, and compact in design, the garden nevertheless contains several elaborate stone landscaping features and water pools. Next to it are self-contained courtyards and minor palaces, where the Emperor’s concubines and children lived.
It gets so cold we can’t take it anymore, so we head back to our hotel to Defrost. Went to try to find a jacket on Dong Chang street close by, we see some stores, but nothing looks like the kind of place we want to go into. We finally decide to give up for the night and head around the corner the back way to our hotel and stumble upon the Night Food market. The Wangfujing Night Market has a selection of exotic Street food on the Snack Street. Deep fried insects, scorpions, and sea creatures can be found, along with other animals and animal parts not ordinarily consumed as food in the west. But while these exotic snacks can be found, other more common foods, such as Chuanr (meat kebabs, commonly made of lamb) and desserts, such as Tang hu lu, or candied fruits make up the majority of the food sold on the street. As we walk along the row of stalls the vendors yell out the foods they have and try to entice us to try it. Even though a lot of the stalls have similar food, they all yell that theirs is the best. Alongside the kebabs, soups, dumplings and meat buns, there are scorpions, silk worms, snake, centipedes, sea horses, sea stars, and chicken and sheep organs.
We start out by trying some meat buns, and they turn out really good with very fresh ingredients. I feel so like Anthony Bourdain, fearlessly trying street food! Then one of the vendors entices us to try the silk worms. He cooks them right in front of us in a vat of some boiling oil and dips them in some spices. They turn out to be very good and tasty, crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. (YEAH I KNOW!) Another vendor entices me with snakeskin for 15 Yuan, which he also fries up in some hot oil and spices on a stick. He even runs across the street and buys me a beer to go along with it for an extra 5 Yuan. It tastes like a tougher version of chicken skin and its quite fatty so the beer is just about right to wash it down. We also try Tanghulu, a popular traditional winter snack in northern China, which is made from Chinese hawthorn berries on bamboo skewers and dipped in caramelized sugar. This snack is sold everywhere in Beijing, and turns out to be a nice contrast between a refreshingly sour taste of the large red berries and sweet caramelized sugar.
Went to the mall to look at prices on jackets, everything is really expensive, 70 Yuan for a fleece ($10) are they kidding!!!? LOL. Our thriftiness has reached unimaginable levels in China, once you get used to local prices you can’t imagine paying what we normally overpay.
Roma and Natalia are world travelers, photographers, and an all around fun couple. When they are not travelling far away continents or driving around USA in their trusted Highlander, they can be found in San Francisco, California.