Bicycle Adventure: New Beijing, Thanksgiving Food

November 29th, 2008: China

This post is a continuation of the bicycle adventure mentioned in my last post: Old Beijing Hutong.

While Beijing’s hutong are amazing for their history and unique atmosphere, the modern side is equally compelling. The massive streets, traffic, and bold buildings are the new face of the city, and they are unavoidable. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in the middle of it. The architecture feels powerful. China is strutting its stuff, and it shows.

It was on these crowded streets that J. and I kept mumbling to ourselves: “We’re riding bikes in Beijing!”

I would normally be terrified to ride a bike in a city like this, but were two reasons why it was okay: There are a lot of bicyclists and awareness of bicyclists; almost every major street has a relatively safe bicycle lane. There were some insane intersections to get across and a lot of car, bike, and people dodging. It felt more exciting than dangerous, though I’m sure it was plenty of both. On the second day, I bought a nice cap and was given a pair of gloves to keep my hands from freezing.

Me in the bicycle lane.*

Triple tower building near the highway.

Old residential towers.

This road wasn’t very fun to bike down as the cars made fast right turns at the intersections.

Man transporting a large squash by bike.

These orange contraptions are used to reserve parking spots. The can only be raised/lowered with a key.

Dot windows getting washed.

A feat of architecture under construction. This building is crazy looking in person.

Out with the old and in with the new. An old brick building is getting demolished.

Tacky golden tower.

Old apartment towers.

Rolling, fatigues-colored building.

Crunched mesh facade with “clamp”.

Highway-sized colonnade. The entire bottom is a massive screen.

Makeshift ashtray on the street.

More than meets the eye: there are an unusual amount of immaculate, late model Jettas in Beijing. This model was my first and only car, so my eye is drawn to it.

Walkways over an intersection.

Bicycle lane on the way to the train station to buy tickets to Shanghai.

The Beijing Train Station, a mix of east and west.

Large hemispherical building of glass and metal surrounded by a moat. I felt like I had stepped into the future.

Sunset over southern Beijing.

Thursday was the second time I’ve been overseas during Thanksgiving. While it’s sad to be away from family, I’m thankful that I’ve had the means to visit different countries on an extended vacation with the l-ve of my life. I only wish that they could be traveling with me too.

Apparently there are numerous Thanksgiving buffets in some of Beijing’s finer hotels. No thanks. Instead we joined two fellow American friends for some Mongolian hot pot on a busy street downtown. Dong Lai Shun was a local chain, but well regarded. And apparently we went to its first location. Hot pot is popular here.

Some platters of meat. Our meal for four was a pricey 398RMB($60), but it included five platters of thin sliced meat, 8 live prawns, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, sesame dipping sauce, and watermelon and tomatoes for dessert.

Much like our meal in Thailand, the ingredients were cooked in a boiling broth kept at the table. Ours was heated by coals stored in the center cone.

After dinner, we got a little adventurous with the weird food for sale at Donghuamen Night Market. This section of bustling stalls was mostly for tourists, but it had a wide variety of decent snacks. Some were more appealing than others. Our male friend and I tried fried snake, scorpion, weird shaped “shrimp”, and star fish. The ladies tried a little starfish, perhaps because it was the cutest of the weird meats.

The weird “shrimp.”

Guts and balls on a stick.

I don’t know what this grey, rag-like bundle is but it was served in soup. It is either guts or some animal of the sea.

We tried the larger sized scorpions pictured.

Silk worms.

T. taking the first bite of starfish. Verdict: crunchy. To me, it tasted like the sea.

After all the weird food, I needed to get back to basics with some coffee gum.

There were no ill effects from the meats of the evening. We walked in the cold night with our friends before bidding them farewell. They were heading back to America.

That night, I soaked my legs in a hot shower. They have gotten quite a work out since arriving in China, and I don’t expect it to let up any time soon.

*Photos with an asterisked caption were taken by J.

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