As we write this it is Sunday morning in
Early Thursday we got our first taste of the
We then walked up the square and across the street to the
After the museum and a quick bite for lunch, we got back on the subway...
...and went to Yong He Gong (also known as the "Palace of Peace and
The complex contains 7 main temple buildings. In each are one or more Buddhas. There were many people there burning incense and praying. Each successive building has a bigger Buddha, until you reach the last one which contains a Buddha 26 meters tall! It is carved from a single sandalwood tree and (according to Guiness) is the largest single-tree statue in the world.
That night we had dinner in the Chinese restaurant in the hotel. Though we were seated in a beautiful private room, alas, the meal was not worth writing home about. We had planned to go to an awesome restaurant, but at about , the sky became dark and the lightning and thunder started. You may have read about the drought conditions in
Friday we got started early. Though it was still drizzling, we went for a walk and found a hutong (old neighborhood) a few blocks from our hotel. It was similar to the street we had found in
After an hour or so of shopping we left our friends at the hotel and went to our cooking class! We were driven to another hutong and a restaurant called "Local Time". We always avoid "street food", and this looked like the next step up. The restaurant has about 6 small tables, and, since it was , we were the only ones there. Was it safe? Was it clean? Were the flies hygienic / organic? Was the water filtered? But our worries were somewhat assuaged by our affable host Jackie. Apparently he is the owner of the restaurant.
He seated us at a bigger table which already had bowls of chopped onions, garlic flowers, ginger, corn kernels, and a mix of ground chicken and pork.
He mixed all of these together in a bowl. After he gave us each a very large bottle of Tsing Tao, he began to show us how to make dumplings. He mixed a little water into a big bowl of flour and began to work it into a dough. He explained that each plate consists of 15 dumplings, and they serve about 100 plates a day! Do the math! Though he spoke English fairly well, at times he would smile and stop to check his Sino-English dictionary. While he was kneading, we were served a delicious green salad, a plate of slivered octopus and ginger (which was quite tasty), a plate of sugar-coated crispy peanuts, and some hawthorn jam disks (like Necco wafers) which were melt-in-your-mouth sweet. Then he showed us how to roll the dough and cut it into the proper sized pieces.
Then each piece was rolled into a thin circle, filled with a small spoonful of the veggie-meat mixture and folded into a little dumpling (or kreplach or ravioli or pierogi or whatever your national dough-filled-with-meat dish is called). Then, it was our turn!!!! We each made a few of varying degrees of quality. Then he brought out a tray of beef-filled dumplings that he had made previously. He showed and explained how to cook them in boiling water ("much healthier than in oil"). After a few minutes they were done and he gave us a plateful! Are we supposed to eat
Friday night was theater night! We had previously purchased tickets to one of the city's famed Peking Opera theaters (the Hu Guang). It was a harrowing 30 minute cab ride through some heavy traffic (and a half-dozen near misses!). The theater had a main floor (where we sat) with 6 rows of 8 tables each. Then there was a balcony on 3 sides (not sure if those also had tables or just chairs). Each table had 2 chairs in back (facing the stage) and 2 on each side (also facing forward). The audience was primarily Chinese teens--chattering away with excitement. Each person received a plate of watermelon, and another with the same crispy peanuts and several prunes. Also a packaged orange-flavored cookie. And of course, steaming cups of jasmine tea (they do jasmine in the north and green tea in the south). The theater had totally traditional decorations: all red dragons and ornate paintings on the walls and above the stage. The stage (about 20' wide and 10' deep) had beautiful "silk" drapes in the back. There were 2 small electronic sign-boards that showed a short summary (in English and Chinese) of what was happening on the stage. The first "act" was a Geisha-type lady looking for her lost lover and singing a high-pitched meowing song. Then an "old boatman fellow" (long gray beard) comes by and takes her on the river to find him. He also sings, but was not quite so cloying. The pantomime was superb, though it went on way too long. At one point, the sign board's message said (quoting the woman) "The boatman is boring, but I will put up with him". We felt the same way, as they continued down the "river". This act lasted about 30 minutes. Then there was a "10 minute" intermission (which lasted about 6 minutes). We assumed the second act would finish the story, but were pleasantly surprised to see that it was something entirely different (did she ever find her lover?). This act was "The Monkey King Fights Off the Invaders".
This was much better. (Note: You may have seen masks from the Chinese Theater. This is what we were expecting (and of course they sell them in the gift shop!), but these performers' "masks" were make-up!). This segment was a combination of fancy tumbling, kung-fu, and spinning, juggling of sticks, swords, knives, and poles. Very entertaining! It only lasted about 20 minutes.
Then we were out into the night to look for a taxi back to the hotel. Of course most of the other people were looking for one too. We tried for a few minutes, but none stopped. We crossed the street to try over there (we are either getting braver or more foolhardy!), but still no luck. Then a man on a pedicab cycled over and offered us a ride. We were desperate so we said yes. We were on an open seat in the back and he started off. WHAT WERE WE THINKING!?!?!! But actually, we soon felt much safer than we did in the cab as we were in the bike lane and out of the traffic. And it was a beautiful night as we whizzed past restaurants and malls all ablaze with lights. At one point we had to cross a busy intersection, but only made it to the island in the middle when the lights changed. There we sat as cars, buses, bikes, and motorcycles sped past only inches away. But we made it safely back, in about the same amount of time the taxi had taken on the way there. When we told our guide about this the next day her eyes almost popped out and said we were very lucky!
Saturday...our final day of touring. We left at 8 with our tour guide and driver to head north to the Ming Tombs. Because it was Saturday, our guide said many people were leaving the city. And this was also the road to the Badaling section of the Wall, so traffic was heavy. Since we had the time, we asked our guide some questions that we hadn't had a chance to ask up until this point--one (very benign) about Confucius and the other (more edgy) about human rights. Her answers were not satisfactory but we didn't push because at this point exhaustion was taking over. On the way, we passed no fewer than 4 accidents. At one point we were nearly crushed between a truck and a bus. But somehow our driver got us there in one piece. Then we reached the tombs.
This complex was built beginning in 1409. It houses the tombs of 13 emperors and 26 empresses. There are beautiful statues of animals, each representing a different characteristic.
The complex covers many square miles. Only 3 of the tombs have been excavated. The odd thing about these is that the emperors believed that each succeeding tomb had to be smaller than that of his predecessor! And they actually complied!
Then back to the city to see the movie "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan". It had just had its worldwide premier in
As you may know, it is based on the wonderful novel of two sets of women friends; one in present-day
We decided that the most appropriate culinary send-off for our
He then disappeared (unfortunately leaving one of your writers no opportunity to feast on the carcass, what a shame). The maitre'd instructed us on the proper Peking Duck eating technique... take a papery think pancake (with chopsticks), spear several pieces of sliced duck and dip them in a delectable sauce of swirled peanut sauce, sesame oil, and chopped garlic, place those dipped duck slices ever so gently onto the pancake, cover them with several jullienned slices of leek, radish, and cucumber, lovingly place a piece of crispy duck skin on top, then fold over the pancake so that it resembles a pocket square, and eat it. The duck skin was melt in your mouth amazing (and unhealthy but at this point, who really cares). Repeat the pancake creating process several times and you have a meal. We added some sauteed vegetables and steamed rice and that was it... except for dessert, one of their specialties--mango pudding with ice cream. We didn't have the capacity for the other dessert possibilities--black sesame dumplings, egg tarts, or duck-shaped pastries with lotus paste. An amazingly appropriate way for us to end our Chinese culinary adventure.
Other learnings: Though we may think of
With that, we're off. Thanks for joining us on this journey!
wen-wen and way-way