One cloudy Wednesday morning, my room mate (whom we shall call Mr. Lonely Planet) and I, armed with his Lonely Planet Guide to Beijing and a sense of adventure – threw caution to the wind and went off to explore the capital on foot. Our first stop was … STARBUCKS!!
Hahaha! Sorry but after 4 days of Chinese cuisine and continental food that still tasted slightly Chinese, we just had to get something familiar – something that reminded us of … well … home. So we popped in, had coffee and after our caffeine fix, continued on our trek. I didn’t really have an itinerary – I just went with the flow. Mr. Lonely Planet took the lead. He had his map, he had a list of attractions he wanted to visit – so he led the way.
So anyway, on that Wednesday, we just walked. We walked the whole friggin day! From around 8 am to 8 pm and no, we did not even take the bus (did we Mr. Lonely Planet? We didn’t eh?). We started off at (hehe) Starbucks, we then walked around the mini lake, then around and across the larger lake (I have forgotten the names), then we found our way to Beijing’s own twin towers (the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower).
I’ve seen both towers – I went there on my first day, but Mr. Lonely Planet has not seen either one so he went up to watch a drum performance and look at the massive bell. Meanwhile, I joined some locals in a game of “sipa”. (Btw, I can’t play sipa to save my life).
Afterwards, we continued on our walking tour – we both agreed that we wanted to find that “very high temple”. We didn’t know where it was – we thought it would be in one of the parks so we walked through several hutongs (where Mr. Lonely Planet was yelled at by an angry-for-no-reason Chinese man), a few roads (we took a couple of wrong turns – in search for the Emperor’s Stables) until we got to Beihai Park.
Turned out, that tall tower we were looking for was not in Beihai – so we walked over to the next park (Jinshan park) but – the strange tall tower that we could see jutting above the skyline wasn’t there either. We didn’t leave both parks disappointed though. We saw some lovely temples at Beihai and got to see the Forbidden City from the highest hill at Jinshan Park.
After Jinshan, we continued our walking tour. We just stopped for a late lunch and we carried on – tired but still hell bent on appreciating China in a deeper less touristy level. I mentioned to Mr. Lonely Planet that I wanted to see ‘bug street’ and he said he knew where it was so – after munching on our spicy chicken and other spicy veggies (we didn’t know what we were ordering, we just pointed at pictures) we walked towards the notorious “bug street”. After walking past a few hawkers, where Mr. Lonely Planet was cajoled into buying a Mao watch, and I a set of silk purses, we found what we were looking for.
Bug Street’s real name is actually Dong An Men and it’s a whole row of little stalls each one selling something more exotic than the other. All the vendors wore red caps and red aprons – and I think the food was regulated by the local government. I was feeling adventurous and had planned on trying a barbequed scorpion but decided not to when I saw the prices. Man, I didn’t want to pay Yuan 25 for a skewered centipede. I can get an honest to goodness, healthy, filling dish (or two) for half that price. Nah! Not worth it. Some stalls were selling normal food (squid, lamb legs, oysters, corn, candied fruit) but I thought them to be still quite pricey – so I passed.
After grossing ourselves out and watching other tourists try the yummy chinese delicacies at “Bug Street”, we decided to call it a day (or night). Mr. Lonely Planet knew where we were so again, he led the way back to our hostel – and stopped, I think, to grab something to drink. It was a fun day – tiring but fun. It’s great to see a different side of China (or any place for that matter).
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. 🙂 Besides, thanks to all that walking, I managed to shed a few unwanted pounds (huzzah!). Hmmm … losing extra weight in exchange for sore feet – I don’t think that’s such a bad trade off at all.