Tag Archives: beer

China – Day 2

Tuesday morning, after our MSG filled street food breakfast, we caught a subway over to the Laoximen station. From there we walked to what I call the cricket market. I think technically it is the bird and flower market. But that doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. Surrounding by the chirping of thousands of crickets of many sizes and colors, we explored the crowded little market filled with animals, smells, bird and plants of all varieties. Tried not to cry when we saw ten or more dirty kittens crammed in a small cage, or the caged puppies. Fish, turtles, rabbits, chinchillas, gerbils, crickets, grasshoppers, thousands of caged birds from small song birds to a large grey parrot, to birds that said Ni Hao (hello) as you walked by.

Cricket Market

Cricket Market

All sorts of fish

All sorts of fish

They even make pet food in the market, sell meal-worms for the birds and you can watch the shop keepers and they shove little chunks of lettuce into the hundreds of teeny cricket boxes to feed them.

Food for animals!

Food for animals!

(Back in April 2011, I did a post about this market: Bird and Flower Market – with lots more pictures!)

Later in the morning, we went to Jing’An temple, then did a lot of aimless walking about town and exploring.

Incense burning at the temple

Incense burning at the temple

A mix of old and new - this is Shanghai

A mix of old and new – this is Shanghai

Our afternoon beverage, was brought to us by Liquid Laundry, a fun new restaurant, bar and brewery opened by the owners of Boxing Cat Brewery. It definitely has a totally different feel to it that Boxing Cat, but I loved it. Fifteen craft beers on tap, including their own – brewed in house, some Boxing Cat beers and also guest taps from around the world.



We tapped that!

We tapped that!

We ran into Boxing Cat’s brew-master Mike and were able to catch up briefly with him and the fabulous beer happenings in Shanghai. If you are ever thirsty for something delicious make sure to check out both Boxing Cat Brewery and Liquid Laundry.

Brew master Michael Jordan

Brew master Michael Jordan

Post beverage, and a difficult search for a taxi, we found our way to the Xujiahui area where we met four of my former coworkers for hot pot dinner at Little Sheep. After eating our own weight in hotpot, we rolled ourselves back to the hotel and crashed.

Old co-workers - these girls are the greatest!

Old co-workers – these girls are the greatest!


China – Day 1

Our first two days in Shanghai were spent exploring the city at our leisure. Monday, we started what would become our daily tradition in Shanghai of street food and Family Mart (a Chinese convenience store) for a quick breakfast.

Kid Castle!

Kid Castle!

From our hotel, we walked towards my former apartment complex, passing by the Kid Castle Royal branch where I had taught so many Chinese kiddos. Then I showed John where I lived.Unfortunately, we did not see my actual apartment, but we went in the building and took the elevator up to the 28th floor and I reminisced.

From outside my apartment

From outside my apartment

A stone’s throw away was the very familiar Luijiabang metro stop, we hopped on for a couple stops to People’s Square.

From People’s Square, we took a quick walk all the way down East Nanjing Road, and ended up at the Bund where we marveled at the skyline of Pudong – including the new Shanghai Tower.

On the Bund

On the Bund

Then we found our way to YuYuan Garden, where we ate xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings) and roamed the alleyways with thousands of others.

Later in the afternoon, we grabbed a subway over to the Xintiandi area so I could show John my favorite watering hole.

Boxing Cat Brewery

Boxing Cat Brewery

After a delicious craft beer at Boxing Cat and struggling to get in contact with Chinese friends without working phones or internet, we managed to have a bartender make a phone call and get us an address in Chinese for a cab ride.

We had a delicious dinner with Xiaoping Ma (who I met at OHSU in Portand, when she did a fellowship there in 2009) and her girls Eva and Amy.

Old friends!

Old friends!

Feast or Famine

(I add this note after returning to the States: Every positive thing I mentioned about flying internationally ONLY applies if you do not take a flight on an airline run by a company based in the United States. The service we received on our American Airlines flight from Tokyo – Dallas was AWFUL)

I don’t know how many of you frequently take domestic flights across the United States, but if you have in the past 10 years or so you probably noticed something about airlines attempts to keep costs, and therefore, prices low for the thrifty American consumer. They have essentially gotten rid of basic nourishment. If you are lucky, on a four hour flight – they may throw you a bag of peanuts.

As a thrifty consumer, I love low airfares. But you know what I hate? Hanger. Not a hanger that you put a shirt on, but my least favorite emotional state – hungry to the point of anger, hanger. Domestic flights within our lovely United States lead us to two options (assuming a connecting flight) while traveling cross country to avoid hanger.

The “oh crap, I have 20 min” option:

You have landed, your stomach growls, the quick change of planes didn’t seem like an issue until you realize you need food. Yet you are in row 23, the dude in row 4 is taking a year to get his oversized carry-on out of the overhead compartment, and you need to be boarding another plane in 20 min.

The solution: Airport fast food – twice the price, half as good. Survey the lines of whatever spattering of quick grab and go options the airport offers, chose based on length of the line not quality of the food, grab your food, shove it in your mouth as you run to your gate.  Just to realize they are still only on priority boarding right as the heartburn hits.

The “4 hours to kill and nothing to do” option:

You meander around the airport checking out every single food option available to you before deciding to splurge on a nice sit down place with a full bar. You finally get seated and order up a $9 craft beer before perusing the menu and deciding to go healthy with a $15 salad. It takes them 30 minutes to get it to you, but those croutons were extra crunchy.

This is called flying domestically. My dearest John is accustom to such flights, which is why he had a valid suggestion when he said, “we should eat” in the Chicago O’Hare airport. He is also accustom to my hanger issues and knows better than to let me go 4 hours without food.

My retort – I’m not hungry and they will feed us on the plane. It was only 10:30am, not quite lunch time. Then again, I had been up at 5am and had only eaten a breakfast sandwich at starbucks at 6:30am. Flight time at noon – we should probably eat.

We did have a delightful (yet overpriced) meal in the international concourse at a little mediterranean place. My $5.99 hummus was more of a snack, while John enjoyed a $10 chicken pita.

Our Chicago – Seoul leg is on Asiana Airlines, a truly delightful airline out of South Korea. (No sarcasm – I’m impressed). Within 30 min of take off we were presented with headsets, for our personal TV screens, and slippers – genius idea – you don’t have to put your shoes on mid flight to use the restroom. Oh, this makes me happy! BTW seat covers, toothbrushes and toothpaste in the lavatory – all great ideas for airlines!

A bag of surprisingly good snack mix came just after my slippers.

Next came our menus – brief descriptions of the choices provided for each of the meals as well as beverage options (all inclusive of course – this is international, baby!) The drink cart arrived shortly, where John indulged in a Korean lager, and I ordered myself a gin and ginger-ale. (Is that a thing? I don’t know, but they didn’t have tonic and it tasted good.)


Before I could get halfway through my drink, dinner was served. John decided he was ready for Asia and ordered the Korean option – bibimbap, steamed rice, veggies, minced beef, soup, kimchi, fruit for dessert and a surprise side dish of itty bitty dried fish (eyeballs always included). Lucky John!



I went western, and ordered the steak, potatoes and veggies. It came with a dinner roll, orzo salad and cheesecake for dessert. (Cheesecake is better than fisheyes in my book).

As I sat eating with a metal knife and fork, out of reusable dishes, I remembered why I always feel as if I’m being fattened up on international flights. Have a seat, don’t move for 14 hours, and we will continuously feed you.

If you are thinking airline food is gross and how could I eat it, you need to come fly with me. Cause it’s pretty darn good.

Coffee, tea, then the lights go off and they pretend it is nighttime (when it is 3pm to me) and expect you to sleep. I don’t, therefore, I get to partake in the occasional water, orange juice, another bag of snack mix, and oh… a little ham and cheese sandwich on a roll!

For the second full meal of the flight, John and I both went for the chicken in mustard sauce with mashed potatoes and veggies. Neither of us were excited about the crab salad, but the fruit was good. However, considering the meal came at 1:30am Nashville time, it felt odd to be eating. My body really just wanted some sleep.

But the lights were on, it was daytime in Asia – and we had another layover and flight to catch!

Chinese Food

Do you know what they call Chinese food in China?  Food.  Yup, that’s right, in some parts of the world it is just food.  Delicious food, by the way.  I was always skeptical about Chinese restaurants and Chinese food in the USA, mostly because any Chinese food I have ever eaten in the States is a far cry from what I grew to love in China.  There is so much variety in Chinese food, so many distinct cuisines under the giant umbrella we just classify as Chinese food.  Most of which American’s have never heard of.  Americanized chow mein, beef and broccoli, and orange chicken were not items I ate in China. Last night, however, I discovered there is good food (of the Chinese variety) in the Portland, OR metropolitan area.

I have about six days left in Oregon before I head out on my new adventure (to Nashville, TN – check out my new blog) and I had been trying to figure out where to stay for my last few nights in town.  My dad mentioned that he had some friends from Southern Oregon who had a condo in Beaverton and they would be willing to let me stay.  Awesome.  Turns out it is an older couple, my dad sings in the Rogue Valley Chorale with the woman who is American and her husband is Chinese.  They were going to be in town over the weekend, as was my dad, so it was arranged that we would all meet up at their place on Sunday and we would all go out to Chinese food!

I have to say, not only am I incredibly thankful for their generosity in letting me use the condo for a week.  But they were also a lot of fun to get to know.  Gene is a 77 year old man from China, who came to the US sometime after college.  Now, for those of you who know ANYTHING about Chinese history, stop and think about what this man lived through growing up in China in the 1930’s-1950’s.  He has some stories to tell, to say the least.  He also is one of the most energetic, talkative and lively 77 year olds I have ever met.  He was quite a riot.  When we first came in and sat down, he tossed me a newspaper in Chinese and said, “Let’s test her Chinese!”

Anyways… this was supposed to be about food.  They took us to this place called Taste of Sichuan (Sichuan is only my favorite of Chinese cuisines). I had never heard of it and when we pulled up I knew it was new because the building housed a Marie Calendars when I moved away in 2011.  We go inside to a crowd of people waiting to be seated, and luckily they tell us it will only be about 15 minutes.  I sit down in front of the board with some of their specials written on it and see 小笼包 xiaolongbao or steamed dumplings. My first thought is “YUMMY!”  My second thought is “$7.95!?!? I would never pay that much for xiaolongbao!”

We are seated, ordered the xiaolongbao right away as a starter and looked at the menu.  Oh there are so many delightful things it is hard to chose!  But no pictures?  In China, your menu is normally a fat book filled with 15-50 pages of pictures of every single dish.  Of course, when you can’t speak Chinese this is helpful to see what looks good.  But also, the Chinglish translations (although entertaining) leave a lot to be desired.  (Like the time I ordered delicious pork spareribs that were described as octopus in English… hmmm.) Fortunately, in the States the English was more accurate.  However, I did have to ask Gene about some of the characters because I knew the Chinese names for dishes and not the English names.

I opted out of the Tsingdao beer when I learned they had good microbrews to offer as well, so I went Oregonian and ordered a Widmer hef.  Funny thing, I was a little put off about it at the time, but after awhile I realized in China it wouldn’t have been a big deal.  You see, in many non-western establishments in China it is a safe bet to ask for a COLD beer, as they often serve it in bottles at room temperature.  This wasn’t really on my mind when the waitress came out handed me a beer and a glass of ice.  She said, “I brought you ice because we ran out of cold bottles of the beer.”  Indeed my bottle of hefeweizen was room temperature.  In my moment of cultural insensitivity, I was obviously not thrilled with the prospect of pouring my beer over ice and she offered me a different one – Ninkasi IPA to go with my Chinese food.

After choosing items from the menu, with lots of discussion and debate.  I think I shocked the waiter when I did all the ordering for the table – in Chinese.  Okay, so it was broken Chinese and Gene had to help me out with a couple of them, but I did it.  茄子,回锅肉,宫保鸡丁(eggplant in hot garlic sauce, twice cooked pork, Kung Pao chicken) and one more.

Four tell-tale signs that we were in America: there were forks on the table and we had to ask for chopsticks.  The rice came out with the dishes (not last).  Most of the dishes came out at the same time.  And we got a fortune cookie at the end of the meal.  Newsflash America: you don’t get fortune cookies in China. My fortune was pretty good though: You will have a fine capacity for the enjoyment of life.  They know me so well.

Oh…it was delicious.  A bit spicy, as good Sichuan food should be.  But they were all the tastes and smells I have been living without for the past two months being back in the States.  For dessert (which none of us really had room for) we had 芝麻汤圆 or sesame sticky rice balls.

Good food, good company and conversations about China with a little Chinese thrown in… it made me want to go back.  But for now, I might just have to make do with leftovers.

Buses, Boats, Boas & Lady Boys?

Day 1 – Buses, a Bamboo Boat and Beer

If you are ever hanging out in Zhejiang province and have a spare day or two, I would highly recommend visiting Qiandao Lake (千岛湖) or Thousand Island Lake.  If you visit and are blessed with beautiful blue skies, 70-75 degree (Fahrenheit) weather  (22-24 degrees Celsius) and not too much humidity – then consider yourself extra lucky, like I was last week.

After the fact, I can’t believe I was hesitant about accepting a company paid trip for 2 days when I first learned about it (which was just over a week in advance).  Missing Chinese class the day before my midterm, and getting up at 5am to sit on a bus for 4-6 hours with 150+ coworkers with no idea what we would be doing.  I wasn’t completely sold.  Perhaps I was just in a grumpy mood because now I am so glad I remembered why I am here.  I want to travel and see the world; therefore, I should take any opportunity I get.  Especially when someone else is paying.

I got up early on Halloween morning, to go meet some 140 or so Chinese Kid Castle employees and 15 other foreign teachers to hop on a bus and head out of Shanghai.  Many of the Chinese teachers had gotten a very basic itinerary for the trip, us foreigners got nothing of the sort.  We just were along for the ride… about a 4 hour ride is what we were told, but my roommate told me it took her 6 hours to get to Qiandao Lake by bus.

We all piled into three big tour buses, the Chinese teachers passed around bags of snack food they had purchased for the trip and after probably 20 minutes most of them fell asleep.  I was in the back of one of the buses with six other foreign teachers and we got to know each other a bit more, chatting about China, jobs and life.

After a few hours, we stopped at our first stop for a typical Chinese lunch.  My co-workers were proud of me for leading the way in using the men’s restroom.  When your are traveling with a large group of the people, the guy to girl ratio is less than 1:20, and there are only 2 stalls in the woman’s bathroom, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

About an hour or so afterwards we stopped again at the Fuchun Taoyuan scenic area. Rumors about hiking, caves and a mountain had been circling, none of us knew what to expect.  But I was certain it wouldn’t be too much to handle as I have found hiking in China normally refers to a paved path up a hill.  It turns out there was a cable car to go up the hill (much like the one to the Peak in Hong Kong).  We climbed aboard in small groups, it was a quick trip up the hill, where we found the cave – Bi Yun Dong (or 碧云洞 in Chinese).

The pictures don't do this place justice - it was massive

Of course we had tour guides, who thoughtfully explained everything in Chinese, but it was way to much for me to understand and I was separated from the other teachers at my school who perhaps could have translated a bit for me.  Instead, I just wandered and looked for myself, taking in the sights without getting all the interesting facts.

At the very bottom of the picture you can see little heads of people... a bit of a reference point for the size of these formations

The cave was unlike any other I have ever been to.  Forget small enclosed spaces to crawl through – other than a few areas when I had to duck my head, this was a massive open area inside of the mountain.  By massive – I mean massive!  The sign by the entry said the largest open area in the cave could hold over 1000 people at a time.  The cave was lit up by colorful neon lights strategically placed, perhaps not the most natural look for the cave – but it was beautiful and well lit enough that I could at least attempt to get some decent pics.

On a bridge with several of my Chinese co-workers

After the tour through the cave and posing for hundreds of pictures with my Chinese co-workers, we took a short walk through the woods and a long tunnel to where we had to decide if we wanted to hike down the hill, or take the little precarious-looking Chinese made sled-like-things down the rickety metal roller-coaster like track for 20 rmb.  I will do the precarious, dangerous, adrenaline pumping option please!  Who needs exercise?  Unlike the long luge-type slide on the Great Wall at Mutianyu, this slide is above ground and fits 2 people on a seat.  The one in back (me) controls the speed.  I went with my Chinese colleague Cathy, and despite it being a quick trip down the hill, I think it was rather exhilarating for both of us.

My friend Char posing with the greenery

At the bottom of the “roller coaster” there was this large obstacle course type thing in the middle of the woods with rickety bridges, rope bridges, and all sorts of things to make your way across and take pictures on.  A quick boat ride, on a dammed lake and then back to the buses for a couple more hours.

The "boat" of the day... if you call tied together bamboo that leaks a boat.

Pretty mountains! All the green trees and mountains almost made me feel like I was back in Oregon!

That evening we made it to our hotel, got all checked in and met for dinner at the hotel restaurant around 7pm.  Dinner was Chinese style again, but unfortunately, not my favorite of the Chinese cuisine I have eaten.  When about 12 of the 15 dishes are fish, even people who like fish long for some variety.  Not being a fan of fish myself, I was delighted when the lone chicken dish and the bullfrog came out from the kitchen.  (The wild hare was too boney, not much meat.) We also got to drink (endless amounts) of the local beer, CheerDay, hardly any flavor or alcohol content, but it kept us hydrated for the long dinner and hours of karaoke afterwards.

One of many fish dishes. Julia the fish hater actually ate this one! I stopped before I got to the head and eyeball though...

Cheerday - has about as much flavor as it has color. Won't ever become my beer of choice.

Don’t worry… I will explain the lady boys in my day 2 segment.

台湾 = Food!

Taiwan = Food!

October 1st is National Day in China, a celebration of the formation of the People Republic of China.  The whole county has (at least) three days off of work, but I hear the custom is to not return home to be with family for this holiday – as they do on Chinese New Year – but to go on vacation.  Either way, the 1.3 billion residences of China are on the move, ticket prices are high and everything is crowded.  I decided to spend this holiday away from the crowds and took a nice little trip to Taiwan.  (No, they do not celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic in Taiwan, they have their own national holiday on October 10th to celebrate the Republic of China.)

My dear friend May was in Taiwan for the holiday and I traveled mostly with her, but also spent time with some other Taiwanese Kid Castle co-workers and met up with several fellow MIM alum from Taiwan for dinner one night.  My theme for my 6 days in Taiwan – FOOD!  As my status message said on Facebook:

What did you do in Taiwan, Julia? Oh, you know… I ate, then ate some more, then we went and got some food and ate a little more. Oh, wait… then got a drink and decided we needed something to eat with it!

That was on my second day in Taiwan.  May and I had gone to Danshui (淡水), a section far north in Taipei that is right on the mouth of the Danshui river, normally a touristy place and very beautiful but it was raining the entire day. (We also learned that all of the tourist attractions closed the first Monday of every month, which happened to be when we were there.)

Soaking wet and nothing to see, so we continued to eat!

However, that didn’t stop us from trying all the famous local cuisines. My third day, I was a little nausea – but I only let it keep me away from all the delicious delicacies for sale from vendors lining the streets for a couple hours.

Here are some of the lovely foods I tried in Taiwan!  (With the MIMers I had the best hot pot ever at 無老養生鍋 – Elixir Healthy Pot, but didn’t get pics of the food.)

阿給 or A-Gei, tofu stuffed with rice noodles and deep fried

A-Gei served cut up and with a sweet/spicy sauce - I wasn't terribly impressed with it.

Possibly the best pork baozi I've ever had

One of Danshui's specialties. Iron Eggs - dark in color and hard (or chewy)

I was a bit hesitant to eat black eggs, but they weren't bad!

Also delicious pork wrapped in carbs - these were juicy and delicious. Here they are being made.

They are then stuck to the walls on the inside of these ovens and scraped off when done!

I’m so glad May and I got to this little shop when we did because after we bought two the man told the next customers it would be 30 minutes before the next batch was ready!  Oooohh… they were juicy goodness!

Had to check out the local beer! Nothing exciting - but more flavor than Tsingdao (which doesn't say much).

Samples of many types of little cakes, flakey and crisp on the outside with a multitude of fillings.

After a wet afternoon in Danshui, we went to the Shilin (士林)night market.  Another Taiwanese specialty – night markets, sometimes even multiple night markets, in every town.  Where you can buy just about anything you want and where there is always tons of delicious food!

Cooking on and eating off of the counter - at the night market

Fried oysters and eggs (didn't eat this one)

A few other things I opted out of ordering - pig liver, brain, stomach and heart

I did eat this! Which is way tastier than it looks. Just a fried egg with veggies and special sauce.

Huge sausages!

Cut up and served with fresh garlic! Yummy!!

Whew… I feel fat just looking at all the pictures of foods I ate – and that was just the first DAY!  While in Taipei, we were staying at May’s aunt’s house in the Yonghe district.  Yonghe is famous for their soybean milk, so of course we had to start out with breakfast one day at the Yonghe Soybean Milk Magnate!  Where we had a traditional Taiwanese breakfast.

Two types of soy milk, sweet and salty (the salty had some bread like stuff in it as well) and fried dumplings.

We then left Taipei, where it was still rainy and traveled to Taichung (May’s home town) where it was sunny and warm!  That afternoon I didn’t feel so well, perhaps from all the new foods I had tried the day before.

My nausea kept me from trying the pork blood and rice dish May bought here, suprisingly the thought wasn't what made me sick!

By night fall I was ready to sample foods at the night market again!

Like my super tall ice cream cone!

The following day, after cycling around Houli, we decided to go western for dinner.  May learned from a friend that the “good burger place” she knew of in town also brewed their own beer.  So we decided to go for dinner!  Turns out it is an American chain brewery restaurant – but not one we have in Portland.

Beer! At Gorden Biersch in Taichung.


BBQ sauce, bacon and cheddar cheese on a burger and garlic fries! Oh yes, Taiwan has GOOD food.

The last stop on my trip was Nantou county – the only county in Taiwan which does not boarder the sea. We stayed with my friend Osteen’s family in Caotun and visited the town of Jiji.

Meat balls in Caotun - pork and some sort of starchy substance served in pink sauce

Jiji is famous for bananas!

Banana egg rolls - not the egg rolls you are thinking of, but more waffle cone like dough cooked and rolled - these were banana flavored. (We also had delicious local banana ice cream!)

I finally tried a tea egg! (Hard boiled eggs cooked and soaked in tea)

A Taiwanese classic - beef noodles

Food – that is what I saw in Taiwan!  Okay, there was a bit more than that, but I will save it for another time.  All in all, with enough walking and cycling, I only gained about one kilo in my week of eating my way through Taiwan!

Beijing – A love/hate

Beijing and Shanghai are different worlds.  When I first came to China, just to visit, with the MIM program in 2010, I enjoyed the history, historical sites and tourist attractions in Beijing.  But when we got to Shanghai, I was blown away.  Shanghai is an awesome city.  Even at that time, after spending only about 5 days in each city, I said, “If I were to even live in Beijing or Shanghai, I would live in Shanghai.  Beijing is great to visit, but I would rather live in Shanghai.”

The Temple of Heaven! A rare shot without a million other tourists.

Well, fast forward 18 months, I’m living in Shanghai and when M&M (mom and Matt) are in town, I take my second ever trip to Beijing.  Another 4 days in Beijing and I draw the same conclusion.  I much rather be in Shanghai.

The air was awful in Beijing, not that I can hold that against them – chances are if you pick four random days out of the year to visit Shanghai you won’t be blessed with blue skies either.  Foreigners aren’t as plentiful, which isn’t a bad thing while living in a city – but I think Beijing gets enough foreign visitors who don’t know anything, that everyone assumes you can just screw over and rip off every foreigner you see.  In Shanghai, there is such a large expat community, with people from all over the world that LIVE here.  There are plenty of laowai (foreigners) in Shanghai that have been here for 3, 5, 10 years, who speak Chinese, who know what they are doing.  I don’t think Beijing is as used to that large of a community of foreign residents.  So taking a taxi, for example, becomes a major headache unless you look and speak like them.

I hated taxis in Beijing.  The worst cab riding experiences ever!  And if you think you can top me, just tell me this: Have you ever had a cabbie stop to get gas (when their tank was half full) AND go take a leak while you were on the meter?  Plus, he was coughing like crazy and spitting constantly, he told May he had been sick for the past few days but was back at work because he needed the money.  I love taking cabs in Shanghai.  I hate taking cabs in Beijing.  Even if you can manage to flag one down (empty cabs drive by and just ignore you constantly), it doesn’t mean they will be willing to take you to your destination, or they don’t want to rip you off by bargaining a price and not using their meter.

Do I need to say where this is? It is at 慕田峪 actually.

This being said, everyone – if given the chance – should visit Beijing (and eat the roast duck).  The Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and the access to many locations on the Great Wall are fantastic, beautiful and historic sight seeing opportunities.  Even with hazy skies, you can get stunning pictures.  The culture runs deep and history surrounds you – unlike the westernized, modern, metropolitan Shanghai.

Obligitory Forbidden City photo

My favorite part of Beijing though – was not at the historic wall to keep out the mongols, it was not in the palaces and forbidden gardens of past emperors which survived the many dynasties. My favorite part of Beijing – the part of Beijing that I loved, that I wish Shanghai had – were the huotongs.   Hutong (胡同 – translation alley or lane) are small, old alleys, passageways of historic homes and buildings that make up large areas in Beijing and have been protected by the government so they are not torn down and replaced by skyscrapers and tall apartment complexes. I thought it was just one area of town when I first went to Beijing, but I quickly learned there are hutong all over Beijing – each a huge network of these small alleys, waiting to be explored and full of treasures to discover.

Wandering thru a 胡同

I loved walking around in, getting lost in, finding new places in the hutong.  May and I went to a bar one night to meet a friend of hers from the UK – he gave us instructions on how to get there.  As we turned off the main road into this teeny, dark alleyway, about the width of a car, we wondered if there was actually anything down there.  It was about a ten minute walk down this alleyway to the bar.  At one point we saw some neon lights and signs of restaurants, but the bar (Yes Bar or 好吧) was not there.  A few more minutes of dark houses and no sign of anything that looked like a place of business we found it – a little teeny bar, stuck in the middle of an seemingly abandoned hutong – with a selection of beers from all over the world.  We went back again the next night.  In the two nights we were there, we were the only customers  and we just hung out and talked with the bartender from Xinjiang, China (the far northwest province in China).

Way back tucked away in another hutong – in a nearby part of town – is another killer find for any beer loving American tourist. Thanks to MJ, brewmaster at my all time favorite, Boxing Cat Brewery, I knew of this little treasure in Beijing.  A microbrewery run by a bunch of Americans that has been brewing and selling beer out of a location in a Beijing hutong for less than a year.  Great Leap Brewery was one of the top things on our to do list in Beijing.  It took some time to find – both times we went – but it was well worth it.  With 9 freshly brewed, local mircobrews on tap, a killer garden setting to sit and relax in, and the owners there to chat with you can’t complain!  Oh, yea – and the beers were FANTASTIC too.  If you are ever looking for beer in Beijing, I highly, highly, recommend checking them out!  (see link here – they are also on Facebook.)

We found it! The door to the best beer in Beijing!

The view from the door of Great Leap Brewing - this isn't on some big, busy street!

The menu - 9 delicious beers on tap! (Actually, I think I only tasted 6 of the 9)

BEER! I believe this was the Danshan Wheat, a wheat beer brewed with tea leaves for a very unique but refreshing flavor.

The hutongs are old houses, communities. Not big fancy houses but little small rooms (which now can be extremely expensive to rent or buy) where Chinese families grew up and many still live.  Things are simpler in the hutongs and things like, well, your own bathroom, aren’t necessarily available.  My mom was shocked with the number of public toilets everywhere in China – but especially in the hutong.  After I witnessed an older woman coming and dumping a bucket with her days “waste” in one of the public toilets, we inquired about it.  My friend (and fellow MIM alum) Junyi, who grew up in a hutong near the Yes Bar, confirmed our suspicions.  Most homes within the hutong don’t have their own bathroom.  They use the public toilets and probably bathe in a sponge bath manner.  Some of the nicer residences, with the help of a larger income and lots of official paperwork, may have added bathrooms to their homes.  The majority, however, even the businesses and restaurants, rely on the public toilets.

Life in Beijing takes place in the hutong.  I would go back to Beijing, despite my many frustrations with the city, just to explore hutongs.  And of course, take more pictures.  Below are a bunch of the shots I got of life in a Beijing hutong.


A front door

We wandered into this little area - several families probably live here.

Front gates left open allow you to see into people's lives.

Sitting on the roof, watching the birds

Playing in the street

Selling a variety of eggs

Veggies on the street

Along a touristy/popular hutong

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