We were all a bit hungry, so we stopped by a little baozi (stuffed steamed bread) place between the subway stop and my house. This was partially notable as I'd been boycotting the place on account of the wait staff being shitty (as opposed to every other place in China?). Anyhow, the baozi were yummy. Slozo commented that the place was my Soup Nazi. They dish out the pain (and yummy food) and I come back for more.
After we got back to my apartment and dropped off Slozo's and YJ's bags, we decided on a touristy thing to do with the rest of the day. We chose 香山 (Xiang1 Shan1 - Fragrant Hills), which is a park on the west side in the foothills of the mountains. It took us about an hour and a half to get there. Since it was a holiday it took us about 10 minutes to find a cab to take us there. The cabbie asked if we wanted to get there fast or slow -- which we all thought was little strange -- so we told him fast. He proceeded to take the weirdest route known to man; at one point he drove through a twisty parking lot to avoid maybe 100 meters of congested road. We got the feeling that he was just trying to run up the meter. We eventually got to the park entrance. So began the long march (no pun intended) up the hill.
On the approach to the park there was the usual channel of tourist oriented shops hocking crap at outrageous prices. Slozo and I each got a pair of cheap sunglasses with a bit of bargaining help from YJ. Apparently Tibet turned that girl into a serious bargainer. It's no lie, you could do worse with a gun wielding mobster backing you up. Very got us all some soft-serve ice cream. It was to be the first ice cream of a day filled with ice cream.
We finally made it to the gate of the park after what seemed like an interminable impulse shopping gauntlet. We began hiking up the hill towards the summit, trying to pass as many interesting structures during the ascent so we could pace ourselves and get some good pictures on the way. It took us about three hours to get to the top of the hill. Once on top, we took a bunch more pictures and then started down the hill via the direct route. The whole time we were surrounded by about one hundred thousand other tourists. Such is life during the holidays here.
We left the park around 4:30 and headed back to my neighborhood via bus. The bus ride was about an hour and Very and I made good use of the time by napping as much as possible. When we got back to my house we napped a little bit more before heading out for dinner. Dinner was had at me and Very's favorite roast duck place. The restaurant isn't specifically advertised as Beijing Duck joint but they do a good job and the prices are very good for the quality. After dinner everybody was pretty much spent from the day's exertion, so we headed back to my apartment and crashed.
On Tuesday, we all slept in late. We were unable to think of anything touristy to do that didn't involve a lot of walking or a lot of sunshine (YJ got burned pretty bad the day before), so we went shopping for camping supplies instead. This involved a lot of running around town and hard bargaining by both Very and YJ. By early evening we had managed to wrangle all the camping supplies we would need for camping the following evening.
That night we met up with mine and Very's friend Spy. I haven't talked a lot about Spy in past diaries, but there will be more about him once I cover the month of April with a diary... So we met Spy at a Muslim restaurant not far from my apartment. He had introduced us to this place about a week before. The main dish they have there is beef. For 30 RMB you can get a 斤 (jin1 - half a kilo) of the tastiest beef you've ever eaten. I think the best comparison I can make for this meat is really good pot roast. The meat is melt in your mouth tender. Everyone enjoyed the food and Slozo and Spy had a very spirited discussion about the ethics of killing animals. Slozo was worried that he might have annoyed Spy but we assured him that Spy is more than happy to have someone who will actually argue with him.
After dinner we walked to a nearby store to buy batteries for flashlights that Spy had loaned us, then we parted ways for the evening. Back at my apartment, YJ, Slozo and myself attempted to watch a movie before falling asleep.
On Wednesday, we slept in again. Once up, we trod about sluggishly and packed our bags for that evenings camping trip. During this time, Very and friends of hers who were also going camping made the final arrangements. Me, Slozo and YJ caught the subway over to the long distance bus station around 4 to meet up with Very and everybody else. We got there in the middle of price negotiations for our ride to the wall. This well orchestrated dance took about 15 minutes before we arrived at a reasonable price that the drivers would accept. With that done, we took off for 黄花长城 (HuangHua ChangCheng - The Yellow Flower Great Wall).
We arrived at the wall about 6pm. This gave us approximately one and a half hours of light to walk to the wall and find a place to camp. The drivers and people at the small restaurant/motel that we struck off from assured us that it was a 10 minute hike to the wall. They were wrong of course. We got to the wall as the day's light was fading away. We climbed onto the wall and began to walk/climb towards a flat spot where we could sleep for the night. This soon turned out to be a really bad idea as the wall was steep and incompletely restored. About the time we were realizing this, someone dropped a sleeping bag off the wall. This included a bit of yelling that really grabbed the attention of the Chinese couple who was hiking up the wall below us. Luckily it landed on the China side (as opposed to the less accessible Mongol side). We all climbed down the wall to some nearby exit stairs that dumped us onto a trail that was much easier to navigate than the wall. Once on the trail, Slozo took off towards the fallen sleeping bag. After locating it, he tossed it down towards the crowd below. This didn't go exactly as planned and the bag lodged itself in some brush about 20 meters uphill from the group. With some help from people with flashlights, Slozo found the bag and pushed through some serious brush to retrieve it. In the end Slozo scratched his legs up pretty bad but the bag was retrieved. We continued on our hike aided by artificial light. We made it to a guard tower after another 20 minutes or so of hiking. The Chinese couple from earlier had beat us there and they looked to be settling in for the night. Me and another guy ran up the wall to see if there were any other good camping spots. We found an awesome flat area out 50 meters up and decided that that would be best.
Everybody quickly got settled in for the night and we finally got a well deserved bite to eat. Someone had brought a guitar and soon after people had eaten, music filled the air. The songs ranged from Mormon preschool hymns to Pink Floyd. We also all played an interesting Korean game that involved clapping and people's names. People slowly fell asleep, though it was still quite early.
We awoke at twilight on Thursday morning. This translated to about 5:30am. Luckily we had all fallen asleep early. According to the people at the small restaurant/motel near the road, we were to be clear of the wall by 8am. This was the time at which tourists would begin arriving. Technically we weren't supposed to be camping there, so it was made very clear to us that we needed to get off the wall by 8. So with this in mind, we gathered wood to make a fire. Well, I didn't. I think I was busy eating my breakfast. Some more enterprising campers gathered wood. We got a fire lit around 6:30 and tasty hot breakfast of chicken and potatoes cooked up. A second batch of food was put on the fire but tourists began arriving. We picked up all our things and extinguished the fire as quickly as possible. By the time the tourists had reached us we were mostly packed and ready to leave. We left the wall about 8:30.
On our way down the hill from the wall we were stopped by an old lady. She was demanding that we pay her 5 RMB a head for the privilege of walking on the trail she had "built". Or something. We tried to walk around her but she started freaking out. YJ was summoned to the front of the line to flex her bargaining muscles. In the end, we paid 3 RMB a person. This was likely 3 RMB too much. In all likelihood, this woman was a beggar who regularly extorts money from tourists.
We got back to the roadside restaurant/motel in short order and were met by our drivers. After a brief rest we set off for the urban center (technically, we never left Beijing). On the way back, we stopped at a strawberry farm that our driver had told us about the day before. YJ was particularly excited about this as they had some of the biggest strawberries she'd ever seen. She got fairly hefty bag of berries and Very got two boxes of "sweet" strawberries since all the ones we'd been getting in the city were quite tart (they were a little sweeter). Once the berries had been bought we hopped back into the cars for the last leg of the journey.
On Friday we slept in yet again. Around lunchtime, we went over to the east side of town to find a little hole in the wall restaurant that Very and I had discovered a few months back. We were joined by Cookie and Spy. The food wasn't as good as we had remembered but Slozo got a chance to try Jiaozi which are the Northern Chinese equivalent of Wontons. After lunch, YJ and Slozo took off for the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square by themselves while Very and I headed back to her place and Spy and Cookie went their separate ways.
For dinner on Friday, we had dog meat. I'd promised this to Slozo back in December I think. In their part of town where I studied there is a sizable Korean population. You practically can't spit without hitting a place that has dog on the menu (and in the colder months most of the Chinese places have it too). So anyway, we actually asked a couple Chinese places if they had dog hot pot before we settled on a Korean place that none of us had been to before. This particular restaurant was the first place I'd ever noticed dog meat prominently advertised on the outside of the building (in Chinese of course). The food was quite good there. The dog was prepared in its usual manner, which is a spicy soup with tofu. Every time I've had dog it's been served this way. Sometimes I wish they'd mix it up a little and offer a stir-fry or something but what the hell do I know about the subtleties of cooking up man's best friend?
Slozo, like many other Westerners before him, was disappointed to discover that dog meat is actually quite tasty. YJ was a good sport but spent most of the time fishing big chunks of meat out of the soup and putting them on Slozo's plate rather than her own. Me and Very? Well.. this wasn't our first time putting canines to canine, so I guess that makes us depraved? Not really.
Friday's evening activity was a trip to 后海 (Houhai: literally "rear sea") for a little lakeside pub R&R along with Cookie. Not a whole lot happened there. We got hassled by guys standing in front of their bars who wanted us as customers. Other than that we appreciated the peaceful surroundings. It was the perfect pace after a hectic week of running around.
On Saturday we continued our streak of starting the day late. Slozo and Yijie were scheduled to leave in the early evening, so after a light lunch and a bit of confusion about museum schedules we headed to the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall.
The Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall is just off the south end of Tian'anmen Square in the heart of the city. The main attraction is a scale model of the heart of Beijing. The model covers everything within the 2nd ring road as well as the Olympic venues, the Central Business District, and the 中关村 technology park. It's quite impressive to see actually. I got the feeling that I was enjoying it more than everyone else though. What can I say, I'm a geography nut. One other really impressive part of the museum is a 10x9 meter sculpture of Beijing circa 1949.
We left the museum around 4 and headed over to 王府井 (WangFuJing - it's a name; hell if I know what it means). This is an especially touristy part of town with lots of upscale shopping. They also have a small alleyway area where you can eat fried seahorse, fried scorpion, and other such oddities that might appeal to adventurous tourists. Slozo got a seahorse. I got nothing since I've tried both the seahorse and the scorpion before. It's a good photo-op but Frito-Lay has nothing to worry about.
With minutes to spare we all jumped in Spy's car and headed off for the nearby train station. After a bit of difficulty with a turn that was blocked by a fence, we deposited Slozo and Yijie at the train station.
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