Warning: This is pretty long post..... just so you know.....
As we were on the jetway exiting our flight from Seoul, one of the gentleman to the right of me let out a "huuuuaaackkk p-tew", and spit out a good sized ball of phlegm. I laughed, nudged the Missus, and told Her; "hey, I've just been welcomed to China!"
We arrived in Beijing at around 9pm. My MIL's good friend "Mr Li" was there at the airport to pick us up. The Missus had refused to really look at a map of Beijing until just before we arrived. She was bemused at what She saw..... When She had left Beijing, there were two "Ring Roads" completed, and work was almost done on the 3rd Ring Road. Beijing Normal University, where the Missus went to college, and where both Her parents taught was inside the 3rd Ring. At that time the location of Beijing Normal University was considered to be suburban, and to some almost rural, now with six ring roads circling Beijing, BNU is thought to be pretty close to the center of Beijing. All perspective I guess..... Having traveled a bit, we both know that the first day we arrive in a new city can be a bit confusing, but the Missus thought that She'd at least recognize some of Beijing...... She didn't.....
Yes, Beijing was huge, approximately 6500 square miles. On websites such as this one, Beijing's size is calculated to be the same as all of Belgium! My Mother In Law had managed to keep in touch with, and entertain friends, relatives, and former colleagues over the years. This proved to be quite fortuitous, as Mr Li, generous and gracious, made sure that all went well with us as we arrived. We stayed at a hotel located right at the gates of Beijing Normal University, and still the Missus didn't recognize a thing. It was late, almost 1030, and pretty cold for this time of the year, breaking into the mid-30's, but the Missus and I set out for something to eat. Deciding to stay close to the hotel, the only thing promising was a place making Shaanxi style food.
I'll just say that the food wasn't very good; a poor interpretation of the style of food we'd have later on the trip. Looking at the few tables with customers, it seemed that most folks choose this restaurant as a place to have a couple of beers than for the food.
As is usual on our trips, we got up early, like 5am, and was up and about by 530. The Missus decided that She wanted to explore Beijing Normal University, so we were off.....
There were landmarks the Missus recognized, but many of the structures were newer, or the building done around the structures had changed the viewer's historical perspective.
With scores of cars, extensive bus service, the subway, and reasonable taxi service, we didn't see many people riding bikes, and the bikes stacked and covered in dust was evidence of the fact that this wasn't the Missus's bike-riding Beijing any longer.
Instead of street stands, there were now various food vendors across from the cafeteria. This one specialized in Jian Bing, the folded crepe that the Missus loved.
Also, nowadays it seemed like a variety of fillings were used. But the most disconcerting thing was that youtiao once the standard filling of Jian Bing was no longer offered. In this case it was replaced with a lettuce leaf!
As we walked around the campus, the Missus was amused at the interest I displayed in a particular room.
I guess it was all the thermoses, many with cartoon characters, or writing on them that caught my attention. The hissing and gurgling noises emanating from the room also piqued my interest. The Missus laughed and told me this was the "hot water room". Students dropped off their thermoses in the morning before heading off to class. On the way back to their dorms, they filled up their bottles and had enough "hot water for the night."
This was the Chemistry Building in the university. As we entered and walked through the halls, the Missus spoke of how new this building was when they lived here. Her Mother would lecture in auditorium sized classrooms such as this one.
As we walked out of the University and down Xingtan Lu, we decided to have our "real" breakfast at this little shop.
The drill here was the same as at any of the perhaps tens of thousands similar shops in Beijing. You enter, walk up to the counter and place your order. You pay (you always pay first), and your order is either brought out to you, or as in this case, you walk over to a table, hand the receipt to one of the folks working there. Food was plopped on a cafeteria tray, and you were good to go.
In this case some Millet Porridge.
Perhaps a Tea Egg, one the Missus's favorite things.
And a couple of Baozi. In this case one pork and one preserved vegetable.
The steamer baskets of Baozi were just sitting on a table, so they weren't very hot, and the dough was kinda soggy. But the preserved vegetable filling was very good..... I decided to have another. I don't recall the specific price, but it was somewhere south of $2/US for the two of us.
We returned to our room and got ready for the morning festivities. When planning our activities for Beijing, a visit to the Great Wall of China was first on the list. Most people visit Bādálǐng, the most popular destination for a visit to the Great Wall. Reading up a bit, the parts that stood out to me were the phrases, crawling with tourists and hawkers, visited by millions, tourist trap, and even a theme ride (!). Looking for alternative, I noticed a hike, of either 10 or 11 kilometers, depending what you read, from Jinshanling to Simatai. But 10 klicks? Usually, it's the Missus who takes me on what I call "death marches". And here I'm wanting to do this to myself? I think China really went to my head! There was one roadblock..... for reasons not clear to me, my MIL insisted we NOT do it, and go to Bādálǐng instead. But somehow, during our trip from the airport, Mr Li convinced my MIL that Jinshaling to Simatai is a wonderful experience. Mr Li even set-up a driver to take us the 125km to Jinshaling (in Hebei Province) , drop us off, and pick us up in Simatai.
Arriving in Jinshaling, we paid our admission(40 rmb), and made our way up the path..... after walking a bit I looked up and saw it.
We back-tracked a bit and went to check out a couple of other towers. Depending who you talk to, we did something like 37 towers. Ever watch CCTV? Then this sign might interest you....
The views are exquisite. You notice the different location and sizes of holes in the wall? The smaller holes drain water, and go to the "China" side. The larger holes on the other side? We were told, "water to China, and rocks to Mongolia"! LOL!
A bit further down, and the signs stop.
You'll also start noticing the amount of stairs..... you go up to 37 towers, then you come down 37 times. You also start noticing that parts of the wall here isn't restored. Those 45 degree angle ascents and descents get a bit more difficult.
You'll notice that portions of the wall have collapsed, and there are a few portions where you cross a thin strip of stone with no handhold, but even for me, a person who really doesn't like heights, it wasn't too much.
Still, after six or seven kilometers, I was getting really short winded when climbing up to the towers. There were times when I thought my MIL was right. But whenever that thought entered my mind, I just had to turn around and look at the view......
When you get to the Simatai portion of the wall, you'll have to pay another 40 rmb. What happens if you don't want to pay? Do they throw you off the wall? The wall here is restored, but not quite as nicely done as Jinshanling in my opinion.
Our driver picked us up, and we headed back to Beijing. When we got back to Beijing, while I was taking a shower, and a short nap, the Missus went hunting for one of my favorite things in the world. Suan Nai, which translates literally to "sour milk"....... AKA yogurt. She returned to our room with a good variety.
About that time, the Missus's Mom knocked on the door. She'd had lunch with her uncle, who has lived in Beijing for at least 6 decades. They'd gone to lunch..... I heard at several places, and she'd returned with this for us. Lu Rou Huo Shao:
It looked like thin slices of brisket like meat, along with skin, tendon, liver, and intestines, which provided a balanced flavor. Think of it as wilder than beef, but not as gamey as venison. There's a bit of sweetness in there as well. I've read that donkey meat is pretty tough, so most preparations include a good stewing or braising. You gotta love my MIL, She knows how much I enjoy good food, and always thinks of me when She finds something tasty! I could just imagine a good donkey meat restaurant, right next to the Cuy stand! I'd be the first in line.
Being so wiped out, we took a short walk in the evening, but I wasn't very hungry. With the prospect of another full day ahead of us, we got to bed early. The Great Wall, Suan Nai, and donkey meat...... after an inauspicious start, things were looking up!
I know this was a long post, so thanks for hanging in there and reading!