I was jet lagged and quite exhausted from the mammoth journey, but today was my first day in Beijing and I was determined to see some cool stuff! Shirwa arrived, looking similarly traumatized as I had done. He had taken a taxi from the airport so had avoided the car ride with the random stranger, but our hostel had been located in such a little alleyway that the taxi driver had refused to enter the Hutong, possibly through fear and so had bundled Shirwa out of the car on some nearby main road. After a few panicked calls (my phone was on silent and in my bag), I rushed out of the Slum Hutong to greet my weary friend.
We got all our valuables put into the safe, eyed up suspiciously and gave menacing glares of DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF to our dorm room mates and set off for Hou Hai. Hou Hai is a lake around which there are bars, restaurants, night markets and more Hutongs. This time we did as Lonely Planet recommended us to do and got pretty lost in the Hutongs and surrounding lake area. I can’t exactly tell you therefore where all the photos were taken, but lets just say in Old Beijing, by a lake and at a night market.
On the way to the Lake and the night market – remember to always look both ways when crossing the roads 😉
Weeping willows dropped lazily into the still water whilst Chinese men swam and dived in wearing their Speedos. The restaurants’ terraces looked out over a sea of giant lilies. It was idyllic. Well, except for the customers who were eating their food who got an extra helping of sausage.
We came face to face with the legendary fried scorpions, starfish and sea horses. Octopus balls and corn blown up and moulded into the shapes of crazy animals. We bought some smoking drink called ? Perhaps someone could help me out? Anyway it was our first taste of China. It was excitting, I was daring and adventurous. The moment didn’t last too long though as after one sip we realized that it was cold steaming tea, so it hadn’t been boiled – tried to ask about the state of the water, failed miserably, saw some dodgy looking metal container, smiled sweetly, nodding our heads whilst walking increasingly quickly backwards, before dashing away and throwing the contents away once behind a corner. Clearly we had just avoided days of unnecessary leakages!
We went to a little local restaurant and browsed the exotic menu. We avoided any real internal parts of animals and in doing so had a sumptuous dinner of rice, vegetables and chicken. It was all so cheap, we ordered enough food for 20.
Shirwa was greeted by an America who insisted on buying me and him a drink. Shirwa he claimed was”the only other black man in Beijing”. The whole night was really fun!
Everything down there was truly an assault on the senses. Don’t take health and safety lightly and don’t forget your gas mask when going to the toilet in one of the many public ones available. At least that is what I think the sign says although I can’t be sure:
Smells of food were mixed with the smells of the drains which had overflowed in the really heavy rain, which had not stopped for 7 days before our arrival. Lovers sang ballads on the Karaoke machines, whilst tuk-tuks whizzed passed us. The football was on, but then we checked…we would have had to stay up until 3am to see the kick off.
Colored flags lit up the night sky, as did red lanterns. In a secluded part, we stumbled upon beautiful classical Chinese music being played by older locals. Their families and friends gathered round to listen to the soft tunes, melodious against the scenic backdrop of the lake. There were temples too, and gates which we passed and I bought a beautifully hand painted parasol which really came in handy when we climbed the Great Wall!