Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trip To The Great Wall 長城

(After going up countless number of stairs and wishing for death to hit me, I finally reached the Great Wall at Mutianyu.)

There are many parts of the Great Wall that tourists can visit, but Mutianyu is the only part of the wall that is surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery. In fact, over 95% of this section is forest. The whole section of the Great Wall stretches like a flying dragon if you look closely. Mutainyu is in the Huairou District of Beijing. It has more enemy towers in comparison to the other parts to visit and has the most historical significance. Perfect for Asian history lovers like me! Mutianyu is also the least touristy of the great wall sections, so if you want to avoid a lot of the people selling you crap or avoid having loads of people showing up in your pictures, then this is the place to go! It was a 2 hour drive from Tsinghua University to Mutianyu, but the longer ride was worth it. 

But let's get to the food first. We ate 5 minutes from Mutianyu.

This restaurant's food did not taste good. I didn't catch what type of Chinese food there were serving, which didn't really matter because the food was overall BAD.

Our group took up 3 tables full of teachers and students that wanted to participate in the field trip. (Our summer program plans 2 field trips for us. One every month because the rest of the time we are slaving away at our Chinese homework.) The steamed tofu in the first picture was tasty. Nothing I'd go back to this place for though. The Japanese do it much better. I also picked out all the chestnuts in the second dish because I thought everything else did not meet my expectations. Little did I know that I should have ate more... because I was going to have no energy for climbing that great wall.

Their fish was actually pretty tasty. Everything else wasn't worth noting. The bread seriously tasted like cardboard. Whatever Chinese ethnic food this is, needs to seriously stay put because I did not appreciate their overall craptastic food. I also was forever scarred from their "bathrooms," aka non-flushable holes in the floor that were going to suck me in at any moment. After forcefully chowing down on some not so great food, we got on the bus and arrived very soon at the Great Wall where we were greeted by this:

A woman wearing and holding everything she was selling & some awesome "English" signs. This one reads: "Enjoying Chinese Great Wall Also Mr Cao's Camel." I was also greeted by a gazillion stairs that had no ending. You don't just walk in and go straight to the Great Wall. Apparently you go up hundreds of high, thin, bee-infested stairs forever before you finally reach part of the wall. As you can tell, I was not a happy camper. I thought I was fit. I wanted to die. The last time I visited the Great Wall was well over 10 years ago, but since I was with my mom who was wearing heels, we ended up just walking for 10 minutes, taking some pictures and leaving. Mutianyu was not the case! 

When I finally made it up, I had to choose between the easier route or the harder route that had better scenery. Figuring I wouldn't be back at the Great Wall for awhile, I took the harder route with some classmates. Upon reaching the top, we were faced with a decision as well as with some confusion. We could 1) go back down the way we came up (Hell No!); 2) ride a cable car down; or 3) ride a "wiegand" down. The most confusion was trying to figure out what the hell a "wiegand" was.

I'm guessing that "wiegand" meant "wagon." This contraption did not look extremely safe, but since safety is never a big concern in China, I figured why start worrying now? From reading the Chinese, we deciphered that the signs were for the widely popular method of returning down from the Great Wall called the "Shibide Slideway," which was basically a sort of slide/dry bobsled that took you down on a scenic route down the Great Wall. 

Let me help you make sense of their signs in case you are not an expert in Chinglish like me. I will retain their original spelling and grammar mistakes. 

Sign #1 reads: "Dotice to visitors: Toboggan is a dangerous sport, You must follow the notice of the Tobogganto drive, If you don't follow the rules, it will be at your own risk,Our company is not responsible."

Translation: Notice to all you people stupid enough to try this ride. If you die or seriously hurt yourself, don't bother suing us because we don't care and are not responsible. It's dangerous, yo. 

Sign #2 is completely misspelled but tells you that you pull the handle towards you to brake and away from you to go faster. 

(Here's a picture my friend took of me on the "wiegand" and also a picture I took while going down the slide. I also took a live video of my ride down so I could show off the scenery, which I'll post when I'm allowed to go on Youtube, aka when I'm out of China.)

And of course after reading all those informative signs, I thought it would be a great idea to plummet to my death on the Great Wall and promptly bought my ticket. Once we got down, one of our other classmates was recounting an argument he got in with the woman that was selling the slide tickets. For the record, all my classmates speak perfect Chinese to each other even though most of my them are not Asian. It's actually quite impressive to the point where Chinese people are taking pictures of them all day.

Classmate: (In Chinese) "How much are the tickets? Do we leave from here?"
Woman: (In Chinese) "I don't understand you."
C: "What do you mean you don't understand me? You're answering me!"
W: "Oh.. well I just don't understand you."
C: "You're only saying that because I'm white and you're pretending you don't understand me!"
W: "Oh... well...Whatever. The ticket is $50."
C: "See you didn't understand me, you wouldn't be answering my question! Stop lying- it's cause I'm white!"
W: [Turns around and ignores him.]

And there you have it, Chinese hospitality at its best! I think it's best to have no standards when dealing with Chinese people, therefore you are never disappointed.

Haha. I think the woman was a little dumbfounded that my classmates were totally not taking her crap. China definitely has issues getting their customer service or tourism down. They really aren't foreigner friendly. I really don't know how they pulled off the Olympics, especially looking at their horrible English signs. Wasn't there some law that encouraged people to report any misspelled signs or anything to the government before the Olympics? Major fail. 

Other than that, the Great Wall was the most exercise I've done in at least 4 years. I would definitely recommend visiting the Mutainyu location over any other location. The pictures we got were great because there were not a gazillion people in the background. The food.... was definitely no bueno though!

FYI, don't forget to bargain for drinks or snacks on the Great Wall. Yes, they even try to rip you off for drinks cause they know you need it. 

Happy Eatings!

Friday, June 25, 2010

IUP Welcome Dinner

The summer program that I'm at had a welcome dinner to let us mingle with our classmates for the next 2 months. We had a total of 51 students that showed up for the meal. The dinner was on campus at Tsinghua University at a restaurant called Xichunuan that served "upscale" Hangzhou and Sichuan cuisine. The program directors decided to feed us a good meal since we would be giving up our next 2 months to solely hammer Mandarin into our heads 24/7.

This place was pretty fancy considering it was on campus excluding the slippery floor signs of course!

They had a map of the Tsinghua University campus on the floor, which reminded me of the Getty Center in L.A. Too bad we weren't back in L.A...the land where toilets were clean and toilet paper was provided for you.

This was a pork appetizer dish. It was basically a cold cut dish. Yum.

This was some sort of egg appetizer. I didn't like it. No bueno.

Cold Noodles. Something you can't go wrong with!

I forgot what this was called in English but it was tasty as well unlike the next dish...

Mash potatoes with blueberry sauce on top? Uh... no. Pancakes would have been a much better choice or IHOP.

Then we had a whole fish marinated in tomato sauce and spices.

This was like a corn and pea "pancake." Not my taste, but it wasn't that bad.

This was the most "normal" dish we had. Beef and peas. Reminded me of good ol' Panda Express. I wanted a fortune cookie after eating it.

Shrimp was a little bland.

More celery. This is my grandma's favorite dish. It's too healthy for my taste.

More meat! This wasn't bad.

Yay! They served us kao ya. Wasn't as good as 鴨黃 from the other day, but it was good enough for the moment.

Clams and steamed egg didn't hit the spot for me. Some of my classmates really enjoyed it though.

These made me miss the San Gabriel Valley. Shallot pancakes weren't good. They were squishy and not crunchy enough.

Please no more veggies!

And of course we had to have a soup! A real Chinese family style meal wouldn't be complete without one.

大餅. Score! This was what I stuffed myself with. I guess I'm a cheap date since I stuffed myself with all the bread and didn't really eat much of anything else.

Overall, this was a good place to have a welcome dinner since we had so many students. The food wasn't horrific. The best advice is to go in with little or no standards and you will never be disappointed! Kidding aside, this place wasn't bad. I was just ready to leave campus and start searching Beijing for more 地道的菜 (authentic street food). Little did I know that our Chinese program was going to be kicking our asses so badly that I would not have ample time to go out and explore good Beijing street food everyday.

Happy Eatings! More Beijing adventures to come!

Bye or as they say in mandarin 拜拜 (bai bai)!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today... I Finally Become a China Woman!

There's like what- 4.5 billion trillion people in China? Everyone and their mother rides a bike because... that's just how they do...

This is a picture of people waiting for the train to pass at Wudaokou Street. If you look on the streets, you'll see huge entire areas filled with parked bikes. It's actually a pretty scary sight. So it was obvious, that if I was going to make this China transformation complete, I  had to blend in like a local by doing none other than purchasing a 2nd hand bike!

Apparently the rule of thumb is to get a crappy bike with a really good lock or else someone's going to steal your bike. That's me trying to be excited. Helmets are not sold frequently in China. It's not like your head is important. Also, crossing the street is like playing a game of Frogger. Cars come at you at all directions and drivers do not make eye contact with you. They just assume someone will halt... 

So what did I do to celebrate my rite of passage of becoming a China woman? I rode my bike to find some good food. I found an amazing chuan [er]. 串 I love how the chinese character of 串 looks like meat on a kabob stick. This place is so yummy. It's my new favorite place.

2nd floor of a street called 好吃街 aka Delicious Street!

Chicken wings! Very good!

I believe this was chicken knee.

Duck heart and lamb perhaps?

The amount of garlic and seasoning that went into this just make it that much more amazing!

This was my order of cold noodles. It had peanuts, garlic, peanut and sesame sauce in it. Soooo good!! That's why it's awesome to ask what's their signature dish at every restaurant is. Our whole meal was about $26 RMB so divide that by around 7 and you'll get the US price. 

Yummy & Cheap!
Happy Eatings!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beijing Duck

One of the reasons why it's great to visit Beijing once every 4 years is that a bunch of people stand in line to take you out to eat. 鴨黃- Ya Huang, Literally "duck king/emperor" is the most awesome place to get roasted duck. It's the one thing everyone has to get when they're in Beijing! Good thing the rest of the dishes were also very good. The duck was amazing! Nothing in L.A. could compare. It made sitting at a table with a whole bunch of people speaking in mandarin with hardcore Beijing accents a little better. That's how powerful the power of the Duck King is!

A delicious salad? Why, yes I would love some!

I believe this was duck liver, but when in doubt just eat and don't ask!

Now this dish was super good! Pumpkin!! Best pumpkin I've ever tasted!

I don't remember what they said this was.  Some sort of carrot or turnip?  They just kept on saying how it would make you more beautiful. So why not?

Ducky heart??? This was good though!

I'm not a fan of Chinese veggies. I typically only like Thai or Taiwanese veggies.

yummy stone pot

Beef fillet pieces. Typical, but good nonetheless.

More veggies =[ God didn't put it at the top of the food chain so that we could eat grass! Kidding aside, I like my meat.

And more veggies. 

Lotus root.

Look at that guy tear up that duck! The duck was perfectly cut while it was still smoking hot within minutes. Gangster. It was also the highlight of the night. 

The pumpkin and duck liver were at the top too!

Sesame pocket biscuits! My fav! Too bad I was too full from the little tortilla things from the duck to eat too many of these.

Sweet rice water soup. No bueno, but it's supposed to be good for your skin as well!

If you're in L.A., the closest place to get decent roast duck would be Duck House in the San Gabriel Valley, but honestly roasted duck is just one of those things you gotta make the trip to Beijing for!

Happy Eatings! Much more adventures in adjusting to Beijing lifestyle to come!

I Choose Life Over Death

王府井- Wangfu Jing is one of China's most busiest streets. It's filled with lots of modern day shopping malls as well as alleys filled with bizarre food eats. It's a must go touristy place, but has a bunch of local joints as well. If you want to pull off being a local, just add a crap load of -err sounds to end of everything you say. They'll like you just for doing that.It's ridiculous how non-standard Beijing people's Chinese are. They are times where I just don't understand what the hell they are saying.

The street looked relatively normal from the outside. They were filled with food stands and shops on both sides.

There were loads of crap to buy or as my mom likes to call them "handy craps"- short for handicrafts. 

I thought the hand made paper kites were cool. Things started to get a little weird though. Then I realized I was having deja vu. This was the same exact alleyway Andrew Zimmerman went to on his show Bizarre Foods. How did I know that?

Because I saw these "kabobs" hanging around. The sad part was t hat those scorpion-like things were actually still alive while pierced through the stick. You choose your stick and then the worker marinates them in some seasoning before roasting them to a crispy "delight". 

But worry not. If those insect creatures weren't your taste, there were a ton of different choices to choose from.

Maybe you're more into the whole tarantula thing?

Thankfully, they had more normal things too like candied fruits, chestnuts, etc. 

Here's some yummy meat! They carve it right there for you. It's really good. I just had some yesterday!

But fortunately and unfortunately I did not try any of those crazy kabobs. Just yesterday, the program director recounted the story of how his friend tried one of those kabobs a few years ago and almost lost his life. Apparently his kabob wasn't fully cooked and the poison from the scorpion got to him, which made his neck swell up to the size of 2 tennis balls. So, this time I'll pass. I'll choose life over death by uncooked creature since I always imagined my death would be by blowfish or choking on a boba. I am rather intrigued by the starfish and seahorse on a stick though, but that may be because I see them used in traditional chinese herbal medicine all the time. 

Happy Eatings!