Saturday, April 30, 2005

Peking Duck? or Lamb Kebabs?

One cannot visit Beijing without at least savoring its KaoYa (Peking Roasted Duck), so sayeth many tourist guidebooks and previous travellers to this city. And so we made our way to the most famous of the Peking Duck restaurants - Quanjude KaoYaDian (there are at least 2 branches, one at Qianmen and the other at Wangfuqing, we caught the latter). The duck was tender with a fairly crisp skin, but at Rmb 250 (S$50 or so for 2 persons) with pancakes, condiments, a plate of vegetables and soup, it was a pretty expensive duck dinner... and felt like we had just been ripped off, considering that u can get pretty decent roast duck in Singapore for much less than that.

We found out later that one can eat pretty well (and if not careful, reach a 'bloated' stage quite easily) in this city for about Rmb50 (S$10) per person. Our first meal in this city was at a little 'baozi' shop in a side-street to the right of the entrance to TianTan - shop was no bigger that a mid-size bedroom, accomodating no more than 15 people at any one time sitting elbow to elbow. Didn't look great but it was quite filled with locals (a good bet usually of edible food). A steamer of about 8 'baozi' (meat dumpling) cost us Rmb3 (I calculated and calculated in my head, and yes, it was unbelievably S$0.70 or so). It tasted quite good (fresh out of the steamer) and just like the locals at the shop, we doused (not dipped) the entire baozi in the light black vinegar sauce that accompanied it - yum! It set a good precedent for the rest of the trip.

A taxi-driver told us to take a walk down 'GuiJie' (Ghost street?) if we wanted to try the local cuisine. So we took the city subway to Dongzhimen station, and walked down Dongzhimenwai Dajie.. about 100m down, we found that the entire road is filled with restaurants and pubs on both sides of the road and it stretched for quite a distance. Alamak, how to pick which restaurant to go in, by number of diners? by decor? (some were really hip & happenin') - in the end, we just followed our noses to the most aromatic lamb kebab that we've ever inhaled, and ended up in a Xinjiang-style restaurant (the only one on that stretch). It looked warm, unassuming, and the locals looked boisterous, happy and full. The two of us had sticks of lamb and chicken wings, wonderfully spiced and grilled, a huge dish of spicy mutton stew served on 'pita-like' bread (thicker to soak up the delicious stew), a whole fish - filleted and deep-fried with sesame seeds coating, a plate of vegetables, sweet lemon-melon strips for dessert downed with 2 bottles of the local Chinese beer (all for Rmb100) (approx S$20). This place definitely passed the 'bloated stage' test!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Unending paths of TianTan - weariness sets in! Posted by Hello

Beijing to the 1st timer - Forbidden City

The next blistering windy morning, we hit Tiananmen Sq and the Forbidden City. At Tiananmen, I'm struck by this awesome sight of long (really really really long) queues of predominantly Chinese tourists waiting in snaking queues to go in to see the corpse of Chairman Mao! Not exactly Communist supporters or fans of the man, we skipped the queues and joined instead the queues into the Forbidden City. The ticketing queues are incredibly long (we waited at least 40 minutes) - did not help with blatant queue-jumpers - remedy: tell them off immediately in a loud voice (rest of people in queue will support u) and queue-jumpers will back off (remember, all Chinese want 'face').

No visitor can ever forget the grandeur of the Forbidden City as he enters the main gate.. if ur a follower of Chinese period drama serials and movies (like 'moi'), images of the yellow roofs, the red walls, the awesome dragon-paths etc. will hit ur senses blind.. I felt a certain familiarity with the images and yet a growing sense of incredulity as I approach the main halls.. fantasized for a moment of being an imperial concubine entering the palace for the first time and clawing my way to being the Empress... unfortunately, brought down to earth too quickly by hubby as being unlikely to qualify as one of the 3,000-harem - hmph!

The FC is reputed to have 9,999 rooms (one short of 10,000 which wld hv signified heaven). We spent at least 5 to 6 hours at the FC, wasn't counting but surely we should have covered at least half?. Most tour contingents do not go into the right-side residential palace built by Qianlong for his retirement fronted by the 9-Dragon Screen, cos' an additional entrance fee is charged but it is worth the fee - place will be less crowded with tourists and u can wander at will. Most of the other rooms in the FC are either locked or have barriers placed at the main entrances, so one can only look from outself after elbowing many others to get a vantage position. But the Qianlong residential palace has one of the residential areas opened and u can actually go into the rooms and see clearly the carvings on the door mantels and paintings on the wall and ceiling. Incredible shit!

They say that a Chinese (local or overseas) will never forget his roots (or fail to be proud of his Chinese history) after he visits the FC. It is true.. I have started reading the history of Chinese dynasties (from the Qin to the Ching) and stories of imperial court intrigue is well.. intrigueing! Between hubby and me, I think we kind of bought up the English editions of the books on the subject of this imperial court history available at our little tourist bookshop back at our hotel.

Beijing to the 1st timer - TianTan

Just came back with hubby from a free & easy trip to Beijing. We believe that exploration of major cities should never be done thru' a packaged tour - naturally we 'hate' to wake up at the crack of dawn for breakfast and be packed into a coach to visit the next tourist trap on the itinerary.

With 6 full days, we really had the luxury of time to explore this city and of course the 'must-sees' - the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.
WARNING: one has to be fairly fit to cover these sites - and bring comfortable light walking shoes (you've probably heard this many times but truly, when your feet starts to develop blisters or to drag - cos' ur wearing some hip but heavy Doc Martens eg - you'll curse urself for being callous with such advice).
We started with TianTan (Temple of Heaven) on the 1st day - tis truly a huge site (definitely bigger than the Forbidden City since the latter is only for the Son of Heaven - the emperor). Apparently in the old days, the emperor's entourage on his visits here included hundreds of 'minions' and elephants as well. U can just imagine how big this place is if elephants are allowed to traipse inside! Photo shows one of the side paths in the grounds of TianTan ... endless, right? There was no way we could tackle anor major site that first day.
NOTE: Do visit the Echo Wall located somewhere in the middle of this entire square, which is a semi-circular wall not unlike the whispering wall in so many other locations in the world, and try it out with a partner. Since the place will probably be filled with tourists, don't bother whispering into the wall - which is what I did (got a earful fr hubby for not using my brain) - talk loudly into the bloody wall and yes, ur other half will actually hear very clearly the echoes of ur speech as it travels down the wall. If too embarrassed to do this in public, dun worry, the local Chinese tourists (well known for their loud voices) will oblige by shouting into the wall and the echoes will reverberate....."Ni Ting Dao Ma? Ni Ting Dao Ma?"

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

newbie in

Heard so much abt blogging, am keen to try it out for myself since it's been touted to be a wonderful way to keep in contact with family and friends. Apart from having to be slightly egotistical (honestly, one has to like the sight of one's own words in published form, right?), blogging will really help 'moi' (i.e. me) ensure that the little things in life (which makes me smile, laugh, sob or be indignant) will not be so easily forgotten amidst my hectic life. Will be sending this out to like-minded friends and relatives and wishing that you guys will also take the time to share your little things in life in this blog. You will no doubt note that this blog is named "eatzy" instead of "itsy", as I am a 'food fan', not fanatic nor gourmet - just pure unadulterated enjoyer of food in any form... so beware, we will hold forth on many discussions on food....home-cooked or otherwise, local, overseas and maybe even out-of-this-world..till the next posting.. remember the little things!