In Beijing yet again. Despite only living here for six weeks back in 2014, between that tie and my various visits, I actually know the city fairly well, even better than Harbin at some point. It’s just a very logically laid out city, and the subway makes it easy to get around and get an idea of the scope of things.
Got in and went to 798 which is a former factory site that turned into Beijing’s trendy art district about a decade ago. It’s been through many incarnations since, and is now a collection of museums, galleries, studios, trendy shops, and restaurants.
Also saw this one exhibit featuring copper sculptures. I really love the replica Chinese landscape.
Strolled around for a couple hours with one of the other Fulbrighters who’s graciously providing me with a place to stay, then went to get some roast lamb in Houhai (the big lake behind the forbidden city). It’s this restaurant that Rachel (the Fulbrighter’s) family has been coming to for years, and was originally independently operated by a Hui family, but has become fully government owned apparently. Ordered a roast lamb plate and mushroom soup, paired with some thick sesame bread. And ohmygod was it delicious. I don’t know what they did, but that lamb (thin sliced, haunch I believe) was amazingly succulent, bursting with flavor, and not that fatty at all. Huge burst of flavor with every bite, and I never got used to it which made it all the better.
Went from there to meet Pabs at my favorite bar, Mao Mao Chong, for cocktails, because I can’t come to this city without going there. I started with a pandan daquiri, simply pandan-infused rum, pandan syrup, and lime juice with a lemon twist. It was one of the most interesting drinks I’ve ever had though. It opens very strong and citrus-y, a little too much, but then changes to a much softer mouthfeel and leaves you with a really heavy pandan flavor, which reminded me of the Hong Kong egg-puff waffles I used to eat as a kid at the Asian mall. For those who haven’t tasted pandan or who have no idea what it is, it’s called “screw pine” and has a whole truckload of awesome uses, including being able to reduce fever, relieve indigestion and flatulence, serve cardio-tonic, and a laxative. It’s used in dishes all over south, south-east, and east Asia, and is soooooooomewhat reminiscient of vanilla. Not really, it’s hard to describe. Give it a taste next time you can.
Anywho, my second drink was the “Iron Curtain”, which was dark rum, spiced rum, bitters, lime juice, and mint. Great blend and super tasty. An expensive day, but so so great.
The next day was a bit chill. I did some homework, picked up my train ticket to Shenyang, met Lydia for lunch outside her work, then went to Great Leap Brewing, which I believe was Beijing’s and possibly China’s first craft brewery. It’s situated in a hutong (alley) with a cute little courtyard and twenty taps. Rachel and I split a flight that from right to left consisted of their Imperial Pumpkin Ale, East City Porter, Liu the Brave Stout, and the Three Door Tripel.
The pumpkin was the least distinctive of them. Not overly “imperial” and the pumpkin wasn’t super noticeable, but tasty.
The porter was pretty awesome. Smooth and with just the right amount of smoke. I normally prefer sweet or coffee porters, but a slight smoke is certainly not unwelcome. I just don’t like feeling like I’m drinking a campfire.
The stout, which was nitro, apparently comes in masala chai among other varieties, but this was the normal one. It’s in the style of Guiness, but better. It’s sweet, with a bit of nut to it, smooth, and silky. Rachel, who had been to the Guiness factory in Dublin, said one option they give you is to mix your free pint of Guiness with a bit of black currant syrup that brings the whole experience together. This didn’t need the syrup she said.
Lastly was my favorite, the Three Door Tripel, which gave me an instant smile the moment I sipped it. Super smooth for a 10% tripel, really strong honey notes with some faint stonefruit undertones. My favorite despite the bug that fell into it. (Bonus protein!)
Went back to northwest Beijing where Rachel’s grandparents’ apartment is for some sushi, and ended up eating far too much Japanese food (salt grilled mackerel, tempura, delish).
Last day in Beijing was super chill. Went to 颐和园（yi he yuan, ee huh yuan) which is the second summer palace, the one that wasn’t sacked by the British during the Second Opium War. It was built for the Dowager Empress Cixi, and is capital G Gorgeous. It’s got a big temple on a hill, a massive lake, and willows for days. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but we did meet the coolest grandpa ever on roller skates. If I work as hard as I can, wear nothing but leather and studs and set my hair on fire I will never be a tenth as cool or as hardcore as this guy.
Oh, lastly, one picture is of the stone boat that the Dowager Empress built with money earmarked to develop China’s navy. That worked out great for them. The last picture is of Suzhou street (Suzhou is a city just south of Shanghai). If you’re familiar with how Marie Antoinette had a shepherd’s cottage built on Versailles palace grounds so she could pretend to be a normal person (who ate hella cake), it’s like that but more. The area is a full replica of a canal street in Suzhou that was staffed with actors where the emperor could go to indulge in his fantasies of being a merchant.
In the downtime, I managed to watch all of “The Night Manager” which is a new British miniseries that stars Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie. It’s based of a book by John La Carre, who also wrote the spy novel that got turned into “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. I found it quite enjoyable, but given my parents’ influence I found a couple continuity errors and writing moments that strained the suspension of disbelief. Overall worth the watch if you have access to it. Nice to see Tom Hiddelston play something not a villain, and great to see Hugh Laurie play one quite well.
One last post coming up some time soon about the last day. Love y’all!