“Raindrops on roses ans whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with strings. These are a few of my favourite things,” sings Maria in The Sound of Music.
This line (quite obviously seared into my memory from childhood!) popped into my head in Beijing last week. If you’re new to my blog, you may not know yet that I lived in Beijing for almost 10 years – and I love it. In many ways, its also home.
We took a family trip up to Beijing last week, although a working holiday – where I got to work out of my company’s office in Beijing and see my colleagues – it was the first time we took our daughter back since we moved, so it was a homecoming of sorts for her.
Long story short, my daughter was born there and I’m American and her Dad is British. She’s only ever lived in China or Singapore and Chinese was her first language for 3 years. Basically, if you ask her where she is from, she’ll say Beijing. Usually a little white girl with curly hair claiming to be from Beijing is met with belly laughs from whoever is asking her (usually Singaporean taxi drivers) – until she busts out her native mandarin.
We were staying with family friends last week – who deserve a medal for putting us up aka putting up with us. Their son is a year older than my daughter, they grew up together and she affectionately calls him big brother (in Chinese). While the point of the trip was primarily to see them, get the kids together, catch up with friends and take Niamh back to Beijing – I still somehow had a detailed mental list of all the things I wanted to do/buy/eat. And the list was MASSIVE.
Where to begin…
So when I realized there wasn’t enough time to do it all – a sad moment, I admit – I had to focus on a few of my favourite things…
And here they are.
These line the streets – yes they’re sticky exterior is exposed to the windy, polluted Beijing elements. So just don’t think about that, and enjoy.
Good (and cheap!) beer, this 22 oz size usually retails for about 3 kuai – or 50 cents. You know what else is great? Almost every other Chinese beer! Beijing Beer, Tsingtao Beer, Harbin Beer, etc etc. And I love the small beer cups for quick shooter style consumption. Cheers and drain your cup is the name of the game – if you can’t hang, hire a professional to drink for you. Seriously, some execs keep them on staff.
I miss ?? “renao” dining experiences. Renao is made up of two characters, the first meaning hot/heated and the second meaning noise. Together they basically mean a lively atmosphere – but I think a better translation is happy noise because volume is key to a renao environment. Like this Lao Beijing (old Beijing) restaurant we went to – packed on a random mid-week lunch. A feast of 4 shared dishes plus two bowls of noodles and drinks cost 50 RMB – about $8.50. No wonder people are so psyched for lunch. It’s also where VP Biden ate so I felt very in the loop. Kudos to him for going somewhere truly local.
Xinjiang style cumin and chilli spiced lamb skewers – there really isn’t anything else like it. One of the best ‘ethnic minority’ cuisines.
Because its funny to see all those bare bottoms when its freezing out and they are bundled up beyond belief, except for where it really counts! The padded outfits and rosy cheeks (on the face!) are too cute.
Hutongs, or the traditional old alleyways, simply make me happy. I can’t explain it, I just love them. I love walking down them, eating in small local places, finding historic markings, cool shops…
I love the old 798 factory, which has been converted into an art district, complete with galleries, publishing houses, cafés, shops, bars and creative spaces. Its rapidly becoming very commercial, but the point is Beijing has a great underground vibe. Great art, up and coming music and such.
I know its cliché - but I love the Great Wall. It never ceases to be impressive. I would literally pay to not have to go to the Forbidden City again, its exhausting. But I just at every chance to go to the Wall. We missed on this trip as Niamh got sick, and I’m a little bit heartbroken. I wanted a Great Wall Christmas card…