Another farewell to Beijing
By Philip Jägenstedtfoolip. Monday, June 7, 2010 9:17:59 AM
This isn't the first time I've said goodbye to Beijing. Last time I'd been here for 1.5 years, while this time was only 3 months. Ever since I left last I always wanted to come back, so when I finally got the chance to come here on Opera's Bridge the World program, I jumped on it without hesitation. How delightful it has been to once again walk these streets, speak this language and eat this food. I haven't missed Sweden the slightest bit. This is far from paradise on earth, but this city is alive!
This is what I wrote last time I said my farewell, and it still captures quite well how I feel:
Usually when listing Beijing's good qualities, one would mention the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Beijing Opera, Beijing Duck and other traditional symbols. The Great Wall sure is Great and the summer palace is magnificent, but the things that leave the biggest impression on me are the small things. Buying roasted chestnuts on the street, analyzing Chinese grammar in the classroom, eating Korean food in Wudaokou, strolling around at Houhai with my girlfriend (now wife), watching Jiang Wen's newest film at the cinema, singing Jay Chou at karaoke – this is my Beijing.
For the benefit of future visitors to Beijing, I present my Best of Beijing. First things first. Everyone must eat, and in Beijing it's a pure pleasure:
- Xiangguo (香锅) is ingredients of your own choosing fried in a big pot together with plenty of red peppers, Sichuan pepper (花椒), garlic and some other magic ingredients. This is without a doubt my favorite food on the planet. I recommend the chain Chuanchengyuan (川成元), particularly the restaurant in Shuangjing (双井). Best served with a glass of Suanmeitang (酸梅汤).
- Hot pot (火锅) is a bit similar to Xiangguo in that you pick the ingredients yourself, but this time you boil it yourself in a soup base of your choosing (麻辣 or 酸辣 is best) and then dip it in a thick sesame sauce (麻酱). Among my favorite ingredients are fried tofu-skin (炸豆皮), gluten balls (面筋), potatoes, mushrooms (particularly 金针菇) and corn.
- Shredded potato (土豆丝) is great, particularly the deep-fried kind (香辣土豆丝) which I have unfortunately never found outside of Wudaokou (五道口) for some reason.
- Congee (粥) is a kind of rice porridge that comes in many flavors. If you're Korean, watch out for the Coriander (香菜).
- Dumplings (饺子) is kind of everyday food, but it's really great. Best served with Chinese vinegar (老醋). The fried kind are great too!
- Hong Kong style deserts, especially various combinations of mango and coconut. I recommend Honeymoon Dessert (满记甜品) or Bellagio (鹿港小镇), both at Shinkong Place (新光天地).
Eating isn't the only thing you can do in Beijing, however:
- If you only visit one old place in Beijing, it should be the Summer Palace (颐和园), not the Forbidden City (where everything looks the same).
- If you go to a park in the morning or evening, you can see people dancing or doing aerobics of some sort. I don't recommend joining in, but just watching it is a bit unreal simply because of how badly some people dance without showing any sign of embarrassment or restraint.
- KTV is what karaoke is usually called. No alcohol is required to have fun, but reading Traditional Chinese is required to sing (because almost all good Chinese music is made in Hong Kong and Taiwan).
- Chinese cinema has a lot to offer. The most awesome cinema I've been to (in the world) is the 当代MOMA Broadway Cinematheque. They show unfamous films by unfamous Chinese directors and is ridiculously artsy-fartsy, with the entrance being a bookstore/cafe.
- The "old goods" market in Panjiayuan (潘家园旧货市场) is full of cheap copies and scammers. Still, it is much more fun than the crowded in-door "market" in Silk Street (秀水) where most tourists go.
- Laoshe's Tea House (老舍茶馆) has a kind of variety performance with the best of various kinds of traditional Chinese art forms. Sitting through a whole performance of Beijing Opera would drive anyone mad, but seeing just a bit of it at Laoshe's is actually quite enjoyable. It's targeted only a foreigners, but it's good anyway. Bian lian (变脸) is some awesome stuff!
I could keep on praising China for quite a bit more without exaggerating, but I can't finish on solely a positive note. Last time I left China I was very optimistic about the future. Beijing is such a modern city and it's not difficult to assume that it and the country as a whole will continue to develop and slowly become more civilized. Unfortunately, some things have gotten much worse in the last two years. Censorship of the net has become considerably more noticeable, something that happened around the 60th anniversary of the PRC and then just didn't go back to normal. Apart from the Great Firewall there is also an army of human operators actively monitoring and filtering any user-generated content. Together with self-censorship (of which I am guilty) it is surprisingly effective. Anything or anyone that is not harmonious (和谐) will be harmonized (被和谐) and will never have existed. Censorship works and I really don't see how significant change will come about anytime soon. I only hope that in my lifetime I will be able to visit a China which has done away with all of this nonsense.
Despite its flaws, I still love Beijing and China. Many thanks to Opera Software and Bridge the World for letting me enjoy Beijing once more! I will be back. 我一定会回来！
P.S. I don't have my pictures on this computer, I will update this post or make a separate post when I have them!