Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sightseeing in Beijing

We had one day of sightseeing in Beijing.  It was fun, long, and left me flossing grasshopper legs out of my teeth.

Since we saw the Great Wall last time, we toured Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and a tea ceremony with the two other couples adopting through CHSFS with us.  Then, for supper, Ben and I ventured out on our own for some adventure eating.

Tiananmen Square was enormous, but fairly empty.  There weren’t any special events going on and it was pretty cold.  Our guide pointed out Chairman Mao’s tomb and told how his embalmed body rises and falls at the same time as the large flag in the square.  I had a morbid desire to see him, and the line was really pretty short, but we wouldn’t have had time to get to everything else we had planned.  So I didn’t suggest it.

The Forbidden City was amazing.  We went through several gates.  Each time we thought “Wow!  This is amazing!”  only to hear that we hadn’t even gotten past the outer courtyards.  This complex stretched on seemingly forever, with every surface ornately carved and painted.

Our guide was amazing (as were all our guides last time).  She did a wonderful job telling us stories about some of the emperors, empresses, and other leaders. 

The Summer Palace was beautiful!  I am going to believe that the incredible level of pollution in the city contributed to the hazy ambiance.  There was one moment in particular, where the sun was beautiful, a man was singing to violin music, and we watched people playing on the ice of a huge man-made lake (next to a “stay off ice” sign). 
After the Summer Palace, which felt significantly colder than the rest of Beijing, we went to a tea house and they showed us a tea ceremony.  I realize the presentation was canned and that it only existed to get us to try, and ultimately buy, their tea, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I happily bought some tea, too.

After this, we parted ways from our travel group and guide and Ben and I went to Wangfujiang Street.  This is also known as “snack street” and has many different kinds of street food and snacks – some delicious and popular.  Others not so much.  Imagine if you will, a sort of state fair, but instead of pickles, or cotton candy, or hot dogs on a stick, there are lots of bugs on sticks.

And we ate the bugs.  Heaven help us – we ate lots of bugs.

We started out with scorpion on a stick.  This was what Ben had been looking forward to most.  There are usually three or four of these little critters impaled on a stick.  These are deep fried and seasoned.  You eat them whole, stingers and all.  I’m going to admit it, they weren’t too shabby.  I’d eat them again.

Next we ate seahorse.  These came one to a stick.  I apparently broke protocol when I ate mine because I found out afterward they are intended for men to help them feel, um, manly, if you know what I mean.  These were crunchy and okay. 

Next was snake.  The guy selling them told me what kind of snake, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  The snakeness of it wasn’t so bad, rather chewy.  However, he put an awful lot of hot seasoning on it and my mouth was burning.  We didn’t see anyone selling bottled beverages nearby, so we were eating all these “delicacies” without benefit of rinsing our mouth out between courses.

Here is where the food sampling goes decidedly downhill.  Next up was silk worm cocoons.  These were not my favorite.  When you bite into it, the outside shell cracks open to a burst of baby worm guts.  Kind of an explosion of nastiness in your mouth.  I found out later from our guide that you aren’t supposed to eat the shell.  I am not sure if that would have helped or not.

Down the hatch, Mr. Silkworm.

I ate one of these cicadas.

Next up was cicadas.  These were deep fried and seasoned.  These are supposed to be eaten whole, head, antennae and all.  They weren’t great either, but not as nasty as the silk worm.  I could tell we were branching out into deep culinary waters when even the locals would stop and watch us eat, grimacing at the idea of themselves eating it.

Grasshoppers were next.  These were fried. I swear I felt an eyeball with my tongue.  Feeling a grasshopper eyeball with your tongue isn’t as fun as it sounds.  Trust me.  The grasshopper wasn’t horrible.  It tasted like my lawn.  Or rather, it tasted like my lawn would taste if the kids didn’t trample all the grass to death.

Mmmm.   Grasshopper.

For the grand finale, we had scorpion again.  Not the little cute little scorpions we started with, but a giant beast of an insect about the size of my hand from the bottom of my palm to my fingertips.  It was black and had enormous claws that could have probably cut off my finger.  It looked menacing.  

We ate the scorpion, but will have to save the starfish, lizzard and centipede for another trip.

Ben ate the first scorpion. We weren’t quite sure how to eat it, so he started chomping on it whole, like the small ones we ate.  That was not quite right, though, and he had to spit out the outer shell.  When I was up, I peeled open his abdomen like you would a shrimp, and ate the innards.  They were not good.  I will repeat, not good. 

We finished off the eating with some absolutely delicious steamed buns and potstickers.  On our way walking back to our hotel, we saw what appeared to be a flash mob of elderly Chinese people dancing in a line on the sidewalk.  No, this was not the traditional tai chi movements so common in the morning.  This was a boom box led sort of congo line.  I had an incredible urge to join them, but was afraid I would mess up whatever they had planned next.  

These were downright delicious!

Instead, I got back to the hotel, flossed the grasshopper leg from my teeth, and brushed them excessively.  I popped a Pepto Bismol tablet and headed for bed.

1 comment:

Mike and Katie said...

I've been thinking of you! It's so exciting that Levi will be in your arms soon! We baked a few grasshoppers from our yard the fall before last. Olive oil, salt and then covered in chocolate. I never tried them but Amanda said, "Tastes like chicken!" Ha ha! She ate several before they were covered in chocolate. I wonder if she would be so adventurous now.