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Day 108 – Beijing’s Stumbled Upon Treasures (Last Night in Beijing?)

June 19, 2010

Dateline: Beijing, China – Saturday, June 19, 2010

Getting lost coming out of subways is really easy. It’s even worse when you can’t remember which subway station need to go to. That’s the scenario today when April and I tried to find Din Tai Fung for lunch. I’d been there before, but for some reason I couldn’t get the subway station right this time around. This was especially frustrating since I was hungry.

There was one upside. We stumbled across one of the iconic, funky office buildings in Beijing. Unfortunately, I don’t know it’s name [Ed. China Central Television Headquarters], but I do know that it’s famous.

In the end, I figured out where we needed to be and we settled in to gorge on dumplings, steamed buns, and dessert. The dumplings were delicious, but the desserts were the two highlights. One was a mountain of finely shaved ice, various tapioca balls, beans, and fruit. Apparently, shaved ice is a “thing” now in the U.S. One of the signs of the good stuff is that the ice is smooth and not crunchy. You’re not supposed to be able to bite it; it’s just supposed to quickly melt in your mouth. This stuff was just that. It also was gigantic. I really liked it. Sweet, cold, with a bit of substance from the beans and a bit of sticky gooeyness from the rice balls. Perfect for a hot day.

The other dessert was red bean paste mini-dumplings. Very tasty, even if a bit on the sweet side. The paste was incredibly smooth. Unlike typical dim sum red bean paste, there were no chunks of red bean floating around. I ate more than I should have.

Afterwards, I jetted off to switch hotels to a nicer place for my last night in Beijing. Proper toilet, private shower, and no roommates. Occasionally you just have to treat yourself.

From, there dinner with Max and his girlfriend. Max lives in Western-style apartments which, as far as I can tell, means that construction is a bit better, the places tend to have hard wood, and the bathrooms have Western toilets. Most of the residents are actually Chinese—a mix of families, older people, and young adults.

Max and Karina were fantastic hosts, putting on a meal of lettuce wraps, fall off the bone ribs, and a “big ass salad” (Max’s term). We ate it all. The meal proved, once again, that the best meals are home cooked. Fancy restaurants are nice and all, but good ingredients, home prep, and good hospitality make eating at a home that much better. Food is context, really. A hearty stew, after a beautiful, long hike, tastes much better than fine cheese and wine after you’ve just had a fight with your girlfriend. Context is the reason why restaurants work so hard on ambiance and presentation. You might not think it, but that sprig of parsley can make a good dish great and a bad dish okay.

Afterwards, we watched World Cup and tried to put together a puzzle that Karina and Max had started four months prior. We made progress, but didn’t come close to finishing it.

The evening wasn’t without its surprises, though. Max’s bathroom has an odd feature. The bathroom adjoins the bedroom. The adjoining wall is made of floor to ceiling glass. The whole wall. The only thing separating you from eternal infamy is a drawn curtain that—get this—is on the bedroom side of the wall. If Max weren’t such a nice guy, he could watch someone walk into the bathroom to do their business then, while that person relaxed in pseudo-peace, throw back the curtain and watch chaos ensue.

It has to be one of the strangest apartment features ever. I can’t think of why someone would do this other than for kinky reasons. I also think the feature would result in more “bad” sightings than “good” moments. What if the curtain accidentally fell down when your parents or grandparents were visiting. Remember, it’s not like they’re just going to sit there. More than likely there will be panic, which means running around, which means you’ll see some things you just can’t unsee.

Not a bad finish to Beijing. It really exemplified the favorite parts of my time here. Good friends, good food, some weird unexpected stuff, all off the tourist track.

Tomorrow, though, I’m back firmly on the tourist trail. It’s the night train to Xian and I get to see me some Terra Cotta Warriors.

GALLERY: Nothing but the pics from above. Feel free to click through though if you want a closer look or if you prefer a slide show.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2010 10:29 pm

    My hotel in Kuala Lumpur (Da Nice Inn – really!) had that exact sort of bathroom arrangement…..except that the curtain was where it belongs – on the inside of the bathroom’s (completely glass) wall.

    Either the Chinese are genuinely kinky, or someone made a serious error reading the plans.

    • June 27, 2010 4:47 am

      I really wish I could talk to the architect. This kind of thing warrants an explanation.

  2. Max permalink
    July 2, 2010 6:54 pm

    Hey Mervin, I finally got around to reading up on your adventures in my new home town. It was great seeing you again after a few years. I’m glad you had some memorable experiences, and enjoyed the food.

    Oh and by the way Carina spells her English name with “C”. Just wanted to add that little tidbit to solidify the factual accuracy of what’s been a really interesting and entertaining blog.

    Come back and visit any time :0)

    • July 6, 2010 1:31 am

      Thanks for the correction. My apologies to Carina. 🙂

      Look forward to seeing you on my next China visit. I’m sure the next time I see your new hometown it will be completely different. Can’t wait.

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