Our last day in Beijing. Up at 8a, packed, enjoyed our breakfast, then boarded the tourbus.
We stopped to shop at a popular Beijing shopping center for a couple of hours and instead of going into one of the many modern buildings, we walked until we stumbled upon a busy local marketplace. Dozens of touristy giftshops and Chinese street-food stands lined the narrow alley while lanterns hung happily above the heads of the locals and tourists that filled in any empty space below.
While we were tired of seeing the same touristy goods sold in all of the shops, the street-food sparked much interest.
Sure there was candied grapes, deep fried ice cream, skewered chicken, and different kinds of dim sum, but we were more intrigued by the skewered live scorpions, seahorses, caterpillars, tarantulas, snake meat, frog legs and donkey meat. First Courtney ate snails, then the two girls from Tempe ate seahorses, and then the 4 of us ate snake. It wasn't bad at all, it was seasoned and tasted like chicken.
After a quick stop at our first sighting of a Starbucks, we boarded the tour bus and headed to the city center. Here we rode rickshaws through the tight and windy hutongs ( narrow roads that are less than 9 meters wide ) which were packed with tiny shops and homes.
Most of these homes are very old, run-down spaces that once belonged to the wealthy, were seized by the government, and now, in most cases 5 families will live in one of these homes which are called Si He Yuan in Mandarin. Families live in these homes for years, passing them down generation after generation. Because of their location, at the very center of Beijing, these very small (think 2 door garage size) spaces are worth $5,000,000 US dollars...each. Unless the families have money, which most don't, there is no toilet in the house. There is a shared toilet for the community every couple of feet, and electricity is about $80 US dollars a year per home. I have to admit that I did not expect to see the degree of poverty that we did riding through those hutongs, it was a hard pill to swallow.
That said you can imagine the way I first felt when we stopped to have lunch at one of these homes. Mr. and Mrs. Liu's home to be exact, their family has lived in this particular space for over 5 generations.
Mrs. Liu prepared fried vegetable balls, bean sprouts, leek shoots, rice, carrots and potatoes, steamed pork potstickers and chicken with celery while Mr. Liu told us about his family and made sure our glasses were always full of beer. This was by far my favorite meal in China. It was so fresh and homemade, I loved listening to Mr. Liu as he told us about him (he went to school with Jet Li and taught Kung-Fu his whole life), his son who teaches Kung-Fu in Houston and has won many awards, and about the history of his home.
Full and content we all said goodbye and boarded the bus for the airport.
A sad goodbye to Vicky, a quick 2 hour flight to Xian, and there we are at the Titan Times Hotel...it was AMAZING! Traveling with Rewards Travel China was SO easy. They planed our entire day, checked us into and out of airports, flights and our hotels, we got to cut lines and we never had to worry about transportation or where we're going to eat next. It truly makes for such a carefree trip, especially in a foreign country where you don't know the language, city or culture-- but I digress....
Jax and I sat next to a software engineer from a more rural part of China on our flight to Xian. We were the first Americans that he had ever spoke to! His name is Lee, and he has been practicing English since middle school. He was very eager to speak English and excitedly talked to us the entire flight. Lee was extremely nice and his English was quite impressive.