The next morning we woke up and left without eating because we were joining a food tour with Hias Gourmet. I got us up and over there before 9 AM because one email said that it started at 9 AM but all the others (the ones I did not read close enough) said 10 AM. So 9 AM came and our tour guide, Jack, was not there. So I called to see what was going on and woke up the person on the other line because they weren’t actually living in Beijing. That person had given me her number while setting up the tour but then had emailed me my tour guides number to use for issues with the tour. Unfortunately I could not get the emails to come up and her number was the only one I had in front of me. In my defense, it was a Chinese number and I had no clue that would ring anywhere except for China. She was very attentive to my lack of a tour guide and set about making it right. She called the guide to see where he was and then called me back. That was when she confirmed the 10 AM time with me and asked me where I got the 9 AM time from because she wanted to make sure all the documents reflected the correct time. I was not sure then and I still am not sure where I got the time because everything I looked at since has said 10 AM. Which means it was my fault and I woke her up for no good reason but she managed to make me not feel like a total jerk; I liked that. Jack was great because he heard we were there and just hopped on the subway and met up with me and my dad early. So our tour started at 9:30 when he arrived. You should know that the 10 AM start time is chosen because a lot of the places on the tour do not open until 10 AM. So he had to improvise our tour. Luckily our tour guide was able to think on his feet.
Jack asked us about food allergies and whether there was anything we were not interested in trying. We shook our head no and he took us in for a donkey burger. I figure some of you reading this are not super happy about the idea of donkeys being food. Well let me tell you that was definitely something I would eat again. The meat was good and had a little spice to them. It was not a burger in the way you are picturing it. It was pieces of meat in bread that was similar in shape to a portion of a baguette. As Jack took us places he told us stories of the food and history of Beijing and China too. For example, the next stop we had some sweet dessert things and he told us a tale of a woman forced to marry an emperor despite already being married. She had no choice but to do as the emperor requested so she left the man she loved. This man followed her to the city to be close to her, even though he knew he could never see her again. He was a baker and so he set up shop and became well-known and soon he started to be called into provide the Emperor and his new wife delicacies. One of the things he sent was a special desert he had created to tell her that he loved her and he had followed her. So one of the deserts we were eating was a husband’s gift to his lost wife. The story was a good one but the sweet things were unfortunately not my favorite.
Jack took us to a place to have noodles but they were not open yet and then to a place to get a meat bun but it was not open either. See how starting before 10 AM became an issue? At a loss for what to do, albeit temporarily, he took us into the Hutong area and began telling us some history. Hutong is a word that means water well in the Mongolian language but it is used for the small streets that the people lived in. You see Hutongs in Beijing near the Forbidden City. They started in the Yuan Dynasty and lasted through the other dynasties. Growing in numbers until modern times when city planning changed and now they are disappearing. So we were seeing a slice of history as well as everyday life. The Hutongs have small stores of all types: wine store, fruit store, vegetable store, amongst others.
There were also restaurants to get food from. One place had basically turned their home into a stand and you could walk up and order a jianbing. So that is what Jack did he walked up and ordered a jianbing for us. A jianbing is sometimes called a Chinese pancake or a Chinese crepe. My introduction to them was actually in Shenzhen where people I had them with called them Chinese breakfast. So a jianbing is a crispy thin crepe that happens to be savory. They put the batter on a spinning griddle and then use a wooden tool to spread it across the surface. Then they crack an egg on top and spread it around the surface of the crepe to help make it durable. Then they sprinkle it with green onions and shortly after that take it off the spinner. Then if you like spicy they put two sauces on it one of which is spicy and they put lettuce and a crunchy wanton in the middle and fold it up like a burrito. It is crunchy and spicy and ridiculously good. Apparently there are various versions of this but all the ones I have had were like this. I was hooked before the food tour and I continue to be hooked now. It is so good that it is actually something you can get an Americanized version of In the US (meaning way more money and probably somehow horribly unhealthy). I love jianbing!
Jack took us to a wine place and explained the interesting jugs and then had us try a sample of wine. It sort of reminded me of a port and I actually kind of liked it. I do know that I love the idea of going into a wine store and having them ladle out some wine into a plastic container and sending you on your way. I am not sure this is how it works but I kind of thought it might.
We continued our tour and stopped for interesting bits of historical information. We learned that the entrance to a home has a hallway that ends with a wall and you have to go left or right to be in the courtyard. This is a defense against spirits apparently spirits can only travel straight and can not manage to turn. So it is a spirit wall basically. We also learned that they had barriers at the base of the front door to keep spirits out as well. You would have had to step over that base board when you enter. There was a lot of information about how doors and the door bases symbolized rank in the old world. It was interesting stuff and I would love to continue telling you what I learned but I took too long writing this and I have forgotten a lot of it.
Our next stop was a restaurant for these things that looked like meat in a tortilla. Think it was pork and it was great. We gobbled that down and then he took us over to have some bread from the Muslim Chinese vendors. I put most of that in my camera bag for later. It was nice but not super flavorful or interesting. I would want to eat it with something else. As we continued our tour he told us about Yanjing beer being the beer of Beijing. I stared at a house with mannequins stored on the roof.
Then we tried a desert typically eating during the dragon boat festival. It was sticky rice with various things in it and was slightly sweet. I was not a fan. I was also a getting kind of full by this point. We headed back towards the area we came from utilizing a different route. We found ourselves in the restaurant with the meat bun. They were good but a little messy. Then we had the noodles at the other restaurant and I was stuffed and ready to tell him no more food but luckily the food tour was over. Jack gave us some tips on where to get some shirts for my dad that would be close to our next stop, Temple of Heaven.
We got to Temple of Heaven and were offered some help from a guy who had grown up in Beijing but had moved to Canada. He was back for the first time in years and trying to visit his old school with a hazy recollection. He was very nice and pointed us in the right direction. He was pretty darn tall which was remarkable only because he was Chinese and that is a rare trait.
Temple of Heaven can be found in the Temple of Heaven park. The place is huge. The historical sites in Beijing that I visited all seemed huge. Lots of land dedicated to them. Anyway we entered a side gate that was not the Main Gate. I mention this because when I bought the audio guide it told me the ideal order was coming from the main gate. I wouldn’t mention this had it not caused a little confusion as I walked the grounds. My dad and I only got one because we figured we could play it again for the other person. The thing we found out was that the audio triggers based off location. I am sure something near where we were told it to play some part of the guide but I never discovered what it was. The other thing I learned was that there was no rewind nor anyway to get the information to replay again. So I tried to fill him in as much as possible.
The first hiccup I ran into was that a recording started playing saying I had reached the end and that I should return it for the deposit back. So we walked back over to where we rented it to get help and the guy was sure I was crazy. He handed it back made some gestures and sent me on my way. I was confused but seemed to get that it was working and that I should go explore. Our first stop caused us to have to show our passport and get a second ticket. It happened to be a sacrifice room called the Palace of Immolation and the recording told me all about a relatively alarming and slightly too detailed way animals were sacrificed in the room. It involved beating it a lot and cutting its throat. The middle of the building had a rectangular shaped hole in the ground that they would hang the sacrifice at before slitting its throat. They also cleaned it there and took the fur off. I was kind of confused as to what happened to the sacrifice later. I do know that from there it was taken along a covered walkway to its next destination the Kitchen for Sacrifice. It eventually made it to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests along the same covered walkway. I am not sure what was done with the sacrifice after that but I do know that it was sacrificed to insure a good harvest. As we left the Palace of Immolation the air started causing me to sneeze a lot. There was a lot of pollen in the air and also it seemed the holiday was over because the smog was slowly filtering back in. So I was sporting a face mask for the rest of the visit.
Our next stop was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and it is a place you see on covers of guidebooks. It is amazing and grand. Apparently there was no nails used in the construction. It was originally built in 1420 and has been renovated a few times since.
Then we walked across a long bridge and I had strange messages that talked about places I had already passed, you know because I was going through the place backwards. It got kind of confusing and I soon stopped really listening to it. The next stop was the Imperial Vault of Heaven. This is where the tablets for the ceremony are stored.
Then we headed to the Circular Mound Altar. There are several circular platforms stacked up and there are a certain number of stairs (I think it was 9) leading to each platform as you climb to the top. The audio guide explained the significance of all of it as well as the importance of the 4 entrances but that info has escaped me.
I was ready to go by this point because my feet were killing me. So we headed back the way we came because the subway was there and across the street was the shopping area our guide from the food tour had recommended.
We crossed the street and entered the Hongqiao Market. Apparently this is known as the pearl market and those in the market for pearls can go upstairs and find pearls. Strangely every time someone told me about this market I would ask if they meant the pearl market and they would get exasperated explaining that it has more than just pearls. I assumed it was more than pearls because people were usually referencing it when I asked where I could go to get items that had nothing to do with pearls. Anyway Hongqiao Market is in a tall building that looks like it might be a mall until you get inside. There you have various stalls open and aggressively trying to get your attention. I wanted to see about getting a phone card that my dad could use so I let him wander in search of shirts. I struck out pretty quick and went to find him standing looking at some shirts. I encouraged him to go in and bargain. I also helped him out a little bit and he bought some cool shirts. With his wardrobe restocked with shirts we headed back to the hostel. I had mistakenly paid through that night even though we were leaving on a train. This meant we could go back relax and get a shower before heading to the train station. Vince joined us there and after a while we headed to the station. We decided to eat at Mr. Lee’s diner near the train station and the food was okay. Then we went in and saw the craziest busiest train terminal I have ever seen. They had a lot of food choices inside and I was sorry that we hadn’t eaten there. We waited until the train was called, we found our car, we boarded, stored our bags, and shortly after leaving the station we were all asleep.