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Mongolia to China. The Final Chapter


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To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

Just a quick final report on my time in Beijing, for purposes of closure and sharing-of-photos . . .

Checking into the creatively named Beijing Hotel was a delicious (no, really) luxury. By the time J and I had showered ("shower" doesn't do justice to the offerings at the Beijing Hotel: the entire Australian Olympic swim team could have trained in the enormous tub in the adjoining room, while watching Chinese soap operas and sipping the jasmine or green teas provided to every guest), and satisfied our instincts to wrap ourselves up in the plush robes and terry slippers in the closet, the trials and tribulations of Mongolia were already fading into a rosy light.

Our first stop was the Forbidden City. En route, we walked past Tianamen Square but decided against starting any protests -- after all, J only had this one day, which didn't allow much play in the schedule for altercations with law enforcement officials. We wanted to spend the bulk of our time exploring Mao's legacy (or at least the pretty part of it). We decided to go with the audio tour. Pierce Brosnan was our audio guide. Oh, how very! He kept talking about history and such, and all I could think was "Bond, James Bond."

We spent hours upon hours viewing the opulence that Mao had enjoyed -- and we also engaged in a healthy amount people watching. It was Saturday so there were many more Chinese tourists out and about than Westerners. Before we entered the Forbidden City, we lined up alongside the Chinese tourists to have our photo taken with the enormous picture of Chairman Mao that hangs from the outside of the City's wall. First I took J's picture, then she took mine. Then we wanted one of us together. (We were at this point fully embracing our inner tourists.) This is when things started to unfold as in a silent movie. J asked a family of Chinese tourists, by gesturing to herself and the camera, if they would take a picture of us. Hey, I understood it, but apparently the universal international sign-language for "please take a photo of us" hasn't made it to China yet. Before we knew it, the Chinese tourist-in-chief had, with military precision, rounded up his whole family and put them in a photograph with J. Then, he took several photos of his family with her, not for her.

Further gesturing was successful, though: after we repeatedly pointed to ourselves, Chairman Mao, and our cameras, a light-bulb went off in the kind fellow's head and he took a picture of me and J together in front of the Chairman.

Later in the week, I ascertained -- after seeing it happen a few times -- that Western tourists are considered an exotic-enough curiosity (and us, a blonde and a redhead no less) that the Chinese tourists have a widespread desire to have their photos taken with us.

We stumbled upon a night market, although it was really a late-afternoon market because it got into full swing at about 4:00pm. The market consisted of a lineup of about forty booths selling all sorts of Chinese delights. While I hadn't burned out my camera battery at the Forbidden City (as most other tourists might do), I feared that this would be the end of my "juice" for the trip. The market was so fascinating. I couldn't take enough photos -- there must have been 500 different food-on-a-stick items on offer. After Mongolia, the selection made me drool almost uncontrollably -- even if it was over skewered starfish and scorpions. Here are just a few examples. If you know what's good for you, you'll skip very quickly over the last photo-on-a-stick here:

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My plan was to walk the entire length of the line of booths, see what looked good, and make my selections on the return. But J had no patience for my methodical plan and after we passed the fourth or fifth booth she thrust her camera at me and said "can you hold this?" and laid down her Yuan to get herself some steaming hot dumplings. I could hear her emitting little sounds of pleasure (grunts, squeals, etc. -- she was like something out of one of Ruth Reichl's restaurant reviews, the proverbial moaning lady at the next table; "I'll have what she's having," sorry to mix references . . .) as she scarfed down her dumplings. It was after 4:00pm and we had hardly had a bite to eat all day (J slept through the meal on our return flight to Beijing, and I can tell you from experience that she didn't miss much). Okay, dive right in. That's one way to do it.

I walked on and next thing I knew, J was gesturing to the guy at a moo shoo pancake (or something similar) booth. I didn't even have time to snap a picture. Before I could react, the guy had pulled the crepe-sized pancake off the hot metal griddle and, in the blink of an eye, he ran a spatula of some kind of plum sauce derivative (it was wonderfully spicy) across the pancake and then scooped a selection of steaming sauteed julienne vegetables into the pancake's center. He wrapped it up and handed it off to her in a few quick movements. Too fast for me to take even a single picture of the process (luckily, more customers came along shortly).

Now I could hear J grunting full-throttle and, with the sauce dripping down her hand, she gestured to me and said "you should try this -- this is a good one and it's all vegetables." (My multiple mutton encounters in Mongolia were pushing me dangerously close to a relapse into vegetarianism.) I tried to take a dainty bite but found that a thin line of sauce was dripping down my chin. Before I finished chewing, I gestured to the guy -- yeah, I'll take one of these too.

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J and I continued down the row and back up again to the beginning. I bought some melon-on-a-stick. This would be one of my mainstays over the course of the next week -- but I grossly overpaid at the market (the prices were posted) 5Y as opposed to the 1Y I later paid on street corners all over the city. I didn't know or care at the time, though. Ignorance was bliss and the cantaloupe-like melon was delicious.

We had just enough time to hurry down the main shopping mall, past all of the McDonald's, KFC, and Starbuck's stores that were interspersed with the local Chinese shops and chains, and back to our hotel for another quick shower, a few laps in the tub, and cup of Jasmine tea before our big event of the day . . .

J has a Chinese friend in Australia whose very best childhood friends live in Beijing. While Cunxin has not seen his "brothers" for many years, he urged J to contact them upon our arrival. The wife of "the Bandit" (as I understand it, Cunxin's best friend and blood brother from his youth) was the English speaker so she had made the arrangements with J to pick us up at our hotel and take us to the restaurant they had selected for dinner.

Nothing about that evening could have been better. The company was delightful, the weather was perfect, we sat at a large table with a lazy susan in the middle, the windows opened onto the lake nearby. And then the food began to arrive. The table for eight that had seemed so large for the five of us now was inadequate to contain all of the plates that our gracious hosts had ordered. We ate Beijing duck (which they call Peking duck) in Beijing! Then we ate everything else on the menu. And the tea! The chrysanthemum tea was exquisite. Chinese-restaurant tea is, where I come from, the lowest form of tea -- lukewarm water flavored with old leaves from lord-knows-what plant. Here, I couldn't stop admiring the pot full of beautiful buds. We communicated around the table with hand gestures and the "Bandit's" wife busily translating to keep all of us in the loop. By all accounts it was a flawless evening and J and I were sorry to leave our new friends. But J had to be up at 5:00 the next morning to catch her return flight home and that severe case of bronchitis still wouldn't relinquish its hold on her.

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J and I settled in with a last cup of tea together. In the morning she would be gone and I'd be on my own to explore Beijing for almost a whole week. What was there to say? I wouldn't have wanted to make that trip with anyone else -- I'm sure I wouldn't have even considered it. Funny, I had only just met J two years before -- not long in the scheme of things -- and when we had set out to Nepal together that fateful September of 2001, I had only met her once. While I had thought we'd get along well enough, sharing a tent together with someone for weeks through pouring rain, a leaking tent, leeches, and constipation, I had no idea that she would quickly become one of my closest friends and my favorite traveling companion (with the exception of my top team: my husband and dog, Momo). So, what was there to say?

J crawled into bed and I took another hot shower under the powerful stream of the massaging shower head. By the time I came out, she was sound asleep under the big, fluffy white comforter.

I left her a note with a dollar for safe travels home and an explanation of its meaning (lest she think I'm a crazy cheapskate). It's a Jewish tradition to give money to travelers for charity to be donated at the end of their journey. The idea being that if the person is a messenger of a charitable donation, no harm will come to her on the voyage.

I wished she would stay. Surely my week in Beijing wouldn't be the same without her but I had promised to take pictures for her as if she were right there with me. What a long, strange trip it's been.

Thanks everybody for reading along.

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To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Wow. Thanks again, Ellen, for the great report.

Could you please indulge us by describing the food on each of the sticks? I think I recognize most of them, but a couple aren't clear. I also think I can figure out that last one. Ick.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Ellen. Seriously. Captions.

Wow, that's a very high price for Fried-Dump Ling. Eek!

Great vertigo inducing image of the Great Wall, though (the first one, not that the second one isn't good too.)

So, how's starfish on a stick? These were actually to buy and eat? I can accept the chick/eggs, and the bugs & snails, but aren't starfish primarily exoskeleton?

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I love the spelling too.

There are a little more than 8 Chinese Yuan to 1 US dollar. 5 Y equals about 60 cents.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I there any way that this series can be linked together and put up on the Home Page? Sort of like the Rogue River thingy? This is JUST TOO GOOD to be a series in a forum.

A "thank you" for sharing this experience is much too weak. This has been some of the most enjoyable reading I have done in years. The only travel writing that equals it is the work of Jan Morris. And I really mean that.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I there any way that this series can be linked together and put up on the Home Page?

We're definitely looking into some different options for pushing this out as featured content.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm sorry, but I can't figure out what that last one is (really). I stared and stared and still no luck.

So could you enlighten me, a member of the peanut gallery? Please? :wink:

Soba

edit: ok, I enlisted the help of my officemate and even she couldn't figure out what that is. It's not a human head is it? :hmmm: That's just about flat out gross. If it isn't I think I could take it without hurling. I mean I was eating a breakfast burrito while reading her travelog. Even the pix of grasshopper on a stick didn't faze me. I kept repeating to myself "imagine its covered in chocolate. yeah, really." :unsure::wacko:

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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A "thank you" for sharing this experience is much too weak. This has been some of the most enjoyable reading I have done in years.

Ditto. Totally engaging from beginning to end, and the photos are stunning. Sincerest thanks for sharing it with us :smile:

Sometimes When You Are Right, You Can Still Be Wrong. ~De La Vega

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Ellen will have to deliver the verdict -- I'm only guessing -- but yes, they look to me like chicks that haven't quite yet hatched.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'd argue with you, but I can't bring myself to look at the photo again. We'll have to await an authoritative answer, assuming Ellen was able to ascertain the truth on-site.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'd argue with you, but I can't bring myself to look at the photo again. We'll have to await an authoritative answer, assuming Ellen was able to ascertain the truth on-site.

They look like baby chickies to me. :blink:

NOW do you understand why I won't let Sam feed them to the ferrets?????

K

Basil endive parmesan shrimp live

Lobster hamster worchester muenster

Caviar radicchio snow pea scampi

Roquefort meat squirt blue beef red alert

Pork hocs side flank cantaloupe sheep shanks

Provolone flatbread goat's head soup

Gruyere cheese angelhair please

And a vichyssoise and a cabbage and a crawfish claws.

--"Johnny Saucep'n," by Moxy Früvous

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um, I'm full of silly questions now:

1. How do they get TONS of these out? I mean, do they just hack open chickens destined for other destinations? There must be a guy in the Chinese equivalent of a Perdue factory saying, "ok, here's the pile for fetal chicks, one for me and one for you, two for me and one for you...." :blink::shock:

2. What do they serve these with? Ortolans la chinoise?

Do tell. :shock:

Soba

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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um, I'm full of silly questions now:

1.  How do they get TONS of these out?  I mean, do they just hack open chickens destined for other destinations?  There must be a guy in the Chinese equivalent of a Perdue factory saying, "ok, here's the pile for fetal chicks, one for me and one for you, two for me and one for you...."  :blink:  :shock:

2.  What do they serve these with?  Ortolans la chinoise?

Do tell.  :shock:

Soba

My guess? They put fertile eggs in an incubator, let 'em grow to the desired age, and then cook, pickle or whatever. You're forgetting that chicken embryos don't have to be grown inside a chicken, just an egg. For those ones on a stick, it looks like the cook 'em in the shell and then peel. The older ones with feathers look about 1 day before hatching. Um, I just managed to gross myself out here. I like my animals dead before they're cooked to be eaten, but I do make an exception for shellfish. I comfort myself with the thought that their nervous system is vastly different than ours...chickens, on the other hand...

No answer for question number 2, sorry.

regards,

trillium

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Okay, okay, captions are as follows in descending order:

Baby squid on a stick

Different variety of baby squid on a stick

Baby jellyfish alternated with mussels (I think)

Baby chickens (head and all) without feathers—and hey, that’s a lot of bang for your buck considering that you get four per skewer—including the head and the beak

Grasshopers/crickets (I don’t know the difference between the two well enough to discern)

Seahorses

Seabirds and on the right, trumpet fish

Starfish

Sugar syrup glazed apples

Sugar syrup glazed mixed fruit

Yes, those are chicks—some still ½ in the shell--shortly before hatching (I’ll take extra feathers with mine—will that cost extra?)

Chopped and griddle fried pork and veg in a bread product (similar to that of the pictured bread product featured with the Peking Duck, minus the sesame seeds)

Fried dumplings

Steamed dumplings (foreground), the makings of the delicious veggie pancake in the back (pancakes, veggies before they’re griddle fried and sauce, similar to plum sauce in color and consistency but spicier)

Noodle soup to order

Peking Duck

Clockwise from top: Buddha’s Delight equivalent, beans with cilantro, bean puree, eggplant with mushrooms and cilantro, Peking Duck sauce, Peking Duck pancakes (they commonly wrap the duck in pancakes and occasionally stuff the meat into the sesame coated bread/bun in the 11:00 position) Peking Duck, cucumber, pickled vegetable, pickled cucumber (sweet and sour), additional sauce and scallion garnish for Peking Duck.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Here are a few additional photos from Beijing and the Great Wall.

J hamming it up with Chairman Mao . . .

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In and around the Forbidden City . . .

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A better idea of the scope of the on-a-stick selection at the night-market -- this is just one of many vendors . . .

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A wider angle on those pork things . . .

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Hungry J ordering dumplings . . .

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More stuff-on-sticks . . .

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Another good street-food snack . . .

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The posse at the Peking Duck place . . .

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There was a photo above of a woman holding a kite. Kites are big in China. At dusk, you can find tons of people out flying them . . .

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Beijing streets . . .

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A few more from around the Great Wall . . .

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Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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