I have been away from cyberspace for a while, but I have now returned. I had a short work trip to Beijing, and while I was there I came down with a cold. Strange how the change of seasons always seems to bring on lurgies! So I have been taking a break for a while to rest and recharge.
I have not been back to Beijing for many years. I have fond memories of studying Mandarin at the Beijing Language and Culture Institute during my University days. But many things have changed, and I didn’t really recognise many landmarks at all beyond the obvious such as our super-quick tour of the Forbidden City.
On the food front, I had been planning to blog in detail but my visit wasn’t really long enough to really get a feel for real local food. I had a work dinner at a Hunan restaurant one night, but the management wouldn’t allow me to take pictures so I will not blog about it. (Obviously they did not read my earlier blog post that suggests it is okay to take photos in restaurants — or maybe etiquette is different on this point in Beijing.) And since I had the dread lurgy, I really didn’t feel like eating much at all in any case.
Still, I did indulge at the innovative breakfasts at our hotel — The Opposite House. I was a little confused by their menu at first, but eventually worked out that the accommodation package includes a breakfast of one a la carte item plus a small buffet. The first morning I had a simple Japanese-style miso soup with egg noodles, tofu, straw mushrooms and vegetables. Just the thing for a sore throat! But the next day I indulged with fluffy berry pancakes with ricotta. Actually, the ricotta was more like a thick, yoghurty cream cheese but it was still nice. And I am sure I read somewhere that berries, especially raspberries, have healing properties. Any excuse!
The first night in Beijing we spent nearly an hour walking around the Sanlitun embassyland district looking for the right restaurant, and in the end our attempt at making a ‘local’ choice was disappointing (oily and even more expensive than food in Taipei). I had really wanted to try some local dishes that I remembered from my student days, but I guess I wasn’t really in the right neighbourhood as Sanlitun is essentially a foreigner ghetto.
Then the next day we had a better experience, enjoying a simple but satisfying grilled subway sandwich in Bocata’s inviting Mediterranean-style courtyard, directly opposite our hotel on Sanlitun Road in Chaoyang District. A friend who had previously lived in Beijing told us the sandwiches were good, and she was right. Sometimes you don’t want fussy — you just want reliable and good, and that is exactly what we got. We choose predictable tuna and chicken sandwiches, creamed with mayonnaise (but not disgustingly so) and served with fresh salad.
It was my first time to travel to Beijing since direct flights were established three years ago. It now takes less than three hours to fly direct to Beijing. Some Taiwanese businesspeople commute back and forth, but most of the passengers seemed to be on tour groups from mainland China. (Most Taiwanese businesspeople — Taishang — operate in Guangdong province or in the coastal provinces of China.) I was a little shocked by the pollution in Beijing. And we somewhat naively wondered why we couldn’t connect our smartphones to Facebook via the hotel Wi-fi. China has modernised, but there are still constraints on what you can do. Still, it is an interesting place to visit and I plan to return. And next time I will definitely seek out some interesting local food experiences.