Saturday, November 25, 2006

mom and dad in da 'Jing, part III - LIVE

Finally, we also took my parents to experience some of Beijing's normal but picturesque simple things, especially around the city's old hutongs (胡同), or traditional alleyways. 

We took them shopping... Though I think what my dad enjoyed most was shopping at the Silk Market (秀水街)! The man hates shopping, ok? He's the kind of person to go to a place knowing what he wants, getting it right away, and lingering no more. My mom's the opposite, she looks around, tries stuff, looks at other stuff she didn't intend to buy... which drives my dad crazy! So what's the difference in China? In China, in places like the Silk Market, you have to haggle! Vendors will usually quote whichever price they feel they can get away with, and then some more, so not haggling is suicide. And my dad had the time of his life arguing, joking, pretending, and using whatever tactics he could think of to bring prices down! He was like a child playing a game, and for the first time in his life he enjoyed "shopping". LOL 

We also took them to see old houses and entryways...

Wandering around narrow, bike-filled streets...

And experiencing the calm atmosphere of this side of Beijing...

In a previous post I mentioned my dad had always wanted to go to Macao. But that doesn't mean he had always wanted to go to China, ok? In fact, he had always expressed a lack of interest, even though I had lived there twice before. But now, with this visit, and having seen Hong Kong, Macao and practically everything there was to see in Beijing, he left with a wholly different view! My mom, well, she's my mom, she wanted to visit me wherever. Which doesn't mean she didn't enjoy this, au contraire, between my dad, me and my habibi - and the shopping! - she had a fantastic trip, if I may say.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

mom and dad in da 'Jing, part II - SEE

Like I mentioned in my previous post, it wasn't all just eating here and there. If there's something else you can't miss in a city like this is history. And this is one place where the description "millenarian culture" can be taken quite literally!

There's so much to see that even though we took my parents to all the places we could, they still had plenty more to visit and discover on their own on those days I was at work. 

Obviously, we took them to Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. And these two make for more than enough in a single day, huge as they are both in physical terms as well as historical. But among the gazillion places they visited with and without us, I'll talk about three. Why three? Well, to begin with, these are the ones I have the best photos of! Ha! But also, really, I'm not going to talk about every single place and adventure - it's just not doable!

Anyhow, first,  the Dongyue Temple, or 东岳庙. It's Taoist, it's got a courtyard with numerous stone steles, it's got a gorgeous twisted tree that had to be propped up to keep it from falling, and it has the weirdest collection of statues you could imagine - dozens of them, in numerous halls, representing demons, horrible ways of dying, and multiple ghastly punishments for people failing in this life. Something my parents would most definitely not find home!

We also took them for some Peking Opera (京剧) at the Huguang Guild Hall (湖广会馆)! Once known as one of the "four great theatres" of Beijing, this is definitely one of the places you want to take someone for Peking Opera. The shows are pretty good. But what's also amazing is that the show takes place pretty much as it originally would! That is, you sit at tables, not on rows of seats. You can eat and drink while you watch the show. And nobody expects you to sit straight and motionless and keep quiet! My mom liked it. My dad loved it!  

And, but of course, the Great Chinese Wall (長城)! I was not going to miss going there with my parents! We had fine weather (yay for October!), not too many people, and it was a chance for my habib to see where part of my zest for seeing the world comes from, as my dad (who's no youngster) wasted no time to walk the wall and climb bits of it as far as I was willing to! While my poor habib had to stay behind with my mom who had made it very clear she was very happy with the views of the wall from the distance and that she had no need for any dashing and darting and climbing and what not that her son and husband were obviously just too eager to do.

It's was just real cool to show my parents all these (and other!) historic sights. Real fun! And then there was just the ordinary side of Beijing, about which I'll talk in my next post.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

mom and dad in da 'Jing, part I - EAT

Gotta give it to my parents, they visited us in Beirut, and now they've visited us in da 'Jing (that's local expat lingo for Beijing)! And... they timed it so they would arrive for my birthday! Kudos to the folks, totally. They spent a couple of weeks with us, and they even took a trip to Hong Kong and Macao! I love how adventurous my dad is, and he had always wanted to visit Macao, since he was a kid! So I was delighted he took this trip to visit us as an opportunity to realize one of his childhood dreams. Or maybe he took his trip to Macao as an opportunity to come visit us? LOL

Anyhow, I have way too many photos for a single post, so I'll split this in three parts. First, and very importantly, especially in a place like China, food! For what's a travel experience without food? And man did we have them eat and try so many things!

The very first thing we had them try was one of our favourite restaurants - Pure Lotus (净心莲). It's vegan. It's Buddhist. The ambiance is Buddho-kitschy, which is fantastic. The staff are attentive. And the food is out of this world. They have your usual vegan dishes (you know, steamed veggies and the like), but they also have mock dishes which are unbelievably real down to very minute details and which are indisputably delicious. Even my dad, who's not anti-vegan but who's very certainly UNvegan, liked it!

We also took them to Wangfujing's (王府井) night market! Wangfujing is a pedestrianized area in the eastern part of town, full of shops and snack vendors and what not. We go there pretty often for a walk, for the bookshops, to eat dumplings... But the night market is special, as you'll find a number of things on a stick you'd never have considered as food before! Now, you won't be surprised to hear I didn't have any of this. But I don't think I remember my parents or my habib having any either! Or maybe they did that out of some strange respect for me and went back on their own some other day? That wouldn't be completely unthinkable... Hmmm...

Something else I was positive I did not want them to miss was our favourite hangout after a night of partying - Bellagio (鹿港小镇)! Almost without exception, every single night after clubbing we end up at this Taiwanese restaurant. Hell, the waitresses already know our quirks! No animal products in what I order, no pork for the habibi, coconut milk instead of condensed milk for desserts... So, we brought mom and dad (not after partying, of course, but for lunch) to try, for example, their Gong Bao tofu (宫保豆腐), which is like Gong Bao (or Kung Pao) chicken, but infinitely better with the tofu cubes crisp on the outside, with cashews, and huge rings of dried red chili peppers. Yum! But what proved most fun was sharing with my parents our usual dessert: Bing Sha (冰沙)! Now, bing sha is usually translated as smoothie, but the true Chinese/Taiwanese incarnation has a centre of shaved ice, with condensed milk (or, in our case, coconut milk) on top, and beans of different sorts on top and around. Yes, beans! And it's SO good! It took my parents a bit to get around the idea of beans as a sweet dessert stuff, but they managed fine!

Let's see, what else... Well, we took them to a Yunnanese restaurant (that is, a restaurant with food from the southern province of Yunnan), where they had the most varieties of fungus in their lives. We went for a Sichuanese restaurant (food from the western province of Sichuan) where they absolutely loved the super hot and spicy dishes and fish. In the mornings, they would also go to the most basic and ordinary local street stall for dumplings! And we took them to a tea house to have some green tea, and taught them to noisily sip it so the air entering their mouth would aid in perceiving the flavours, and had them munch on some green-tea-powder covered pumpkin seeds...

All in all, just the culinary part of their visit was super fun for all of us! It's just great sharing something like that with people you love, right?

Of course, we did more than eat. We explored the city, obviously. But that'll be the next post.