A Day of Change
It’s about 3:30 PM local time and I’m finally sitting in a taxi heading into Beijing from the Airport. Still a tad delirious and drunk from my indulgent flight, a foreign place looks even more alien to my foggy brain. Why am I looking at palm trees? Apparently, palms and tropical plants are brought in from Southern China and kept alive….somehow. It takes an hour and a half to get to the hotel, and only another 10 minutes to throw my stuff in a room and turn around. I’m buzzing with the joy of being in a new world, and I want to roam! The Beijing PeKing Man Roast Duck Restaurant is a hotspot for celebrities and politicians to be hosted as their first meal in China. Looks like my bet that I’d be taken care of in China may have been spot on! The dining hall is massive with red pillars and gold curtained walls (this photo does no justice). The tables are round, with 10 seats and a Lazy Susan in the middle. Facilitating the most common style of eating in China, which is to share dishes and serve others.
This is a big moment for me. My whole life I’ve been a picky eater. Meat and potatoes kinda guy. But I knew that must change if I was going to be in China for weeks. Am I going to embarrass people I’m with? How am I going to avoid looking like an uncivilized foreigner?
So I decided to eat everything. At least try everything. Once. Because of that one idea, my whole life was changed, and a new world of experiences was opened to me.
But no change comes without a test of resolve! The first dish that is served to to the table is a plate of skewered duck hearts, accented with crispy scorpion bites. Tiny little white scorpions resting in between tiny, glistening heart muscles. But after one bite, the scorpion tastes like crispy chicken skin. I’m over the first hurdle and off and running on a path of eating exotic meats, “100 year” eggs, and fruits and veggies I’ve never seen before.
The subway ride to Houhai after dinner is INSANELY packed, and it’s almost 9:00PM! Houhai is a bar district that is wrapped around a beautiful, small river. Bars and little shops line both sides, covered in holiday lights and lanterns. Thousands of people are everywhere. You can drink anywhere. Literally anywhere. In a car (as long as you’re not driving), on the street, in the subway. One questionable GO-KART place in Shanghai even has a bar in it’s waiting area, but I’ll talk more about that at a later date. It’s a freeing feeling to walk from stand to stand as we tour around the river, grabbing a new beer at each new vendor stand.
Someone has the idea to duck into a hookah bar along the river. It’s cute and deserted, except a single guitar player, plucking away at a 12 string, singing folk and oldies. I quite unexpectedly fall in love with the collision of East meets West as I pick out that he is absolutely butchering “Tears in Heaven” – by Eric Clapton. There is an undeniable charm to his accent and confidence. I’m sitting in a deserted bar, on the other end of the planet, where only two people in our group speak English, but I feel at home. A “no bullshit” atmosphere hangs in the air. Everyone is laughing and doing shots of Tequila while the bartender drops off an apple Hookah to the table. Within 10 minutes of walking in the bar has now filled to half capacity. The bartender had seated us by the front window, and people have flowed into after us. I learn over my years that this is very natural attitude in China. No one wants to be the first into a restaurant or bar. No people = No Good. But once something looks lively, everyone crowds in to get some of the fun.
These pictures are relics. But I’m happy to still have them as memories.