Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 6 - Part III - Dumplings & Kites & Taxis

            At the end of my last post I made light of getting to the nearest subway.  It was quite a haul, in the freezing cold (actually freezing again), with 2 kilos of tea, and a kid in need of a snack.  But it did give us a chance to walk through a part of Beijing that had little interest in and no time for the casual tourist. 
            One of the more fascinating building projects we saw under way were the new houses in the Hutong, or the old style parts of Beijing.  The old style walled in communities, villages within the city have been torn up by the acre to make way for the new Beijing of sky-scrapers, malls and streets on a grid plan.  
            But pockets of the Hutong still exist.  Many are crumbling, or at least looking rather worse for wear.  However, we saw some rather impressive houses, shiny new, being built into the existing structure – and they had the walls and the same single store construction, but also had new fangles additions like driveways and garages.  And with the dwindling supply of Hutong space, a sprawling pad like that would be no less exclusive and pricey than a penthouse suite with a 360˚ city view.  In fact I might go so far as to say more exclusive since the house owner has possession of the entire building, access to the ground the building is on, and you can get a penthouse suite in any city on the world, Hutong exist only in China, and Hutong with possible access to plumbing and electricity…. Well, a rare jewel indeed.

            After passing new Hutong construction, we entered into a modern shopping district that was still directed at locals rather than tourists, and the shops were large on a modern, American scale, and many of them contained offices of one stripe or another.  Electronics shops also could afford the main street tarrifs.
            We could see this was a city, despite an ever burgeoning car population, still expected large amounts of pedestrian traffic.  Wide, but shoddily constructed, sidewalks were everywhere.  Pedestrian bridges and underpasses (these better constructed) crisscross the major streets.  And it was by these, and the previously mentioned subway ride that we arrived, chilly and tired at the edge of Snack Street.
            It was time to go on a hunt for dumplings.  Whatever faults the Chinese culture might have, they are sticklers for fresh food, and to a certain extent it is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get culture when you bother to go get the food for yourself.  (Packaged food – including baby formula - seems to offer too many chances to swindle the buyer.  No wonder custom dictates that you pick your own fish, live, from the tank.)  
           What this all meant was; to find a dumpling shop that afternoon, all I had to do (in my Chinese-language-free state) was look for a kitchen with balls of dough, a steaming kettle, veggies and other dumpling fillings.  

See - a sign for "dumpling shop" even I could read!

            We stumbled, teeth chattering into one that was cozy and clean, and that smelled of steam and tea.  We ordered a pot of Jasmine tea, and wrapped our hands around it while we chose dumplings using the pictures-pantomime-and-point method of ordering.  In a few minutes we had freshly made and steamed pork and cabbage dumplings.  We went with the pork since our server insisted it was very good for a cold day.  Who were we to argue?

            Since these dumplings were being made from from scratch, Tavin and I had some time to fill as we held our tea and warmed up.  And this was the point at which we became very observant of the Beijing Taxi.
            All the taxis in Beijing are the same car, a sort of boxier version of a 90’s era VW Jetta.  And nearly all are two colored,  With few exceptions they are brown with a second color, mostly blue, green, yellow or red.  While we were waiting for the dumplings, Tavin and I each chose a color of Taxi to watch, and whoever saw the most “won.”  Tavin picked blue because he happened to see one of those first.  Wise move.
            I went with green becaue that was what we saw next.  In central Beijing, blue Taxi’s are dominant.  Tavin walked away with the win.  I never did figure out what the color scheme of the Taxis meant.  Another mystery for another day.

He's ahead, so the taxi game continues even as we savor the dumplings.
            After our refuel at the dumpling shop, we headed up the street to a hole in the wall kite shop (thanks Lonely Planet), and found a place to get Tavin one of his own kites.  We couldn’t get anything on the scale of the mega kites we saw soaring above Chao-Yang Park, but we did get a sweet little dragon kite, and a extremely practical wheel winder to bring home to Unka Grampa.
            After that, we were ready to crash (again – I was really coming down with pneumonia, and didn’t know it, or really didn't want to, so I was exhausted).  We hopped a subway home, walked greatfully into the spacious, well heated room, and suited up for a swim in the warm humid pool.  That was True Luxury after a cold, dry tiring day.

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