Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Back Lakes, Hutong, and a Fabulous Dinner

14th October – On our own. This day we took the subway to the Back Lakes. The subway is very easy to navigate, as many signs are in English. And it’s very inexpensive! We spent most of the day wandering the Back Lakes and the area of the hutong. It’s a lovely area with shaded trees, peaceful gardens, and hutong. Reenie and I really enjoyed seeing another part of Beijing life. Many of the hutong are in ruins with small alleyways. Life continues in the hutongs with people going about their business, exercising in their small parks, and sitting around with neighbors. We met a beautiful old white-haired woman, who was sitting outside enjoying the day. She could have been the twin of my 99-year old grandmother. I showed her my camera and she smiled with a nod. I snapped a few photos while she sat regally.

We saw people swimming in one of the lakes, which I would never have done. Most had large bottles filled with fresh water to wash them once they got out. There was even a sign posted telling people NOT to swim in the polluted water.

Reenie and I visited the Soong Chingling former residence and museum. She was the honorary Chairman of the People's Republic of China, established in 1949, and wife of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The residence/museum remains as when she lived there, with the residence set in a beautiful garden with corridors and pavilions. On display were photographs that showed her life, to include her political activities. There were other exhibits, including a Children’s Hall. It was quite an interesting museum.

In the area, we saw many people on rickshaws. They seemed like a fun ride, but we enjoyed our walking, as we got to see more of the area. For lunch we had Thai food. As soon as we settled in our chairs, the owner changed the music from Chinese to American! We listened to several eras of music. Lunch consisted of spring rolls, beef with basil and rice. We found many of the restaurants served large portions of food. Sometimes we could have done with just one or two dishes.

In the late afternoon we visited the Jinshan Park for a bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City. It was very hazy out but I was glad to see the city from this point of view. Many people were hanging out waiting for the sun to set. The air had a yellowish glow. It would have been wonderful to see the city and its red rooftops with clear skies. As our days progressed, we encountered more pollution.

Reenie wanted to catch the lowering of the flags at T. Square, so we tried to grab a taxi. There was no way with the evening traffic, especially in the area of the Forbidden City. We hired a motorized “rickshaw” which an old man was driving. We zipped through the traffic passing the crowded streets. It was exhilarating but also scary, especially since we knew how people drive in Beijing. The man dropped us off but we still had to cross over the square (via underground walkway) and just didn’t get there in time. We headed back to the hotel on the subway.

For dinner, we met up with Lisa and taxied over to the Noodle Loft, a restaurant I had seen on the Anthony Bourdain show (No. 20 Dawang Road, Chaoyang District, tel: 8610-677 49950). The center of the room has an open kitchen where four or five chefs will cook fresh made noodles. It was quite entertaining to watch them perform. They would toss the various types of noodles into the large pots of boiling water. Some looked like the Italian gnocchi while others were extremely long noodles.

Dinner was fabulous (although we actually didn’t order any noodles): fried lotus root, a fatty pork dish with vegetables (thinly sliced green vegetable of some sort that was crunchy), a whole duck with pancakes and plum sauce, and a plate of ear mushrooms with cilantro. Reenie and I agreed the duck was more succulent than at Liqun duck restaurant, as well as getting more for our money (although we certainly enjoyed our dinner in the hutong). It was probably one of the best meals we had on this trip. Dinner for the three of us: 206RMB (or about $10 per person).


Rebecca Salois said...

Hi Monica,

Very fun to read about your adventures in my hutong neighborhood (I live just around the corner from the Back Lakes). Sounds like you hit most of the "must-see" spots. Thanks again for your inside scoop on Noodle Loft, too–I can't wait to try their take on Peking duck!


Monica Pileggi said...

Hi Rebecca, you can go to my www.pileggiphotography.com web site and see my China photos, including the Back Lakes.