Warning - creepy crawly photos ahead!
China proved many of my preconceptions wrong - all except the beautiful limestone mountain scenery of Guilin which every bit as stunning as I expected it to be. I didn't expect much from Beijing and was looking forward to Xi'an and Shanghai but Beijing was my favourite. At first glance it looked grey, flat and featureless but it's charms were there if you looked for them. Shanghai, with it's endless skyscrapers and swanky malls did nothing for me - even the Bund disappointed.
This is the view from the plane as we approached Beijing. We passed over miles and miles of desert which became gradually more mountainous and the mountains ended abruptly as we entered the Beijing basin. I couldn't get over how absolutely flat it was in contrast and then as we flew low for what seemed like ages, I was surprised at how orderly and regular the buildings were. Nothing fun or creative in the minds of those planners or architects that was for sure.
However, my biggest worry about the trip was whether I would be able to eat anything after hearing so many horror stories about the Chinese eating pretty well anything that moves. But the food was the biggest surprise - I loved it! In fact, I'm totally converted. There are so few overweight Chinese and more old people out on the streets and active than I've seen anywhere else in the world, they have to be on to something! I felt lighter and less bloated than I have in a very long time and even some of the things I thought I shouldn't eat I tried and gave me no problems. There was such a variety of dishes I don't think we eat the same thing twice.
This is how the food is served. Tea first followed by various dishes (not all at once) and lastly the plate of fruit to signify the end of the meal. (The carousel was less practical than it looked as at nearly every meal someones cup would get knocked over from something hanging over the edge of it.) I wish I had practised my chopstick skills before the trip but I soon got the hang of it - well, it was that or starve! However, bizarrely, my beginner's luck seemed to wear off and by the end I was resorting to spoons and forks! Geneva is hopeless even for European food so I don't hold out much hope for experimenting with Chinese ingredients but I'm going to be looking into it and trying to incorporate more stir-fries and less meat into my cooking. I'm pretty sure too that the diet in combination with the different teas we tried also play a large part in giving the Chinese such amazing health and longevity. We went to tea houses and were given demonstrations on how to make and serve tea and I can tell you the English really have no idea about making tea! (I have photos of our visits to teas houses which I will save for another post.)
One of the dishes I thought memorable was something called lotus root (sliced, cooked and served with quite a salty sauce I wish I knew the recipe of) and it wasn't until I came home I realised I have a photo of it - if you look at the middle tray at the front the lotus root slices look like three bicycle wheels. I'm not sure if it was them or the sauce I liked best but anyway, it was really tasty!
The real purpose of the post is to show the food at the night market. This is probably where the rumours come from but I suspect this food is more novelty than everyday fare although the Chinese do enjoy these things! I think these might be snakes.
For those of a nervous disposition I haven't put these photos at the top of the post!
Don't ask me to identify the bugs, I've really no idea but there were plenty of tourists biting into these things and having their photos taken. The traders were taking it all in good part.
I even saw one trying the scorpions - his wife/girlfriend couldn't look!
I think I'd prefer not to know what these are!
No doubt full of protein.
Those pink trays don't make these things look any more appetising!
These are definitely snake, no idea what that is next to them.
I didn't try these either.
It was the sea urchins that really gave me the willies though - yuck! I have in fact eaten sea urchin before (in St Lucia) and it tasted great but I may have thought twice had I seen them like this.
The fruits covered in caramel were supposed to be very good but it was late and we wanted to get back to the hotel (good thing too because we got slightly lost!). We were going to try them another time but didn't see them again after that.