I have eaten a lot of indescribable things like scorpion and lamb hotpot. Most of my food experiences have been great.
Flaming meat (and vegetables): this is a casual thing that they do. It was cooked on a grill right in front of us on the table. A man cooked it for us. Everybody made a big deal because bacon was most like we have at home.
Lamb hotpot is kind of a lamb broth with other things to add. Lamb hotpot tastes like lamb that has been seared to the bone. Lamb hotpot has a certain feel that is kind of warm and squishy.
Chicken was different than we have at home. It is browner, there is not as much white meat. Every time we get chicken there are a lot of little bones which can drive me me crazy. The chicken didn’t have a lot of meat because they are a lot smaller than at home.
Steamed buns and dumplings are found on the streets. Most sellers make steamed buns and dumplings in a wood steamer. They are steaming hot when you purchase them. They can have vegetables or other things inside.
Previously on one of my other blogs, I talked about a backpack that I sit in. The backpack is an old hiking pack that my dad converted into a Kasenya pack. I wore it for the first time ever when we went to see the Great Wall of China a couple of days ago. That backpack helps me go to places where my wheelchair cannot go, like up and down the many stairs of the Great Wall. The Great Wall is really old, and really long. We had to take a high cable car to get to the top of the wall. At first I was nervous, and then I was brave as my Mom packed me around to see the Wall.
When we were at the Wall it was foggy and the fog made everything look cool. The country side around the Great Wall is hilly and covered with flora (forest). It was hot out which wasn’t a bad thing.
There is the wall and there are also guard towers for the Wall. The towers are part of the Great Wall and so we could walk along the Great Wall to get to them. I didn’t expect the towers to be part of the wall. Some of the wall is made out of granite blocks.
Some other people told us that the Badaling part of the Wall was filled with tourists so, of course, we didn’t go there. Instead we went to another section called Mutianyu.
I thought the wall would be colourful with banners but it was not what I would call colourful..
No matter how much a person reads or hears from others, you really have to go to Beijing to fully appreciate its sights, sounds and smells. You can, of course, stay in a five star hotel in Beijing, eat at the hotel restaurant and shop on Wangfujing Street, thereby missing most of the real Beijing. We chose instead to ride the subway, stay at hostels and eat at the food stalls on the street. Beijing held many surprises for us.
Several large traffic arteries divide Beijing into large city blocks. Each block contains a maze of alleyways known as the Hutong. The Hutong are lined on either side by rows of small attached houses. Doorways off the main alleyways lead to small court yards with more small houses off of them. Most are single story dwellings and some are very primitive looking. Most Hutong have restaurants, small stores and businesses mixed in. There are public bathrooms everywhere in the Hutong and we realized that most of the homes within the Hutong do not have bathrooms.
Because the Hutong make up most of the central residential area of Beijing, there are not as many skyscrapers as we expected. Most of the very large high rise apartments are located outside of the centre. Interestingly, the people of the Hutong often aspire to live in apartments while it has become trendy for apartment dwellers to move to the Hutong, refurbishing them to modern standards.
The smells of Beijing range from the mouth-watering smell created by street vendors to the olfactory assault of public washrooms. Some of the Hutong are hundreds of years old and built before the sewer system. Public bathrooms are on a septic tank system which accounts for the smell. The streets however are very clean and each day you see people with straw brooms sweeping them.
Our family seems to be a bit of a curiosity. When we stop to take pictures, Chinese people sometimes ask if they can photograph us or have a photo taken with us. Other Westerners have told us of similar encounters. When we travel, other people often make the most interesting pictures. We didn’t expect to find the shoe on the other foot. This reminded us to always be considerate in our picture taking and ask before taking pictures of individuals.
As a wheelchair user, we knew that Kasenya might be stared at but we didn’t expect long drawn out stares from almost every passing person. We have had people walk around her in a circle for a better look, or come and stand directly in front of her and stare. Kasenya seems rather unaffected by this as many people look at her and smile. She says that she is a normal person and its their problem if they stare. The staring seems to be more a matter of curiosity than anything.
We were surprised at how accessible Beijing is. Preparation for the Paralympics have no doubt had a huge affect. Kasenya has written in her blog about the surprises in the subway system. We were also happy to discover so many ramped curbs but then we realized that this is not so much for wheelchair accessibility as for accommodating bicycles and the many vending carts that are found on the streets of Beijing. If there is no elevator, someone will usually direct you to a ramp.
We were also surprised at how lush Beijing is. In this way, Beijing looks like Havana. Many of the main traffic arteries are tree lined. Many boulevards are filled with elaborate horticultural displays and you routinely see people trimming and caring for the shrubbery.
The cost of certain things was also a surprise. We hoped to pick up a second camera in Beijing but discovered that the one we want costs almost double what it would cost in Canada. Besides you can never really be sure you are getting an authentic brand.
A Starbucks coffee costs about the same as home. However a very basic hotel room in a new and clean building costed $25 CDN per room per night. The cab ride to the train station took over an hour and cost about $10. Since fuel prices are about the same as home, we wondered how the cab drivers make any money.
Traditional cuisine is very inexpensive. We seldom spend more than 100 Yuan on a meal. This is equivalent to about $16 or $17 Canadian dollars. We have had some very interesting meals. We tried the night market, which is a series of stalls that offer such delights as starfish, scorpions and silk worms. (Deep fried scorpions are delicious). There were also several things that we could not identify and a big pot of soup with floating pieces of intestine. In such a populous, yet poor country, they eat all the parts of the animal and you usually see several menu items that include things like tongue, kidney, tendon and tail. At one restaurant we ordered lamb hot pot. We got a huge metal bowl of broth and spinal columns. The meat off the bones tasted great but the presentation was a little off-putting.
Our next stop is in Xi’An to see the Terra Cotta Warriors of the Qing Dynasty.
September 18: after more than 48 hours without a latte, I am finally able to locate a Starbucks by asking at a tourist information kiosk that is manned by 9 young volunteers crammed into a structure about 2 metres by 2 metres. They eagerly point me to the nearest “Starbarks” which is mercifully only 1/2 a block away in the basement of a shopping centre.
September 19: return to Starbucks only to be told that they do not have any milk products at all. How could an international company like Starbucks not have access to milk? Puzzling and extremely disappointing. Conveniently it is still September 18th in Saskatchewan so the kids Skype Granny to wish her happy birthday.
September 20: Starbucks once again offers latte made with soy milk. We learn that Starbucks was one of the first companies to pull their milk products in response to a revelation that some milk and milk products in China contain melamine (the same substance that was found in pet food earlier this year). Melamine enhances the protein content of milk, making it appear to contain more protein than it actually does. In other words, the milk is diluted.
Unfortunately melamine can cause kidney stones in young children with repeated exposure. The Canadian media reports that there are now 150 babies in critical condition from melamine exposure in China and 6,000 who are ill. The Chinese government claims that this is a short term problem with a few small diaries being responsible. Some tainted milk products have been marketed in Canada!
When we first got to Beijing on September 16th, 2008, we didn’t know what riding the Metro, AKA the subway system, would be like for a wheel chair user such as myself. On our second day in Beijing we decided to give it a try. My mom saw a wheelchair sign at the entrance of the station, but didn’t know how to get down the stairs. So Devin, Lacey, and a very nice random chinese man who jumped off his bike to help, carried me down two long sets of stairs to get to the wheel chair accessible elevator. We were confused. How do they expect wheelchair users to get down two sets of stairs to the elevator? We found out later. Once we got down the stairs, two subway workers met us and helped me get on the train. They asked us what station we were heading to, and they called ahead so that when we got to the next station I was greeted by more subway workers and paralympic volunteers. Then they used a wheel chair lift that was mounted to the handrail to get me to the top of stairs. I had never seen anything like this before. It was then when we realized that there was probably a lift at the first set of stairs, but we just didn’t know. Another time I used the Subway, they used a stair climber, which was fun.
I think these fancy lifts might be new to the Beijing Metro because of the olympics and paralympics. We were surprised at how helpful and prepared they were in helping me get up and down the many sets of stairs to get on and off the subway. I was shocked at how many people instantly surrounded me every time I need to get to or from a subway platform. It was like an entourage of people. At first it was scary having so may people helping me but after a few minutes I got used to it. The Kasenya train is coming, so watch out for other blog entries.
Bissky Dziadyk Family
Travelling the world as a family since 2008.
In September 2008 our family embarked on a four month journey through South East Asia. Traveling with a child who uses a wheelchair presented its challenges, but following the Mekong River through China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with a wheelchair was truly an adventure.
When we move beyond our fears and embrace our dreams, the Universe has an odd way of not only supporting us but giving us more opportunities than we ever imagined. Embarking on a journey with an open heart we can not help but be changed forever by the experience. Indeed it would be a waste to return untouched in the spiritual realm.
September: China (Beijing, Xi’an,Kunming, Yuanyang)
October: Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay) and
Laos (Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane)
November: Southern Vietnam (Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta)
December: Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampot and Sihanoukville).