John Berger, an English art critic, novelist, painter and a poet once said that:
“Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
If Berger is right and this is true of every city, then “who” is Beijing like?
If I was the one to describe it, I would say it’s a little boy who is full of contradictions. It’s friendly but at the same time hostile. Emotional, but well, it’s also very serious. Predictable but still surprising. Familiar? Completely different…
It’s a city of contrasts. And… I fell in love with it! To illustrate my point, let me introduce you to the Wangfujing Street or the craziest place on earth to get a meal!
The Wangfujing Street (General Information)
Wangfujing is one of the most famous and fascinating shopping districts, not only in Beijing but all of China. It’s the “shopper’s paradise”, filled with massive and newly constructed mega-shopping complexes selling everything from ultra-trendy clothes to traditional Chinese arts and crafts at really low prices. It is the “central heart of Beijing” as people (especially foreigners) like to call it.
The Wangfujing Street at Night
I find tranquility and peace in a bustling and hustling environment, whereas others relax in the calm surroundings of nature. For me, nothing can compare to the sensation of wandering around the streets like Wangfujing at night, staring wide-eyed at the reflecting, tall corporate buildings with huge, colorful screens built onto the windows.
While for most people Wangfujing is a safe, “Western style” shopping street where you can stock up on silk scarves, table cloths and PJ’s you will never wear, for others, it’s a place of adventure. And believe me, a very smelly one! Especially, if you know a little side street, hidden in alleys behind tall corporate buildings and department stores.
Souvenirs, cow stomach, dog meat? It’s all here.
Market by a large, colorful paifang at its entrance, the Wangfujing snack street invites you to experience the surreal street food selections that we all heard about China.
Local people serve here everything from traditional Chinese dumplings and fried ice cream (absolutely delicious!) to fried scorpions, start fish, silkworm cocoons, locusts, sea horses, fried snakes, lizards, cow’s stomach and even dog meat.
Once you step in into this busy snack street, you get hit by a blast of hot and humid air. The smells emanating from small shops tingle your nose. The mixture of dried fish, freshly baked cookies, bodily smells (similar to those inside the locker rooms) make a potent combination. You hold your breath for a moment as you march past the sundry shops.
Wangfujing snack street, you are discovering, is one big adventure.
For me, it gets so surreal that my friends and I decide to attempt to eat the deep fried scorpions. Also, besides snacking on scorpions, one of my friends tries eating a snake, silkworm cocoons, and a lizard. Because, apparently, you only live once.
Eating a Scorpion
This night, there are two kinds of scorpions on offer: 1) big, black and super creepy-looking ones or 2) smaller, more delicate-looking scorpions.
As I’m a kind adventurous woman (as far as food goes), I choose the smaller ones mounted on a stick and roasted on a grill. At first, I’m quite terrified looking at those bugs, with legs still moving; however, I have to pick one of the sticks and Chinese guy at the counter fries it in front of me.
The taste of a fried scorpion? Very salty and very crunchy but not that bad as I first expected!
Reflecting back on my experience at the Wangfujing’s snack street I have to say that it was one of the most interesting, unusual and creepiest experiences of my life. Once again, Beijing proved to me how authentic, horrific, and strangely charming it can be. Even though for the rest of my remaining time in Beijing I was eating rice…