A group of women prepare for a dance performance at Intramuros, a colonial-era walled city in Manila, Philippines. The centerpiece of Spanish Manila (1521-1898), Intramuros was heavily damaged during a battle to recapture the city from the Japanese during World War II. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Manila.
Snakes and alcohol don’t mix
I recently wrote a review of the world’s first bar dedicated to baijiu, a traditional Chinese rice liquor. Capital Spirits opened in August in Beijing, and offers more than 40 different varieties of baijiu.
Baijiu, which literally translates into “white liquor,” has been made in China for more than 5,000 years. The drink is generally 40 to 60 percent alcohol by volume, and its taste has been compared to bathroom cleaner and cheap perfume. Continue reading
Postcards from (smoggy) Beijing
Postcards from Tagaytay
When in China, beware of man-eating manholes
A friend of mine who moved to Beijing a couple of years ago told me that his mom warned him to be wary when walking near manholes in the city. She had read a story about a man in China who fell into an uncovered manhole at night and was found dead a few days later.
As a mom, she was, naturally, worried that this was part of a larger problem, and that road work sites in China were more dangerous than ones in the US.
As silly as it seemed, her concern stuck with me, and whenever I bike in Beijing I always glance at manholes before speeding over them. Today, I biked past a road work site and saw this …
Apparently, the construction crew ran out of cones and had to get creative. It doesn’t look safe, but I guess it might keep you from falling in.
Postcards from Mutianyu
The village of Mutianyu (慕田峪) is located about 80 kilometers northeast of Beijing. It sits at the foot of a restored section of the Great Wall and is a popular destination for international tourists and Beijingers seeking some fresh air.
Mutianyu is no longer just a sleepy village of farmers. The boom in tourism has brought lots of new development to the area. These buildings, located in a welcome area for visitors to the Great Wall, didn’t even exist when I visited a couple of years ago.
An old basketball goal outside a home in Mutianyu. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in China, and NBA stars like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant visit the country every year.
Cupping therapy: no pain and no noticeable gain
During the hottest part of summer, temperatures in Beijing regularly soar above 95 F (35 C). To cope with the heat, women shed pants and long-sleeved shirts for tank tops and skirts, while the less fashion-conscious men simply roll up their shirts, exposing their midriff, however rotund.
A few summers ago, one of the these bare-bellied men walked past me on the street. As I turned to look at him, I noticed a series of purple and pink bruises on his back, each about the size of a baseball. At first glance, it looked like he had been the victim of a brutal assault. But each of the bruises was the same size, and perfectly circular.
I told one of my friends what I had seen, and she said the bruises were from cupping, a form of traditional Chinese medicine commonly used in Asia and the Middle East. In China, cupping is known as baguan, and is used to alleviate everything from headaches to back pain. Continue reading
Hole-in-the-wall restaurant leaves hole in the stomach
I’m a big believer in giving second chances. And if you’re a restaurant that serves great dumplings for less than $2 a serving, I’ll even give you a third, fourth and fifth chance even if the occasional batch leaves me feeling a little green.
Such was the case at my favorite neighborhood dumpling joint, 杭州小吃 (Hangzhou Snacks). The place has all the characteristics of a Chinese dive restaurant. Limited seating. Few spouts for hand washing. No bathroom. And dirt-cheap prices.
A middle-aged man runs the restaurant with his wife. He’s short on words and smiles but always remembers what I want: two orders of dumplings and a tall, cold bottle of Yangjing beer. The man often smokes cigarettes while he cooks, occasionally looking up at a TV mounted to the wall to read a headline on the 6 o’clock news.
The man takes care of the steamed buns and dumplings, while his wife boils the soups and serves the vegetable and rice dishes. She’s the charmer of the two, and not averse to greeting me with a smile when I settle my bill.
The dumplings are comfort food, the Chinese equivalent of my mom’s salmon patties and mashed potatoes. But for a foreigner with a weak stomach, eating there comes with a risk. As one of my friends eloquently put it: “I go there regularly. After eating their dumplings, I also have to go regularly, if you know what I mean.”
But, like a girl who refuses to leave her abusive boyfriend, I kept coming back, until a recent bout of food poisoning that forced me to see a doctor. His advice? Stay away from the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and street food. “Even we don’t eat that stuff,” he said.
That was two months ago, and I’ve since heeded his advice. Still, there are days when I pass by the restaurant, spot a bowl of fresh dumplings steaming up the window and think about stopping.
My heart says go, but my stomach says hell no.
Red duck district
My favorite roast duck restaurant in Beijing, Liqun, is a bit tricky to find if you’re a first-time visitor. It’s located in a hutong, or alleyway, and the neighborhood isn’t particularly well-lit at night.
Fortunately, someone came up with the ingenious idea of drawing a series of ducks on the side of a building nearby. So once you get close, all you have do is — literally — “follow the ducks” … and then eat them, of course.