Recently I visited Beijing up in the Northern province of China with my flat mate Roma and his girlfriend. We spent a few days visiting the Forbidden City (above), the Great Wall (two photos below), and the Summer Palace. Because our visit took place during China’s National Holidays, there were way more people than usual at each location.

Beijing is China’s capital as well as the country’s political, cultural and educational center. The city is comprised of 8 rings, each marked by a highway. Everywhere we went, there were long lines and the press of humanity. I was often reminded of being squished in a mosh-pit at heavy metal concerts during my high school years.

The Summer Palace (two photos above)

Beijing is noticeably different than Shanghai: many people wear black, their accent includes a lot of “arr’s” (yes–like a pirate), the streets are much wider and the distances greater. Although mostly flat, there are hills in the West. It’s an enormous city with a population of nearly 20 million, only slightly less than Shanghai’s 23 million.

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We had great weather for the first three days, cool dry air free of pollution and cloudless skies. On my last day, a fog of dense pollution settled as I rode the bus to the airport. It was a short, exhausting trip, I felt crushed by Beijing’s immensity and density, and spent the following day resting. You can learn more about Beijing here.

The Latest Food Discoveries

I continue to try all sorts of new and unusual types of food. Pictured above are zao, which grow on a tree. The green ones have the consistency and flavor of a golden delicious apple, except they are much dryer and not nearly as sweet. The more ripened, brownish ones taste a little like a chestnut.

Yes, I tried, ate, and liked, blood! A few weeks ago, friend took me to a Yunnan* style restaurant in Shanghai. With the blood I also had a delicious soup very much like Vietnamese Pho, probably due to the proximity, as Vietnam is on the border. This happened to be congealed duck blood, but a typical Yunnan restaurant will serve pork blood prepared the same way. Yes, it was cooked.  The red liquid you see in the bowl is spicy oil, and it was VERY spicy — the lip-burning kind.

*Short geography/history note: Yunnan is a southwestern province of  China. Due to its former French occupation, it is very France-like, ranging from the wine, tobacco, and other things they produce there, to the climate and scenery. Many Chinese there even speak French — including one of my friends here at work who is from there, and tells me all about her home province. I would like very much to spend (at least) a long visit there.

The hairy tuber pictured above is the Chinese Yam, seen here next to a normal yam. It is quite gray, both in color and in flavor.

Last but not least, while in Beijing I tried pig intestine. The soup itself smells awful but the flavor of this tiny piece was actually quite good. The consistency was fatty and squishy.

Other than teaching, traveling and enjoying new foods, I continue to enjoy practicing Tai Ji (what we call Tai Chi in the States), and learning all sorts of interesting things about various martial arts (due in no small part to my flatmate, who is a Chinese martial arts master).