Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beijing's Other Sites: Hutongs and the Night Market

A fun area to visit in Beijing is the Hutongs. These are narrow streets and alleyways dating back thousands of years. Of course the buildings on them aren’t thousands of years old, but many are hundreds and can be viewed when you walk around the area or take a Hutong tour on a pedicab. These pedicabs are different than the public pedicabs that I got scammed on. These are specifically for the tours of the Hutongs and they will take you around the area with a guide if you would like to see some of the old houses and courtyards in the area. Some of the streets in the Hutongs area have been made more modern and the area is now full of interesting restaurants and bars and has a great nightlife scene. It is worth checking out both during the day and at night for the history and the recreation. The fee for taking the pedicabs with a tour guide for the hour or so tour is about $18 dollars, which is a legitimate ticket you must buy and non- negotiable. However at the end of my tour I gave my guide a tip of 50 RMB which is 7 dollars, which I thought was very generous and 10 RMB to the cyclist and my guide looked upset and demanded I giver her 100 for them both. I was shocked and told her no and that I literally didn’t have that much on me. She had seen my wallet and pointed to the 200 RMB I had left in my wallet, but I told her truthfully that I had set that aside for my cab driver and I needed it to get home. She looked very upset and kept bugging me about it following me after I left the pedicab all the way to my taxi. I do not want to make any generalizations about China, but I encountered this scamming demanding attitude time and time again and it definitely left a bad taste in my mouth in regards to my experience in the country as a whole.
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Another area worth checking out at night is Wanfujing Street and the Donghuamen Night Market. This is where I got scammed by the Teahouse girls, so be on your guard, but otherwise it is quite fun. Wanfujing Street is a major pedestrian shopping street off Chang’an Avenue, the major street, which runs through the heart of Beijing. Wanfujing is just a few blocks from the city center of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It is located between the Beijing Hotel and the Oriental Plaza mall and hotel complex. The street reminded me of Times Square with a lot of tourists, bright lights and cheesy tourist shops, but it is fun to experience.
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At the end of the pedestrian part of the street is a side street with the Donghuamen market, otherwise known as the Beijing Night Market. The market was started in 1984, but rebuilt in 2000 and is an interesting collection of street food from all over China. Here you can find everything from noodles to scorpions, hot pots to snakes, rare abalone to horned beetles, and live squids to shark fin soup. I tried to play a little game called count the endangered or threatened species for sale to eat, but I was so grossed out and couldn’t identify what everything was. I chose not to eat anything because I was afraid of what I might be eating and have had enough stomach bugs on this trip to last a lifetime, but just walking around and seeing it was well worth the trip.
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