China Trip Three – Houhai Lake District

After a full day of touring the Forbidden City we still had dinner plans for the evening with a former Rollins College student who was now living back home in Beijing. Xiaolin was a former student of Art’s sister and offered to show us one of his favorite areas of Beijing.

We had asked if there was something from the US that he would like us to bring back for him. His request – a package of hazelnut vanilla coffee from Einstein’s Bagels. He was very happy when we gave it to him. He was even more ecstatic that he had a new girlfriend to bring with him and she was the reason he was an hour late to meet us at the hotel. The female shortage in China was hitting him hard too. She was very pretty, smart and demure. Xiaolin was smitten.

We all packed into a taxi and headed off to the Houhai Lake district to dine at one of his favorite restaurants. The restaurant is named after one of his favorite writers and if you read Chinese you can get more information about it by clicking here.

And, the menu was in Chinese. No English menus available here. It is customary in China for the host to choose the items that will be eaten at the meal and Xiaolin quickly assumed this role. He apparently forgot or ignored the fact that we would be paying for dinner. I made it clear that I cannot eat dairy or really creamy dishes but he interpreted that as “I didn’t care to” not “I’m allergic to” and kept pressing me to eat one particularly creamy dish until I may it clear that eating it would make me sick. He also ordered a hot yellow wine. I never drink anything that’s hot. It’s a preference but a strong one so I stayed away from that. Nevertheless, most of the rest of the meal was fine but not remarkable. A stewed chicken entree was good and the fried rice was okay. Some other small bites were tasty but overall the food was not really what I would call interesting or really tasty.

The atmosphere was very nice though and after dinner we set off to walk around the Houhai Lake area. This area has become a hot spot for nightclubs and bars. And since this was a Saturday night the business owners were gearing up for a busy night. It was still early though and, like we have found in certain districts in Paris, Brussels and Barcelona, hawkers are employed outside to lure people into the establishments. We were not tempted to enter any of them because the music was very loud and we really wanted to see more of the surrounding area. Even so, the lighting and the activity around the lake in the evening makes this a very compelling place to visit if you are looking for some serious libations and entertainment.

We moved on to a very busy pedestrian-friendly area with lots of stores and snack food purveyors. The place was colorful and a real riot of sounds and aromas (some more pleasing than others – stinky tofu really is stinky). Then we moved on to a less pedestrian-friendly area where small cars, motor scooters, bicycles and foot traffic all compete for the same space. Sometimes it was a very tight squeeze to make sure we didn’t get run over. Very interesting things to look at but nothing that we really wanted to buy.

After a couple of hours of walking (on the same sore knee that I had injured the day before) Art and I decided we had seen enough vendors for one day. We thanked Xiaolin and his girlfriend for taking us to see this area of Beijing and set off back to our hotel via taxi. Even at 11:30pm the streets were jammed.

We were exhausted and happy to drop into a very comfortable bed. This was our last night in Beijing before we headed off to Shanghai but we still had more to see on Sunday before we left. This was only the beginning of our journey.

Priscilla (one half of the Travel2some)

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