From Jingshan Park I took this picture overlooking the Forbidden City:
The picture above does a poor job of identifying the scale of the Forbidden City. This place is HUGE! It’s the size of — you guessed it — a city. There’s so much to see and take in. It’s kinda like the Great Wall in that I may need to visit a second time.
After exploring the park and Forbidden City I was pretty hungry. Walking south on the west side of the wall surrounding the Forbidden City, roughly three-quarters of the way to Tiananmen Square, I saw a little restaurant packed with people. It was just after 1PM, the end of the restaurant’s lunch rush. I ventured inside and was quickly offered a table, menu, and cigarette from the owner. Like I mentioned here, the Chinese are incredibly hospitable!
If you’re ever curious about the quality of a restaurant or a food vendor on the street, check to see if the venue’s busy. If the restaurant’s busy or there are people lined up for a snack, it’s likely the (street) food is good and cheap!
For lunch I ordered a beer and 20 pork dumplings. At the end of the meal I wasn’t quite full enough so I ordered another dish of sweet and sour pork. For a little under an hour I sat and enjoyed my meal watching the action on the street as families of all shapes and sizes passed my picture window.
Outside of Tiananmen Square there was a man selling roses. I inquired about the cost and two Chinese women approached me. They asked if I was buying the rose for my girlfriend. We chatted for a while as we walked toward the Square.
These mid-twentysomethings wanted to get a drink with me, but something felt off. Their English was too good and they were a bit too pushy about getting a drink and spending time together. I wasn’t sure if they were using me to practice their English or wanted to mug me, or were prosititues looks to savor a flavor. I said goodbye to them and let my imagination run wild with the possibilities as I explored the Square.
Later two other women approached me and wanted to go get coffee. I was dumbfounded. In the previous five months of living in China no women approached me to get a drink or spend time with me. But in a span of an hour four women wanted to hang-out. Though I was flattered by their request and sincerity I declined as I developing a headache. I returned to my hotel to rest.
Shortly before 7PM my friend Ash and I met-up with plans to find dinner. With no intended location we wandered around downtown Beijing and eventually found ourselves at an outdoor food market. A two block long corridor was filled with people selling starfish, squid, noodles, scorpions, tofo… So many things!
As we were walking we met a family. This father and mother invited us to their art gallery to see their work. As the husband said, this was a special day because it was the new year AND Valentine’s Day so he painted two original works of art on the spot! Here’s mine:
Here’s the family and me:
Ash and I left the family in the gallery and headed back to the street in search of more surreal experiences. As we meandered through the market we ate a wide variety of goodies: fried dumplings, fried banana ice cream, smelly smelling tofu, candied strawberries, and seasnake on a stick.
To close the night we hopped on the subway to grab a drink at The Tree Bar. Brilliantly Ash and I each bought a single red rose to bestow on any beautiful single ladies at the bar.
Unfortunately, there were not any single ladies. We left with our roses.
Back on the street again — in what appeared to be a bar/club district — we saw a lot of people enjoying their respective poisons. As we entered the same dark alleyway we passed through no less than an hour ago we were approached by a very nice South African man that attempted to sell us cocaine. He was incredibly understanding when I declined. We shook hands and went our respective directions.
Half-way down the alley Ash gave his rose away to an old woman selling balloons. At the subway station, still with my single rose I attempted to give it to a cute transit authority woman. I passed the rose through the hole in the glass cage she was working inside. She looked at it, declined, and passed the rose back to me. In a state of disbelief I reiterated, “No?!”
Shot down on Valentine’s Day in a foreign country. It’s good to know nothing’s changed…
Hoping you had an eventual “Lover’s Day!”
MICHAEL VENSKE is an expert mistake-maker whose faith and enthusiasm cause him to leap without looking. One such jump landed him in China where he’s currently teaching kindness, compassion, and the fine art of physical comedy.
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