A Friday in Beijing

Friday in Beijing we visited the embassy district, to do some business at the US and Spanish embassies. The driver from our school dropped us off a few streets from the embassy, as close as he was allowed to drive. Since we weren’t really sure where we were, we just started walking up a side street. It soon became apparent that we were close to the embassy – all the barbed wire and video cameras gave it away. I felt like I was walking through a DMZ.

At the end of the street, there was a barrier, albeit a very small one. It was just out of view of the guard standing on the corner in front of the US consulate. There was no way around the barrier, except to walk back the way we came – really far. So we did probably one of the dumbest things you could ever possibly do in a militarized zone – we jumped over the barrier. No biggie, though. I think the guard thought we came from a car parked beside it. As usual, it was a big security check at the embassy, quite a contrast to the Spanish consulate, where we just walked right on in, with cell phones and everything!! OOoohhh….

Anyway, at the US embassy I achieved the expat rite of passage that really tells you you’ve been around – I had another 20 pages added to my passport. It seems I completely filled my passport! I love all the stamps and visas. I can’t wait to fill in the new ones! After visiting the US embassy, we took a long leisurely stroll down the tree-lined streets, admiring the embassy buildings and trying to guess each country by its flag.

The Mexicans are particularly proud of their flag, as you can see in the photo below. Quite risky to take photos of the embassies, with so many guards and police standing around, but this had to be seen to be believed!

That’s right, the flag is actually bigger than the embassy.

We took a break at Le Petit Paris, a nice little cafe with a patio facing the street – perfect for people watching. There were so many expats in the neighborhood we could have been in Europe.
Just have a look at the following photo and tell me, Is this place European or WHAT!!??

We had espresso and cheesecake here. Now that is the best way I can think of to spend an afternoon.

Later that night, we ate dinner at an Indian restaurant, The Taj, because after 6 months of eating pretty much only Chinese, you need a break. The food was great and so was the ambience. Afterward, we once again strolled through the neighborhood.

This area is Northwest of the embassy district, almost directly North of the Forbidden City, close to our hotel. It is one of the very few traditional, old-style areas of Beijing that has managed to avoid the wrecking ball. There are very tiny, narrow little streets called Hutongs, and lining the streets are walls and doors. Beyond the doors are the courtyard houses, where anywhere from one to 10 families may be living. I haven’t been inside any, but I am dying to know what they are like. There are a few hotels and guesthouses located inside courtyard houses and I would love to check one out.

One hutong is developing as a sort of hip place to go for dinner and coffee. It is called Nanluogu Xiang Hutong, which means Drum and Gong Alley. We walked up the street, searching for some good coffee and dessert. We were stopped half-way up because a Chinese film crew was making a movie. On their break we were able to pass by. Our first stop resulted in some very disappointing coffee, but at our second stop, Xiao Xin’s, we had some delicious cheesecake (the second of the day!!) and a chocolate and hazlenut milkshake. Yummmy! These businesses along the Hutong are popular because they offer free Wi-fi for those with laptops and a really relaxed, more traditional Chinese style architecture and design. I loved it and I hope I can go back and explore more in the daytime. I don’t have any pics, but here is an article with pictures and descriptions:
Asia and Away – Drum Roamin’
The whole place has a really Bohemian air which is a nice change from the usual touristy bars and restaurants of the Sanlitun area.

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