Beijing, China, Day Three
Day three started with delicious fluffy bread and lovely hot tea in our room, not a bad way to start the day, after which we headed down to the lobby to meet the rest of the gang and take the subway to Tianamen Square. Any larger a group and I think it pretty certain we’d be losing a few along the way but we seem quite good at flocking together when needs be, so far anyway.
Beijing is blue and sunny and incredibly dry at the moment, not a drop of moisture in the air and more than a few of us are struggling with that and the pollution which sometimes makes breathing a challenge but hey ho, we’re here to see the sites and see the sites we did. Tianamen Square is as you’ve seen on TV, a large flat square bordered by Chairman Maos mausoleum and the front of the Main Gate of the Forbidden City. We couldn’t go in to see Maos body as we didn’t have our passports with us but maybe we’ll go back tomorrow.
After taking some photos and having our photos taken by various locals we headed under the road (they’re very fond of an underpass) and into the Forbidden City, facts about which will be added at a later stage. I do know according to myth there are 9,999 rooms as the Emperor was seen as the son of God so had one less room than the 10,000 reputed to be in Heaven. Only a third of the rooms are open to the public so I can’t confirm whether there are really 9,999 rooms or not but there seemed to be quite a few. Surrounded by a moat and with a river running within the walls the city covers a huge amount of land, courtyard after courtyard leading deeper inward. It’s a nice way to spend the morning wandering around, Joanna would tell us the history of a particular area then set us free to wander before regrouping for more information before we’d head off again which was a nice way to see it however a map would have been a welcome addition as we really had no idea of the scale until we’d walked all the way through to the Imperial Garden on the other side. It’s not at all how I imagined and you don’t go inside hardly at all, instead peering into gloomily lit rooms from behind a barrier or darkened glass, some empty and some sparsely furnished. The architecture is phenomenal and worth the visit on it’s own.
Once we’d finished our exploration we caught the bus to the Hutong, yup you guessed it I can tell you nothing about it except it had very lovely narrow lanes lined with grey brick low buildings which were homes, shops or both and it was lovely to walk around. We had booked a dumpling making class coincidentally in the Hutong for the afternoon so after a group noodle lunch we wandered off in our classes general direction and found ourselves alongside a river and then in a bustling little street lined with shops and cafes where we bought, wrote and sent postcards before continuing on our way to The Hutong (The name of our cookery school as well as the area).
Having wound our way through a maze of lanes we arrived at their red double doors and stepped into a mini oasis. The Hutong offers a range of cooking classes and tours and has wonderful reviews so was an easy choice when we were looking for something fun to fill the afternoon with. Michelle, our New Zealand Chinese Instructor was lovely, patient and humourous guiding us through the process of dumpling making from tradition to tasting. There were only four of us in the class and it was such fun, we first made the firm dough for the wraps, half dyed green with spinach water and while it was resting made one vegetarian and one pork and pumpkin filling. Once rested we rolled the dough into a thin sausage and cut equal sized nuggets which were pressed flat and then rolled into little even rounds. Of course that was the theory, after a near perfect first attempt mine point blank refused to be round looking more like flowers than anything else, ah well. Next we scooped a teaspoon full of filling and plopped it in the middle before folding, pleating and pinching until we had sealed plump dumplings which sounds so simple and was anything but. This all took WAY longer than you would think but was a really lovely experience, the four of us happily working away with Michelle showing us what to do next. Once we’d made a mountain of dumplings half were placed in a hot frying pan covered with water and left to steam while the water evaporated leaving them crispy bottomed and half were placed in a large pot of boiling water. They didn’t take long to cook and we were soon tucking into the juicy parcels we’d spent the last few hours creating and boy were they delicious! We’ll make dumpling chefs out of us yet! It was a wonderful afternoon and I’ll happily make dumplings again when I next have a kitchen.
Stuffed to the brim we grabbed the subway back to the hotel and collapsed, all the steps from yesterday have caught up with us and our legs are in agony, wow yesterday, that’s crazy, it feels so long ago we were on the Wall already. Tomorrow we leave Beijing and take the overnight train to Shanghai to continue our adventure Xx