Tuesday, 15 April 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Scorpion, the "Other" Food Group

Food is an absolute obsession for the Chinese. Beijing is where you will find staples such as noodles and dumplings. Peking duck is the city's most famous dish. I'm therefore wondering where scorpion factors into the mix but if you go to the night market in Wangfujing, like I did last night, you will see not only scorpion but seahorse, starfish, silk worms and other bugs/creatures which I'm still not exactly sure where Darwin would've categorized them.

"You try lady? You try!" shouted the seller as he banged his hand on the counter top. The scorpions all started "dancing" despite being speared on a stick. Oh! So they're alive! Even more tempting!

By the time I had walked the length of the market and back, I had somehow talked myself into trying one. In fact for the same price as a Starbucks you could get 3! Who knew!?! The scorpions themselves actually meet a grisly end before you crunch down on them. They're quickly fried and then, if they weren't dead by then, suffocated in spices and likely a healthy shot of MSG. It was crunchy. No slime. And actually quite tasty even if I did fleetingly fret about the ramifications of a scorpion stinger stuck in my teeth. Not exactly as filling as the wonderful vegetarian dumplings I got from a small non-English speaking hole in the wall. Still, not enough to make me even contemplate trying a silk worm.

This morning I visited the world's largest public square along with thousands of others. To most of us Westerners, Tiananmen Square is strongly associated with the protests in June 1989 in which many died. It is a monument representing the supremacy of the Communism and whilst not the most relaxing of places thanks to the security, it's 440000 sq metres of it make it pretty awe-inspiring. If you feel so inclined you can queue for hours with many Chinese who have come to pay their respects to the embalmed body of Chairman Mao in his namesake Memorial Hall.

At the end of the Square, the Forbidden City is the largest palace complex in the world. There are 800 buildings with 9000 rooms, as well as courtyards, pavilions and gardens. I spent 3 hours there and still only saw a small fraction of it. It has been home to 24 emperors and was the heart of China for 500 years. Highlights, at least for me, included the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. These emperors were certainly harmonious! You will see lots of dragons. The Imperial Garden, at the north end, would've been perhaps somewhat more tranquil had I not been visiting it with hoards of others.

I've done a lot of walking since arriving in Beijing. But I've also braved the subway and the bus. I've read that Beijingers are getting better at queuing but it is still quite a work in progress. Expect some scrums! I'm pretty sure that the elbow I got whilst trying to board the 103 bus came from a wily geriatric lady. She actually knocked me out of the way and climbed over someone else. Don't bother losing your temper in public - it is considered bad form. Just smile, smile, smile!

I'll try to remember that over the next 44 hours or so on board a train bound for Lhasa, Tibet!

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