Donghuamen Night Market (TRIGGER WARNING: may induce violent vomiting)

Donghuamen Night Market (TRIGGER WARNING: may induce violent vomiting)

Recently I visited Donghuamen Night Market.  A must for Chinese and international tourists alike! Only…please, please don’t go if you’re vegetarian, or if you really like animals, or if you really hate animals, or really if you’re squeamish in any way. On the other hand, if you’re not a fussy eater, if your tastebuds like to explore, and if you like your food to have lots of legs… knock yourself out! That is, if the smell of the place doesn’t knock you out first. 
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Yep, that’s starfish alright. And behind it, sea urchin, snake, seahorse, scorpion, centipede, silkworm, cicada, tentacles, and tarantula kebabs.

Picture it. Wangfujing is a busy shopping street, KFC and McDonalds on one side, big boutiques on the other. You reach a crossroads, you see a string of market stalls running into the distance. “Hey, that could be tasty” you think, and the stench of smelly tofu wafts towards you.

Still feel enthusiastic? Just wait. The first thing you see is a two inch scorpion wriggling all its legs at you. They serve three of them to you on a stick. Before I could stop saying ‘um, um, um…’ the seller had shoved all three of the scorpions (wriggling) into a deep fat fryer. YummyI asked the seller how to eat it (怎么吃?)and he told me just to shove the entire thing in my mouth. So, eventually… I did. It was crunchy and I wasn’t sure how to manage the tail, but it didn’t feel like I was eating a real bug. And by the way, it tasted exactly like McDonald’s fries! 

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The snake was actually really delicious. It didn’t look appetising at all (as you can see) but it had a really meaty taste, the texture was slippery, chewy and…very, very much like a snake. I almost felt bad for liking it!

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Thinking ‘oh , hey , that wasn’t so bad’ I became a bit braver when trying my last snack, and went for the cicada. Closing my eyes, I bit off the head. A hard outer shell enclosed a ‘tergum’ filled with something bitter and juicy…It was not a pleasant experience. As I bit and the ‘juice’ soaked out all over my tongue, I felt the cicada’s insides deflate inside my mouth until all I could feel was a chewy, crunchy, plastic shell. And I had to swallow it, because the seller was grinning maniacally at me. Yummy.

I would like to point out that this is NOT traditional Chinese food. This is very much a treat for tourists to ‘enjoy’. It may be the only one of its kind in Beijing! Maybe some Chinese eat everything, but there are probably plenty of Chinese people who now think I am crazy for eating a deep fried grasshopper. I don’t blame them…

 Check out http://www.thebeijinger.com/directory/donghuamen-night-market for some info and directions.

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Honestly, I have no idea what I’m eating

Honestly, I have no idea what I’m eating

The other day,  my roommate offered me a bag of long, white objects saying “Try one, they’re quite nice”. I didn’t think to ask what it was, I simply reached into the bag and pulled out….a whole pickled chicken head. As a matter of fact, it was quite tasty. The only real drawback was that you had to bite around the beak.

The thing is, I get served most of my meals in canteens. I don’t really know the names of the dishes so I sort of just point at what looks nice. Consequently, I end up with a lot of weird things on my plate. Some canteens I go into look like they are serving twenty of the same oily dish, miscellanous meat and miscellanous vegetables aplenty. Can I help it if the thing I pick out which I thought was slices of cabbage turned out to be boiled pig stomachs? And how was I to know that those overly expensive mushrooms were actually lamb hearts? Actually, the lamb hearts were truly delicious, like really tiny rare steaks. Can’t say the same for the pig stomachs, which tasted uncannily like stringy cabbage.

The other day I went to a specialty Fish Head restaurant and had fish heads, bonemeal broth (reminds me of porridge) and pigeon brains (eggy…) for dinner. My friends told me that the cheek of the fish is the best part, a delicacy in fact. In fact the fish head doesn’t taste too different to the rest of the fish, but I respect that it’s not going to waste, at least. However, I still have to poke out the eye before I eat it…

It’s not just the meat, though. Once I bought what I thought was a tasty cream cake on an iced bun. It turned out to be cheese. Another time I bought what I thought was cheese. It turned out to be candy. One time someone gave me a little something wrapped up like candy. Actually, it was beef.

I often buy ‘cakes’ in the shops around here.  Just think of all the lovely things about cakes! The toppings: sugar, icing, chocolate sprinkles, glace cherries, sesame seeds, jam, cream, raisins, blueberries, CHOCOLATE! And the fillings:  strawberry, raspberry, custard, sugar, fruit, honey, jam, cream, syrup, oats, CHOCOLATE! Well , in China cake toppings are usually kidney beans. And cake fillings are usually… kidney beans. Even if they look like they’re not. They are always made of f***ing kidney beans. I’m so bored of kidney beans. Give me a Bakewell tart any day!

And just wait until I tell you about Donghuamen Night Market…

I knew nothing about Chinese students until I began to live with them…

I knew nothing about Chinese students until I began to live with them…

My Chinese roommate is friendly, kind and intelligent, but we both agree that we have our differences.

When we first met two and a half months ago, the first words she said to me were in Chinese, but she saw my face (clueless), and two minutes later she began to communicate with me in incredibly good English. We went for dinner together that night, she introduced to me my favourite drink (honey grapefruit tea,蜂蜜柚子茶), and then I barely saw her for one or two days.

When she reappeared, we stayed up talking until four in the morning. I found out that I had already been introduced to her boyfriend, but she hadn’t told me who he was. I found out that honey grapefruit tea is a popular drink from Korea, that she comes from Sichuan, that she studied Environmental Engineering and that she had never learnt how to use chopsticks properly. I found out that in China, it is not considered rude to lean over someone’s plate to get some food on the other side of the table, and that staring and spitting are both common occurrences on the streets here. That night, I played a board game with six or seven other Chinese students. That was the  night I learnt how to say “very awkward”! (很尴尬). She said she wasn’t sure whether she should ask personal questions because she had learnt ‘Westerners’ find it uncomfortable.

Recently, I’ve become friends with some Chinese students in the building. They tell me that ‘How old are you?’ is never an inappropriate question, that the expression ‘How are you?’ is particularly stupid. They explain that it’s okay to interrupt someone else’s conversation to change the topic, but never your own conversation. They always feel they need to fill a silence, even among good friends, and sometimes become exhausted from speaking English. We rarely drink alcohol. We sometimes cook hotpot. We often chat until the early hours of the morning, and we  often find differences between Chinese and ‘Western’ culture. But, we always, ALWAYS learn more about each other.

The other day in Beijing I saw something I thought was incredible…

The other day in Beijing I saw something I thought was incredible…

The other day in Beijing I saw something I thought was incredible. Maybe some here will think the same:

A friend and I turned a corner. We saw a young man waving a wooden crutch in the air, wearing a huge grin and loudly mocking a man with one leg. The one legged man seemed to be looking around for help, but many people passed by. I have never seen such shameless mocking of a disabled person. There was no regret, nothing, it didn’t even seem abnormal to others on the street. It was very disturbing and painful to see.

I couldn’t stand and watch. I walked slowly up to this guy (smaller than me, and definitely alone) and tried to take the crutch. Obviously he was taken aback, but he wouldn’t let go! The one legged man seemed grateful for my trying to help, but that idiot continued to tease him, hopping up and down the street and waving the crutch in his face, yelling abuse. There seemed to be nothing which could stop him. We stood, aghast.

The man danced forwards, waving the crutch and screaming something along the lines of ‘Come and get it!’ and some horrible insults. Closer and closer he skipped, the one legged guy getting angrier and angrier as we watched. They were barely two metres from each other. The one legged guy swung his arms forward. The remaining crutch sliced through the air and there was an almighty CRUNCH. The young man was slammed to the ground by pure brute strength. The one legged man grabbed his crutch from the ground, and continued on his journey without a second glance.

Sometimes you just have to learn how to defend yourself.