Last night’s happy hour extended a little longer than expected, and because beer is filling, we never got around to dinner. But we did manage to head to Drunk Cafe where we had a couple flights of some local Beijing brews. That meant the day came a little too early today. But it was another interesting day.
Pandas, a.k.a., the bear-cat or cat-bear?
Pandas are pretty much the cutest animals alive. Their roly poly, oompa loopa-likeness make it impossible to do anything but smile when you’re around them. The trick to the crowd game in Beijing is getting to things early, so we headed to the Beijing Zoo around 8:00 a.m. The zoo is big, clean, and at 10¥ (or $1.50), insanely cheap. If you want to check out the pandas, it’s just another 5¥. Because we got there so early, we didn’t have to fight to see or get pictures of the pandas.
When pandas were first discovered, they were called cat bears, given how its face looks. Over time, the translation was mixed up to bear cat. Regardless, pandas are oddly cat-like in the face, even how they lick their mouths. If you’ve ever seen a video of a panda, they’re just as fluffy and floppy in person. They have this half hop, half waddle of a gait that you can’t help but laugh at. We watched a younger panda for a while. First, it was playing around in a tree. He eventually decided to climb out of the tree and kinda did this rolling flop finish as he got closer to the ground. A second or two later, he popped up and floppily ran around before finding a ball he was in love with. I, like everyone else, couldn’t stop watching or smiling. It was ridiculously cute.
Like any zoo, we saw other animals like zebras, monkeys, bears, lions, and tigers. We actually saw a parent dangle their kid through the fence so they could see the Siberian tiger below. All we could do is shake our heads in shock and walk away.
Hutongs via rickshaw
After the zoo, we took a rickshaw ride through the Jhang Wang hutong. Hutongs (old lanes) are some of the oldest dwellings in Beijing. Most of the hutongs have been destroyed over the years to make room for skyscrapers; the ones that still exist today are cultural landmarks and cannot be destroyed.
Hutongs are basically narrow, labyrinthian alleyways that are formed by private courtyard residences. We were able to get inside a more famous one, which as been a set for at least one movie. More spacious than it looks from the outside, each courtyard residence is equipped with one kitchen that is shared by the 4-5 families that live within it. There’s no bathroom within the courtyard walls; people who live in the hutongs use communal bathrooms and showers. There’s one about every block or so, making evening and winter bathroom runs completely miserable. It’s no wonder parents can’t get their kids to live in them anymore.
While some hutongs are still lived in, others today only serve as storefronts for businesses, like the one we walked around called Nanluogu Xiang (non-loh-goo zhee’ang). It’s a lively, crowded area that has an endless supply of restaurants, food and juice vendors, and apparel shops. It’s definitely the main spot in Beijing for young hipsters. The hustle and bustle was just as fun mid-day as it was at night. While we were out for beers, a cute American guy overheard our conversation and joined us. He’s on his way back to Japan for work and had an extended layover in Beijing. I was a bit starry-eyed. I may meet up with him to see some sights before he leaves. Ha.
A very, very fond adieu to my travel buddy
Tonight is the last night for Eric and me. He’s heading back to Shanghai in the morning so he has time to to get caught up on work before he starts up again on Monday, while I’ll still be in Beijing for another day-ish. Before I got the China he said, “I needed something familiar.” And I needed some time for my brain to really get away. I also was in dire need of laughs, which are always bountiful with Eric. What an amazing and wonderful time together this has been!