Feb. 19 - Pandas and Roast Duck
Our final day in the capital was a visit to the Beijing Zoo. The highlight of their zoo is, of course, their panda exhibit. In fact, the last time I visited this zoo, our tour went directly to the panda exhibit only. But this time we scheduled ourselves a healthy hour and a half to wander the zoo on our own.
Alex, Myself, and my buddy Chas didn't waste much time at the Panda exhibit. They were all sleeping and being lazy. First we checked out the impressive lake/bird sanctuary near the zoo's entrance. For the extra hour we had, it was enough to get a decent impression of what the zoo has to offer. Its certainly no San Diego or Brookfield zoo, but the variety of animals is there. Some animals were very odd looking, 4 legged things that I had never seen nor recognized from any American zoo. I couldn't get a reliable name, as they were all writtein in Chinese and Pin Yin. The only thing I could tell, was that they were native to western China, as next to each name was a map of their natural habitat.
One I remember looked like a cross between a hog, a large dog's face, and something equally ugly. The monkeys were cool, but the gorilla house was especially sad looking. Pretty run down, dreary lighting, and a pair of depressed looking, massive Kongs.
Also different from last year was my Roast Duck experience. Roast Duck dinners are the most famous, traditional dinner developed in Beijing's traditions. Whereas last year I didn't enjoy the meal, I found this trip's to be a highlight lunch for the entire tour. New restaurant, lots of beer at noon, and a much better tasting duck helped to make this possibly the best meal of the trip.
Northern Chinese food differs much from its Southern brethren. I found that Beijing's meals were easily my favorite of the trip. The south prefer very sweet, lighter meals, where the north enjoys saltier, heavier meals.
I spent my free afternoon hunting the streets near our hotel for a guitar. I've always wanted a thing, hollow body jazz guitar and knew Xiamen didn't have any to offer. Drew, another traveling buddy , went with me, as he was curious about getting a bass for himself.
The streets lined with music stores were chock full of people and clsed off to cars thanks to the Chinese New Year. Of all the stores, there was literally only one guitar that stood out as one that fullfilled my dreams and could be proud of. They had rip off Gibsons etc...but I wanted legit. Only problem was, the legit PV guitar was listed at 3,000 RMB. But two hours of haggling, 1 walk away from the store, and a lot of acting and debate later and the price had dropped to 1,600 RMB with a hard case thrown in. With an exchange rate of US$1 = 7.7 RMB that works out to...just a hair over $200. This same model guitar in the US probably retails for $400. Not too shabby. Not to mention a hard case that was thrown in for free usually would cost 50-70$ by itself.
On another note, the Chinese New Year on the night of the 17th was like nothing I've seen/heard before. They may not have the best quality fireworks (as they big ones usually explode before clearing the 2o some story buildings) But it seems every person in the city of 18 million are launching bombs for 12 hours straight. It actually went on for the entire trip, but those first hours from midnight to 6 in the morning were literally non stop. They didn't have any single, planned fireworks show, just regular citizens on every street corner and parking lot blowing things up.
It seriously sounded like a war zone. I thought I was in Beirut or something. IThat same night, I also got to play guitar in the same hole-in-the-wall bar as last year. Instead of Andy Oswald (my good friend from last years trip) on the drums, I had the priviledge of jamming with a 50-something year old Swiss man who told me it was his first time playing in 25 years. The 15 or so Swiss present were all raucous, drunk, loud and fun. He was a ton of fun to perform with, even when he stumbled and dropped a drum stick mid-song. Just a good party.