Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ancient Scholars and Ancient Streets

You've all heard of the ancient philosopher Confucius, I'm sure, but probably not of Guozijian. Well, here I am in this ancient 700-year old 'national history and culture street', taking a quiet stroll under the Chinese scholar trees. The main attraction is Guozijian or Imperial Academy, the educational centre of 3 dynasties. Here hopeful scholars used to take civil service exams, one of the world's first such systems, (and one reason why Chinese study so hard, even today?). And it was here that Confucian texts were used to test a candidate's scholarly level. Confucius was such an important person in Chinese culture that a temple, recently renovated, was built next to the Academy so that every day people as well as the emperor could pay tribute to him.

This charming street has various local stores selling a variety of cultural items, and folk crafts. You may also bump into this ancient man symbolizing Longevity that I am embracing in the photo (I'm on the left!).

See this and other fascinating sights on our Beijing Ancient Streets walking tour.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shopping at My Local Market

You probably know how Chinese like to buy fresh vegetables, meat and fish. The hustle and bustle of market traders, shouting best prices for their products, contrasts with the rows and rows of corridors with soft background music of supermarkets in the West, with their neat shelves lined with plastic wrapped, super-clean, sterile vegetables and few humans in sight. 
Here there are lots of friendly stall keepers, even the fishmonger can smile after a hard day's work! And in case you're wondering, there are no live animals here.There is lots of local produce as well as imported fruit, can you spot the durian? With the hot summer, water melon is a favourite way of cooling down. And isn't it a luxury to buy hand-made noodles? Or even hand-made brooms, totally 'green' and organic!
Here are some pictures I took in my local market, I hope I have the chance to give you a personal tour next time you are in Beijing. More pictures follow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"I feel like a King (or Queen)!"

I went to the local market recently and bought some of my favourite fruit - see photo. You may now know it, the fruit is a rich dark red, very sensuous, and when you bite into its soft flesh, you immediately feel its sweetness and subtle flavours with a touch of sourness, difficult to describe, not quite rasberry, not quite strawberry and not quite cherry. At the centre is a stone like in a plum. But it's so special I feel like a king enjoying some rare exotic luxury. Do you know what it is? Yes, 'yangmei' in Chinese, proper name myrica rubra, and translated as Chinese strawberry or red bayberry, but I tell my friends, rightly or wrongly, that it's called arbutus. They often never heard of it, but my English friend says there is a traditional folk song called "My Love's an Arbutus".
Arbutus is native to China and has been grown for over 2000 years. Apart from eating it fresh, my grandmother used to soak them in 'baijiu' (strong liquor or spirits), and swore by it as a medicine for upset stomachs. Strongly recommended if you overeat during your holiday here!