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Amber: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet. I am Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: And today’s segment about China is called ‘Panda Express’. It’s where we travel the country. We pick a destination in each episode and we feature some things…maybe perhaps a little bit more of the beaten path for those of you who like to travel there.
Victor: Right. Even for big cities, we’ll give you some good tips.
Amber: Insider’s tips.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, today we are going to start with, well maybe, probably the biggest city and one of the most travelled-to cities in China which is of course, Beijing.
Victor: Yeah. My favorite place in China. Beijing, of course, is the capital of China. And did you know, Amber, it actually was the capital for a total of 850 years?
Amber: Really?
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: That’s some history.
Victor: The name Beijing itself actually means Northern capital as opposed to 南京 (Nánjīng), or Nanking, which stands for Southern capital.
Amber: That’s right. And interestingly, in Chinese, the word for Tokyo is 东京 (dōngjīng), which is Eastern capital.
Victor: There is not a Western capital, I don’t think. But anyway, Beijing, the Northern capital, used to be called Peking. It is actually the second largest city in China after Shanghai. Has a population of about 17 million and receives about 150 million visitors a year.
Amber: Yeah. And first of all, for anyone who hasn’t been there, my impressions of Beijing even as a city itself is very flat, very sprawling.
Victor: Expansive.
Amber: Expansive.
Victor: Right.
Amber: It’s not crowded and dense the way that Shanghai is. Although it is crowded, but it is quite spread out.
Victor: Right.
Amber: And there is a couple of little hills within the city that are in parks and basically they’re just foothills and that’s about as high as you can get besides the buildings.
Victor: Right. The traffic system in Beijing is pretty interesting. They started building these circles highways around the city and it just keeps on expanding.
Amber: So, there’s like ring roads.
Victor: They’re called the rings. They’re literally called the rings in Chinese as well. A few years ago, they only had about four rings and now they have six rings across the city. And every time the ring expands, that’s how big Beijing gets.
Amber: Yeah. And these highways circle the city starting small and getting bigger further out.
Victor: Right.The nice thing about Beijing though, I think one of the reason it’s so expansive and so open is because there used to be some rule, I’ve heard of that. Within the second ring, there is basically no tall buildings because they’re trying to keep the open sky and keep the cultural aspects of the city. So, all the tall buildings and whatever tend to be outside or in the outskirts of the city. So, the real old Beijing still kept at least the skyline and it’s still pretty open.
Amber: Yeah, very different than a lot of other cities where the downtown is the center and is where the tall buildings are.
Victor: Right.
Amber: The other thing you’ll find between these ring road highways within, the older parts of the cities are the hutongs of course, which sadly a lot has been destroyed even in the lead-up to the Olympics. But there are still quite a number of hutong that have been preserved. What is a hutong for those who don’t know?
Victor: Hutong is basically old small alleys that existed during old Beijing because people live in small houses and they are quite packed together. So, between these houses, we have tall walls that form like a little alleyway. And that’s what a hutong is called.
Amber: And often there is a courtyard and things. A very community-oriented life. A lot of them don’t have a bathroom. They have a communal bathroom in the hutong.
Victor: Right. Along with the hutong is called what is called the 四合院 (sìhéyuàn). It means like a four-family compound.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: Literally it means 四合院 (sìhéyuàn). However, sometimes you can house one family if it is a big one family or it can be a couple of families living in the same little compound.
Amber: And one thing cool too is that nowadays, some of these hutongs have been preserved or gentrified. You can go in and sometimes find a little restaurant that’s actually in an old hutong house. So, you can kind of experience it first-hand.
Victor: It’s very nice. Yeah, talking about local Beijing culture, I think in terms of language, the infamous R sound in the end, people like to add the R in the end. I think in Northern China in general, but Beijing especially.
Amber: It’s very strong.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: And you’ll notice the distinct difference in accent when you arrive in Beijing.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Personally I’ve been in Shanghai and when I get into the taxi, I could barely understand them.
Victor: It’s very soft.
Amber: Let’s give an example, Victor. Let’s say a sentence in neutral Chinese and then one in Beijing accent.
Victor: Okay. I think this is a perfect example. If you get in a taxi, they’ll say, 您去哪? (Nín qù nǎ?) And of course, I don’t really have a Beijing accent but this is what they will say. First of all, Beijing people always call ‘you’ in the most respected form which is 您 (nín). They rarely saying 你 (nǐ), it’s always 您 (nín). And when you say ‘Where are you going?’they always add on the ‘err’ sound in the end.
Amber: For example, that same sentence maybe in Shanghai would be 你去哪里?(nǐ qù nǎlǐ?)
Victor: Right. 你去哪里?(nǐ qù nǎlǐ?) or 你去哪?(nǐ qù nǎ?) sometimes. Beijing is always 您去哪? (Nín qù nǎ?).
Amber: 哪 (nǎR).
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: And sometimes they sound like they have marbles in their mouth too.
Victor: They do.
Amber: It’s like thick.
Victor: When they say 今天 (jīntiān), they say 这个 (zhège). 这 (zhè), like, as in 今 (jīn), they say 这个 (zhège).
Amber: So, there is a lot of colloquial expression. It does sound cool.
Victor: It’s like the British accents but it’s within the country.
Amber: Exactly.
Victor: When you go to Beijing, they speak differently.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: And recently, talking about transportation and things, they have subway systems. There are lots of buses.
Amber: Of course. Everything got a lot more developed for the Olympics. Okay. So, we’ve landed in Beijing. We’ve got in the taxi. Now, what are we going to see, Victor? Let’s first talk about some of the main attractions.
Victor: Sure. Beijing is the best place. For the first time visit and wants to get an overview of Chinese culture what it is like because it perfectly combines traditional stuff and Western more developed scenery as well. Of course, I’d say the first thing you’ll go to is The Forbidden City. They call it the 故宫博物院 (Gùgōng bówùyuàn), or the Palace Museum, which was the royal palace for both the Ming and Ching dynasty. It took over 137 years to build to complete and it has many, many golden roof spaces.
Amber: Yeah, it’s spectacular. And even to look down at it from above, you can go to Jǐngshān Park and look down on it and really get a full sense of the size and the beauty of the structure.
Victor: Right. And of course in the front of the Forbidden City, the front gate is the Tiananmen. The Tiananmen squares connected is basically the front gate of the Forbidden City. Tiananmen in Chinese it means have heavenly peace from the old times and that’s what it represents of course. The big portrait of General Mao is there with the Chinese flag. The world’s biggest square, Tiananmen Square. You can see people flying kites.
Amber: Definitely have to visit there. So, it’s good. You’re at the Forbidden City and directly across is the Tiananmen Square.
Victor: Right. And behind Forbidden City, we talked about the old and residential areas, where the hutong and 四合院 (sìhéyuàn) are. It’s actually a very well-preserved area in the back, not necessarily like touristy or commercialized but just people living there. And it’s very, very peaceful. So, if you have a chance just to walk around Forbidden City in the back area, it has a lot of traditional architecture that you will not see anywhere else in the city. And it really gets really the quintessential scenery of Beijing.
Amber: Yeah. Definitely the way to see a Chinese city is to walk around. You will experience all kinds of neat things you wouldn’t have known were there.
Victor: Right. Second thing of course, the Great Wall.
Amber: Yes. It goes without saying. There is a few different places you can visit. The most populated one and crowded is called Badaling. I mean, it’s probably the easiest to get to but it’s definitely lots of people.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, there is other areas you can rent a taxi for the day and they can take you to these other areas where there’s a lot less populated and it’s more natural. Sometimes, the Wall is a little broken down because it’s been rebuilt.
Victor: Right. One of them being 司马台 (Sīmǎ tái), which is really famous. It was built during the Ming dynasty and it’s about 400 years old. And it has never been rebuilt. So, I think it’s actually the only original part of the wall that’s not been rebuilt.
Amber: Which is I think a lot cooler to see.
Victor: Right. It is open to the public. So, that will take about a whole day, three hours away from the city but it’s really worth it. And two other places that are worth mentioning, the first one is the Summer Palace or 颐和园 (Yíhéyuán).
Amber: It’s beautiful on a lake.
Victor: Right. The Summer Palace was built for the royal family in the Qing dynasty. Basically, the emperor’s tower guards, 西太后 (Xī tàihòu) one of the most infamous political figures of the Qing dynasty. She took all the national defense money out of the accounts and built up this park for herself. She knows how to enjoy life, huh?
Amber: But then subsequently, we all get to enjoy it now so, can’t fault her too much.
Victor: Another really neat place is called 天坛 (Tiāntán), the Temple of Heaven. Also a place of worship for the royal family in the back and the architecture is the most amazing. It’s like a round area and there’s like a temple built in the middle there. So, it’s like a total open area, very grand, very nice and it’s also in Beijing.
Amber: And then again, there is also the Ming tombs, of course. What are the Ming tombs, Victor?
Victor: The Ming tombs basically is the burial site for 13 emperors from the Ming dynasty. It’s a little way out of the city but when you go in, you see the royal burial sites in all these excavation sites and things like that. It’s quite interesting.
Amber: It is. Yeah.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Okay. So, those are some things to see. Now, what about some entertainment? Some real Chinese entertainment? What can you do?
Victor: With Beijing upper being probably the most famous…
Amber: Yes! I think everyone should experience that, at least once. And don’t worry if you like it or not. It’s not about whether you like the sound of it.
Victor: And you won’t understand it because there is a very different way to pronounce certain things and how they project their voice. So, even Chinese people, a lot of them don’t understand what they’re saying. You just kind of like acquire taste of things.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: But it’s very interesting. And then Beijing is very famous for its tea houses.
Amber: Which is definitely far more enjoyable than listening to the opera but, both really equally valid. But you can go and taste and sample the teas. They have tea ceremony you can participate in, which is definitely a quintessential Chinese experience. And you can buy some tea to take home for gifts. It’s a really no-brainer gift to bring home.
Victor: Real stuff.
Amber: Yeah. More gifts to bring home. Speaking of, we should talk a bit about shopping! Definitely a lot of people find that Beijing is a shopping haven.
Victor: Right. The first one I recommend, instead of going to these chain stores or department stores, I recommend going to the small markets.
Amber: Yes!
Victor: I think that’s where the real action is at. The most famous being the silk market, which is 秀水街 (Xiùshuǐjiē). It’s kind of infamous for selling knock-off goods.
Amber: True.
Victor: You know, Louis Vuitton bag, watches and all sorts of things.
Amber: You probably get a chance of Walking Dead DVD and people grabbing your arm to come look at them. Well, maybe you’re into that but, one word of warning is that the price there “beginning knock 80% off”. That would be the most you should pay. Even though they’ll act angry, they are very good actors. Don’t worry, they’re good sports. Just do the walk-away method. Tell them 20% of what they offer and walk away and you’ll probably still get it.
Victor: Slowly walk away.
Amber: Don’t walk way too fast.
Victor: They’ll pull your back and they will. You’ll find out they will. You know, I bought a wallet this past summer when I was in Beijing and the girl asked for over 300 Yuan.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: And I said 30. And she said 35.
Amber: Quite a bargainer.
Victor: So, that was very easy but that’s… what you’ll realize is that these vendors, because it’s so frequented by foreigners, their English is really good. They can strike up a conversation with you about any topic. Their English sometimes is better than college students because they do the practice every day.
Amber: That’s right.
Victor: A really famous antique market is called 潘家园 (pānjiāyuán). It’s in Beijing and you know, definitely a good place to check out.
Amber: Not necessarily that all of them are really antique. So, do be careful. However, I’m sure you can find some cool things.
Victor: Yeah. Another really cool place is called the 红桥 (Hóng qiáo) Pearl Market. They do have a lot of pearl things, accessories and very cool Chinese artifacts that are worth checking out. It’s really close to Tiāntán Temple of Heaven. It’s basically right there. So, if you go there…
Amber: One-stop shopping.
Victor: Yeah. And of course, you can never leave out the most famous business district in Beijing, which is called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng). It’s actually very close to the Forbidden City. It’s basically the Beijing-version of 5th Avenue. During the Ming dynasty, it has about ten royal family compounds and that’s where the name came from. 王府 (Wángfǔ) means royal compounds. And later on, during the Qing dynasty, they drilled a well on the street. So, now it’s called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng).
Amber: Well, it makes sense why it’s the equivalent of the 5th Avenue in Beijing if it was the real compounds. It is only natural that Louis Vuitton should move in there.
Victor: Yeah. So you know, you get all these hotels and big markets and things like that around the area. It’s very cool.
Amber: Kind of posh and nice. Okay now, all the shopping and travelling around is going to make you guarantee very hungry. And that’s lucky for you because Beijing has excellent food.
Victor: You’ve come to the right place.
Amber: What do you recommend people to try, Victor?
Victor: Well definitely, the first thing you should not miss is the Peking Duck, 北京烤鸭
Amber: Yes.
Victor: Basically, it’s a whole roasted duck and how to select a meat is very special and the way the way they toast it is very special. It just comes out the perfect…
Amber: Very succulent.
Victor: Yeah, like the skin is very crispy but the meat is very supple and very nice, very warm. And you put it in the pancake and dip in plum sauce and with some green onion.
Amber: Yes. It is delicious.
Victor: The famous place to check out though, this restaurant chain called 全聚德 (quánjùdé). Very famous. It was started in 1864 and it still is very, very prosperous till today. So, definitely something to go for. The next thing I will recommend is the Beijing hot pots, 涮羊肉 (Shuànyángròu). It is basically hot pot for lamb. And to go there, you can check out 东来顺(dōngláishun). Once again, a very old restaurant chain that was started in 1903.
Amber: And also the street food, I think I really like in Beijing, there is like roasted nuts. There is a lot of bread-like items in Beijing, which surprised me because you don’t find that so much in other parts of the Southern China. Kind of like steamed buns and different kinds of dumplings. It’s really delicious, these sort of breads that they fry and put egg in. Try everything. True, there is some risk of stomach troubles. However, probably 99 times out of the 100, you wouldn’t have any trouble. Just keep your eyes open for something that looks fresh.
Victor: Yeah. Some stuff are pretty normal but then you got grilled scorpions, centipedes…
Amber: And some people might like that too.
Victor: Snake meats, things like that. It gets pretty crazy too.
Amber: Yeah. For the full experience, try those.
Victor: Another thing to try in Beijing that I have had a lot of success with bringing my foreign friends to is called 炸酱面 (zhájiàng miàn). It is the noodles with dark bean sauce as a tradition of Beijing. And once again, right next to the Temple of Heaven, is called 老北京 (lǎoBěijīng). It’s an old Beijing 炸酱面 (zhájiàng miàn) restaurants. They are very famous, very big and the nice thing about is they retain the old style of decorating. Basically, they have these wooden benches with no backing in the back. It’s just like the bench by itself and that’s how people in Beijing used to sit. And then the service were all male, which also according to the old traditions, and they wore these vests and have a towel over their shoulder. When we come in, they’d yell hello and whatever in Chinese, which is all very, very traditional style of serving things. Makes things very interesting.
Amber: Very good to try a traditional Chinese restaurant like that.
Victor: Right. So, try the noodles. And a great dessert I’d recommend is called 三不沾 (sānbùzhān). It is made of egg, green bean powder and sugar. And it was actually developed by mistake. The chef didn’t know what he was doing. He just kind of made it and it turned out to be this great thing and it’s sweet, just to the right degree. So, it’s not too much, not too little. And it’s called 三不沾 (sānbùzhān). It means just stick to three things. It looks kind of sticky but it does not stick to your plate, to your chopsticks or to your teeth.
Amber: I look for that in desert.
Victor: It’s some magical quality of the desert.
Amber: It’s good. I’ve had it.
Victor: And if you are a sucker for soup dumplings…
Amber: Yeah, most of us are. They’re good.
Victor: 小笼包 (xiǎo lóng bāo), right? This place called 鼎泰丰 (DìngTàiFēng), it’s a chain restaurant that has stores all over China and it was started in Taiwan by a guy who was actually from Mainland China, Shanxi province but he moved to Taiwan later on.
Amber: Soup dumplings to the world.
Victor: To the world! Right. And this restaurant is great.
Amber: They are delicious.
Victor: The dining area is really nice. It’s very fancy but the price is actually very reasonable. You can have a huge meal with a lot of people and per person, it comes down to about 20 US dollars.
Amber: And that’s the thing with eating in China is that all these things we mentioned, it’s really quite cheap. You can kind of eat like a king or an emperor.
Victor: And drink all you want.
Amber: Yes, baijiu. All you can drink. 10 kuai. Okay well, in true Chinese form, we have basically dominated the travel discussion with food because travelling in China, a huge part of it is food. Even Chinese people themselves, when they travel to other locations in China, the main focus, the highlight is the area is food. So in Chinese tradition, we also thought it was good we introduce some of these delicious foods
Victor: And it is important you need the good fuel to keep you going, right?
Amber: It’s true. Perfect.
Victor: So, of course today we only touched a few things that you can get to see and do in Beijing. If you really do get to go, there is so many other things. But if I feel like if you do these things we just kind of mentioned, it’s very good first visit.
Amber: It’s true. Oh, I forgot what my favorite food was. Do you know what I love? I went there in November. It was quite cold. And they have... It was the cabbage season and I have never seen such giant cabbages. And what you’ll see is that they are piled up everywhere on the streets. But seriously, every meal I went to, they would just stir fry this 白菜 (báicài) , this giant cabbage and it tasted delicious. Sweet, fresh… just simple cabbage.
Victor: So here you go. Even cabbage in China taste better.
Amber: Yes! No wonder they make jade sculptures out of them in the museums I have seen. So, that’s it for the Chinese Buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure come visit us at chineseclass101.com, we have lots of lessons there that can give you lots of insights about China and also teach you to speak Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).