Woke up to sunshine and excited at the prospect of exploring a new Asian city. We wandered out and found Seven Eleven stores are here which is the best way to change your large notes in Asia and also an excellent place to purchase Magnums (in Bangkok) and here we found Japanese Onigiri, rice covered in nori sheets and filled with something surprising (to us at least as we cannot read the label). They also have a hot drinks shelf with a hot ginger drink so that was breakfast sorted, and there were some disused chairs outside so we used them as a breakfast bar. Delicious!
We needed to buy deodorant, which seemed a simple task however Seven Eleven failed us, they only had Lynx which is not really unisex, so we carried onto the massive shopping street filled with shops, department stores and everything you could possibly require. It was 10.30 am.
We entered a pharmacy but they had none. We tried a local shop but our mimes got us razors. We tried a supermarket but no joy. This was proving harder than we had anticipated. We found a humongous temple to consumerism called the APM mall and after the distractions of H&M, Zara, Gap et al we tried the big department store but couldn’t find any. The ladies on the information desk said they didn’t sell it. WHAT?
It was now lunchtime so we looked at the restaurant list in the mall and headed straight to the Shanghainese place. One of our favourite foods is Xialongbao, the delicious broth filled dumplings which are meaty, sweet and umami. Reinvigorated, we continued our quest for a small bottle with a ball.
A Chinese pharmacy pointed us down the street. Another huge mall drew a blank. We found another supermarket and 4 assistants and a security guard using google translate and maps pointed us up the street. This was getting personal and although I didn’t shower for four days in Mongolia, I wanted, I needed, I craved deodorant.
We tried another huge mall and in the basement was a huge supermarket and I’d have put our mortgage on finding deodorant there and I’d be on a flight home soon if I had. Tired and finding this situation slightly hysterical I mimed deodorant to a scary looking assistant. She didn’t point up or down the street, she pointed across the floor! OMG as a person younger than me might say. For the first time in my adult life I ran past the wine stall, we passed tea stalls, chocolate stalls and more tea stalls until we saw, and both audibly exclaimed ‘WATSONS’. In front of us was a pharmacy we had previously encountered in Malaysia. We’re not sure what the staff thought of our woohoo-ing, air punches or photos by the deodorant rack because sadly, our mandarin is terrible.
It was 3.02. Our quest took 4.32 hours, and during it, we saw and could have purchased tripe in juice, rabbit in a cage, live scorpion on a stick, ice cream tea, scooters, all kinds of Chinese medicines, leather, silks, furs, chairman Mao plates, children’s panda outfits and felt shoes.
We have since found out that Chinese people don’t need to wear deodorant due to their genes. I wish I had their genes.
We went back to the hostel for a rest.
As it was Saturday we decided to see Beijing at play and wandered up to the main Hutong, or old street, which is full of shops and food and is supposed to be reminiscent of the old Beijing. Like most things in Beijing it has been gentrified and knocked down and rebuilt with grey concrete and is full of natural health cosmetics, poncey shops and over priced food. Don’t get me wrong, it looks lovely and clean and everyone clearly loves it, if you just wander off down another street you can see how it actually was and still is today. We did divert into a bar as there was live music there, we stayed for one and moved on to get to the real Beijing off the main Hutong and we found it. A family run, locals cafe that had pictures of food, laminated menus and a beer that was 8 times cheaper than the one we had in the bar. We think we ordered fried durian fruit, fried yam and some delicious squid.
Suitably refreshed we made our way to a Craft Ale bar just in the hutongs, it was down some windy back streets but we could hear the noise from a few streets away. Saturday night in any bar is busy but it was their 6th anniversary so loads of expats were celebrating by drinking all 14 beers on the menu in their 3 bars. Once that was achieved you got a t shirt and round of applause from everyone in the bar. As we arrived about 9pm a few people were finishing their 14 beers and had a habit of standing on chairs/ bar stools and taking of shirts (men only) so it was quite precarious as the alcohol content was perilously high so we prevented a few accidents from happening (even got a free beer from a very grateful girlfriend for preventing her chap from falling head first off a chair). We chatted to a few expats who had been drinking since 11.30am and were looking surprisingly focused despite that.
We called it a day and having missed the last tube, we walked home drunkenly enthusing about Asia and its overwhelming affect on your senses.