Beijing #11 – Cocktails

After wandering around in the blazing hot sun, i needed to take a break and get out of the heat.. preferably somewhere where i can also get a drink. I read about this place called Mao Mao Chong in the guidebook and set out to find it, but as everything has been here in China, it wasn’t so easy. When i arrived at the address listed in the book, there was nothing to be seen. I wandered back and forth down the street, and just as i was about to give up, i noticed this little alley that cut from the street. When i looked down the alley, there didnt appear to really be anything, just a few rusted doors, but at the last minute, i noticed that one of them had “MMC” written next to it.

I stood there hesitantly as there was no indication that this was for sure the right spot, or that the door lead to anything, and if it did, that the place was open. I didnt want to just barge in. As i stood there, someone walked out of the door and started fiddling w/ a trash can. You would think that seeing me standing there, looking confused, he would have acknowledged me in some way, but he proceeded to totally ignore me until i finally waved to him and then pointed questioningly towards the door while saying “Mao Mao Chong?”. He nodded, with zero trace of emotion or caring whether i came in or not, and went on about his duties.

This has been a bit of a bummer while traveling here. While some people have been indeed incredibly nice, welcoming, and helpful… there have been a lot of people that really dont seem to care less about you whatsoever. You would think that if you saw a confused looking foreigner standing a couple yards from the door of your business, that you would at least attempt to usher them in, or help out, or… i dunno… anything?? Now, i am not a novice traveler by any means. I’ve done more traveling than a lot of people and have been to a shitload of countries, so I feel like i have enough experience to say that out of most countries out there, China is definitely one of the more confusing places to travel and also one of the not so welcoming ones. Of course, this is not a blanket statement as I’ve had some *terrific* interactions with people here who have gone above and beyond to be kind and helpful.

Anyways, I wander in and find myself in a wonderful little cocktail bar. There is a huge assortment of liquor here as you would find in any western bar, and the cocktail menu actually has English translations of the drinks. I ordered a couple of cocktails.. a spicy tequila based drink and a Moscow Mule with chilis. Both of them were delicious, and especially as I was practically melting from the heat outside, the ice cold cocktails (and air conditioning) were incredibly nice.

This turned out like a lot of my experiences in China… difficult, confusing, but in the end, rewarding and great.

Great Wall of China

Even for people who know nothing about China, they have probably heard of the Great Wall. The Great Wall of China is not only the most famous thing here, but one of the most famous things in the world. Like the pyramids in Egypt or the Coliseum in Rome, it’s one of those things that you learn about as a kid and is unforgettable. It’s on pretty much any top 10 list. Being here, I was incredibly thrilled to be able to go see it.

The wall was started being built in 220 BC and was absolutely massive at 13,000 miles long. It was used to keep out invaders back in the day, but after it stopped being used, lots of it crumbled and got overtaken by wilderness. It’s no longer one big wall, but many sections of wall with some of them in better condition than others. Oh, and would you believe that it’s the only man made thing that you can see from outer space? I hope not, because that’s actually not true. You can’t see the wall from space.

Anyways, several of the sections of wall that you can see are near Beijing. The closest section to town is the one that most people see, but everything I’ve read is that it is pretty awful. For one thing, most of it is “reconstructed” (aka fake) and also there are mobs of tourists everywhere. Instead you can go see the “wild wall” which is chunks of wall farther out. That wall is mostly the real deal and there ware way fewer people.

I set out super early in the morning and in typical fashion almost missed my tour. When we got to Gubeikou, it was lightly raining and super misty so it was kind of tough to see. We trekked up the hill a bit and after a while got to the wall.

The wall was fucking amazing! It was so incredible to be up there and see this thing that is such an iconic sight. We walked along the wall and, as advertised, there really were not that many people there. As you walk the wall, you hit a series of watchtowers that you scramble through. Eventually, some of the mist burned off and the views were even more breathtaking… You could see for days and the wall just stretched on forever and ever.

After 5km, we were given a choice of either going down to the bus or continuing on for another 1km. Most people gave up at this point, but I continued. At this point, there were lots of stretches where I was literally the only person I could see. All was quiet and it was just me, hiking on top of the Great Wall of China. Such a surreal moment. I took about a zillion photos.

Afterwards, we got fed a *massive* amount of Chinese food. We were all pretty much starving after the hike, so food an beer was so nice.

China – logistics #2

This may be one of the most mindblowing things i learned on this trip, so I am putting it in its own post separate from the other logistics post. Since there is no FB here, everyone iuses WeChat. It’s a social network, messaging app, and most interestingly, a payment system. People here use WeChat to pay for *everything*. Every single store. Every single hotel. Every single restauarnt. They all accept WeChat. I was talking to a tourguide and she told me that nobody uses cash anymore. Seriously. Nobody really uses cash. Cash is dead here.

She said that she has 300Y in her purse just in case for emergencies, but it has sat there for months untouched. Even at the veggie market or at outdoor foodstands, they all accept WeChat. She said that sometimes even beggars on the street will have a WeChat QR code and you can pay them using WeChat. Yes. There are beggars that accept WeChat. How is it that back home in San Francisco, we have some bars and restaurants that are cash only and cant even handle credit cards, yet here *everyone*, whether they are a tiny mom and pop shop, or sell trinkets on the street, or sell kabobs from a cart, or just about anything else.. Everyone here can use WeChat. People here think of cash as something that only really really old people use.

Yesterday, as I was scrambling through ancient Buddhist caves, I came upon this beautiful golden buddha statue. To the right, there was a donation box just like you see next to buddha statues all over Asia, to the left there was a WeChat QR code. Yes. Even buddha accepts WeChat.

China – logistics #1

The Great Firewall of China

In China the government controls the internet and only certain information is allowed to get in. Because of that, a lot of sites that the government cannot censor are blocked like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This is pretty annoying while traveling here as it means no Google Maps, Gmail, posting on FB, etc. Luckily, this only applies to Chinese internet, but doesn’t affect data on my Verizon plan. Also, its possible to get a VPN service and circumvent these blocks, but it’s annoying because now i have to turn this vpn on whenever i am using wifi, and turn it back off when i am not. I always end up forgetting to do that and end up with super slow speeds or being blocked. (I know… life is so rough, eh?)

It is pretty insane to think about though. That there are *1 billion* people in this country, and they cannot get access to uncensored information. No free press. No unfiltered internet. The tv channels are all run by the government. I was listening to NPR a while back, and when a reporter went around to ask Chinese college students about the Tiananmen Square protests, even showing them the infamous photo… they didn’t even know what that was. It was just deleted from history. This is some serious 1984 style Big Brother stuff. I know back home we talk alot of shit about the government (and yes, clearly our current administration is fucking awful), but it’s crazy just how much worse it can be and how lucky we are to live in a (relatively) free country.

Also, interestingly, even though google isn’t used here, people still say that they googled something if they looked it up on the internet.


Despite all the crazyness with the firewall, my phone has been a lifesaver here on this trip. Cellphones are everywhere in China. Sometimes i see people even carrying more than one. And reception is incredible. In the middle of nowhere i still often get a perfect signal. Honestly, it’s much better than back home. How is it that *Silicon Valley* has worse cellphone service than China?

Google translate is the one app that the Chinese firewall doesnt block, and i use it all the time to translate things though it’s not perfect as people sometimes cant understand the translation. Google maps surprisingly has maps of *everything*, even totally remote tiny towns. I can book train tickets, hotels, and flights. I can contact people back home… I was literally texting people back home while walking on the Great Wall of China. It’s hard to remember how people survived while traveling before smart phones. The one thing I cant really do (outside of Beijing) is find restaurant listings/reviews.


The atms here dont like American cards. Not sure what the deal is but often i need to try 4 or 5 atms. By the 4th one, I am usually breaking a sweat, afraid that i’ll be stranded wherever i am with no way to get money, but eventually it always works out (so far).


This app is like uber/lyft and has been a lifesaver like crazy. Trying to talk to cab drivers is super hard as they dont speak English, and google cant always translate names of places. Not to mention, cab drivers often try to rip you off etc. It is *so* convenient to just be able to plug in a destination in the app, and just get picked up and dropped off wherever. Also, if you are in a random area at night with no cabs… amazing.

Cup of Noodle

Back home, cup of noodle is mainly for poor college kids, but here it is absolutely everywhere. It is the ultimate travel food, so every airport, train station, bus station, etc has a hot water dispenser so you can fill up your cup of noodle.


A huge percentage of the men here smoke and you can smoke pretty much anywhere, often even in restaurants. Not sharing is considered very impolite, so I get offered cigarettes quite often, especially when I am in taxis.

Beijing #7 – Clubbing

It happened to be the weekend when i was in Beijing, so i thought i would hit up some clubs while i was there. From what i had read, there is a pretty cool little underground scene there with 3 cool clubs that are not the typical cheesy megaclubs. I wanted to check out one on Friday and one on Saturday, but as has been the norm, things here are not that easy.

The first club, Dada, was not too far from my hotel. I wandered down there and when I got to the entrance, there were a lot of people standing around outside chatting. Some people were holding random stuff like lighting equipment or other stuff that you would expect in a club, so i assume they were there to help set up. Not sure what was going on, I stood around awkwardly. As some time passed, people started dispersing little by little. Hmmm… that’s not a good sign. Finally, i asked some guy what was happening and he said that there “is some big meeting with China and some other countries, so it cannot happen”. Um.. what does that even mean? Oh well.

The next night i headed out to try to find a club called Aurora. Unfortunately, there was no address for it on any of the sites i checked except that it was in the “Tongli” building in this one area of town. This area of town has a crazy street of bars, all lit up in crazy neon and every single one had a band playing. Seriously, like 20 buildings in a row. What is this? Are there really that many bands playing on one night here? Is there such a thing as karaoke but with a live band? No clue.

Anyways, I am wandering around and showing random people my phone with the Chinese characters for “Tongli”. A lot of people are perplexed and have no clue what i am asking. Others point me in some direction and then when i ask someone else, they point me back in the opposite direction. Then it starts raining. I am wandering the streets of Beijing, in the rain, totally lost, looking for a “Tongli” building that may or may not exist. As i start getting more drenched, i contemplate giving up…

But, just as I am about to quit… I stumble upon the building. Omg! The club is pretty small, and the turnout is even smaller. Maybe i was just there on an off night, but it was pretty empty. The vibe there was pretty fucking great though. People rocking out, having a blast, despite the emptiness. It seemed like a super fun place actually. Unfortunately, I had to get up at 6:30am the next day, so I had to call it a night after a few beers. Too bad i dont have any more weekend nights in Beijing!

Beijing #6 – Peking Duck

If there is one single dish that Beijing is most known for around the world, it is Peking Duck. It’s supposed to be this amazing heavenly delicacy, and many restaurants in town fight over whose duck is the best in the land. I spent a bunch of time reading reviews, with people saying that this one restaurant is the best while others saying that a different restaurant is way better. I finally settled on a place called Duck de Chine. They serve their duck with a unique type of Hoisin sauce that is supposed to be incredible.

I took a cab across town (25 mins). The guy drops me off, and i start wandering around trying to find the place. Finally, I find a security guard and show him the name of the place on my phone. He starts shaking his head and does an “X” motion with his arms. Uh-oh. It turns out that the place has been closed for 6 months. Not only that, but the entire complex that it is in has been closed, and the bar i wanted to go to was in that complex too. I had planned my whole night around this, and now i was across town for nothing and it was getting late.

After frantically searching on my phone, I found another duck place that was also highly rated and not too far away. When i got there, it turned out that they were out of half ducks, so i had to get a whole duck breast which ran me $50+. Ouch… that’s a lot by China standards. Well, at least the duck was amazing right? Umm.. no. It was… ok, i guess? Just fine and tasted good, but nothing i would get excited about. They also brought out a broth that is made from the duck bones that literally tasted like hot water. Basically zero flavor.

So yeah… i got to try the world famous duck. Not sure what all the hype is about. I was also told later that the place i ate at is so fancy that it is known for being the place you would take an important business client from out of town to impress them. Hmm, not so impressed.

Beijing #5 – Forbidden Palace

The most famous thing to see in Beijing is the Forbidden Palace. This palace is where Chinese emperors ruled from for 500 years, and is called that because people were forbidden from entering unless the emperor allowed it. This thing is *massive*. It’s over 1 *million* square meters (180 acres) and has 800 buildings in it surrounded by city walls and a moat.

It’s quite an impressive sight, even from the outside, but even more so once you get inside the city walls. You could wander around for ages, checking out all the incredible structures, each with very impressive sounding names like “Hall of Supreme Harmony” or “Palace of Heavenly Purity” or “Gate of Divine Prowess” or “Palace of Prolonging Happiness”. Also, the place is basically a gigantic maze, and a lot of the structures look kind of similar, so after some time, you have no clue where the hell you are and whether the gate you are looking at is for Purity or Harmony or whatnot, heh. I think i took a million photos of all the cool buildings. Also, Beijing is like a billion degrees currently, and extremely humid, so i was kind of dying after a while (ok, maybe it was just 87 degrees, but with the humidity and with me being from San Francisco, it felt like a billion).