Darling Harbour on steroids – Houhai @ Shichahai

I got super excited when I discovered this recreational goldmine – It’s not only gorgeous, it looks like so much fun!!

Houhai in the Shichahai Lake area is lined with designer restaurant after designer restaurant, bar after bar. Imagine Sydney’s Darling harbour on steroids and you’ll almost have it.
In the lake there are traditional boats, water peddling boats, floating restaurants, locals swimming with hundreds of water lilies beautifying the lakes borders. On land there are bicycles, 2 seater bicycles, 3 seater bicycles and if that’s still not enough, they even have the family four seater bicycle, people flying kites, juggling, and kicking the glow in the dark hacky sack around – at the same time!

Walking along Houhai there is Reggae Bar, Bob Marley Bar, Purple Bar, Michael Jackson Bar, Country & Western Bar, Jazz bar, Lotus Bar (etc, etc, etc). All with a duo of acts singing modern chinese and all time favourites for live entertainment.

If you happen to come by yourself, like I did, don’t worry, there are many young hosts standing in the front of these bars and clubs who are not shy about grabbing your hand, leading you into their bar, sitting you down, getting you a beer, and keeping you company with the usual line of questioning – What is your name? Where are you from? How long are you in Beijing? Why?

Entering the stage is Kitty and Tom (Foolery I’m guessing). They perform at the Purple bar 7 nights a week, she wears a Sailor Moon outfit most nights and looks like a life-size doll (can I have one?), and he has orange hair. Together they’re ‘Born to be Mild’. Not really, that’s just the name I’ve christened them with after viewing their performance. Understandably, its difficult to keep up the enthusiasm night after night especially when competing against the vast amount of bars who are offering the exact same service, scenery and style of entertainment, side by side, on your street.

I enjoy being on holidays, with my only direction being south, and having no boundaries.. except when asked if I want to sing karaoke, in public, in chinese.

After Born to be Mild? ‘No way!’

The glamour couple of the Beijing Olympic Park

If there ever was a time to use the word ‘Awesome’, this would be it.

Having seen all the documentaries and understanding the effort and cutting edge technology that enabled the Birds Nest and Water Cube to exist, I was blown away, walking around, wide-eyed, mouth gaped, hands out feeling the texture of these super-structures. (I’m a staring, hands-on girl who pays attention to the detail – putting me in a place like this, or Dubai, is orgasmic)

A beautifully crafted couple, the Water Cube floats bright, light, colourful, and pretty while the Birds Nest stands handsome, solid and strong. In the evenings they’re glamorized in special LED designer lights, very sensational.

I couldn’t hep thinking that if the Big Day Out music festival had this olympic park as the venue, all senses (of sight, sound and chemically enhanced) would go into overdrive! But in all honesty, having such a sex, drugs and rock event in the company of these incredibly sophisticated constructions would be, disrepectful.

However! In the Aquatic Centre Water Theme Park, housed by the Water Cube, there was a ride which I am certain the inspiration was ‘How much fun would it be to get flushed down the toilet?!’

The answer? Heaps of fun!!

Welcome to 12 SQM Bar & Cafe!

I’ve been working my way through the bars along Nanlougu Xiang, always propping myself up at the bar to befriend the bartender, who in my extensive bar hopping experience is the easiest person to make friends with and sometimes comes with the added bonus of free drinks (the good old HRC days). So far, the bars I’ve checked out have all been chinese owned, operated and frequented.

Hitting the ex-pat community.

Welcome to the 12 SQM bar and meet Nigel, Joseph and Tobias.

Operated by the 3 men, 12 SQM is a cozy bar no bigger than the typical suburban living room, and although petite in size as the name suggest, the bar has plenty of boutique charm and character, the small space compelling you to engage with your neighbour. With a mixed clientele of ex-pats and Chinese nationals, the men speak very good ‘Chinglish’.

Nigel (Australian from Adelaide) – ‘I recently became a father (congratulations), and in the hospital here in Beijing, when my baby was only a couple of days old, they put this floaty around his neck and made him swim in a big tub of water (why?) I believe to clean him and also to get the baby moving, my sister back home said she’s never heard of anything like this, but the baby seemed to enjoy it’
‘The maternity ward is shared and holds about 30 women in the one room. There was a chinese new father with a camera there with me, banging on the glass that separates the 30 women from the newborns, banging on the glass and yelling at his new son ‘ hey boy! hey boy! look here!!’ like his son was a monkey in the zoo. I was thinking, jeez this is the maternity ward, but it’s just a cultural thing.’

Joseph (Australian) – I had a fight with my wife this morning, and now my whole day has been bad (I hope the fight wasn’t too bad). We’ll see (oh?) Are you married? (No) Youre a smart girl.’

Tobias (Smart arse British) – ‘ Ah, an aimless traveller! (I’m not aimless. I have direction in my life) Oh yeah? What direction do you have? (My direction is India, via the Temple of Heaven , then Malaysia, Australia, then to South America.. South, my direction is South)

Haggling is an important part of retail therapy

It happened all too quickly at the Yashow Markets, haggling with Lilly the sales rep.

Lilly – States asking price.
T – Politely laughs in her face.
T – States prefered buy price (half of what Lilly’s asking).
Lilly – Laughs sarcastically, curses loudly in Mandarin (I think), then leans in and quietly brings her price down to something a little less ridiculous.
T- Shakes head, and starts walking away.
Lilly – Calls me back and asks for my ‘real price’
T – Requests something a tiny bit higher than initial buy price
Lilly – Pretends to cry poor.
T – States that the last buy price is final
Lilly –Accepts, but ‘only because we are friends’
T – Goes to the ATM, and gets out original buy price amount only, comes back to Lilly and says ‘this is all I have so can’t afford to pay for the goods today’
Lilly – More cussing in Mandarin, then reluctantly takes the money.

I’m the new owner of an Olympus U8000 Tough camera – water, shock, and weather proof 🙂

‘Just me, I’m alone. Table for 1’ – The Elusive CCTV Tower part 3

Today was a day for success – This was to be my third and final attempt, and I knew exactly where the CCTV tower was located, only an act of God was going to stop me.

That morning I woke up late at 10.30am, shivering with my nose, throat and ears clogged, and everything sounding quiet yet loud. But I had a mission to complete. So obsessed, I dragged myself out of bed and got ready to meet my self-fulfilling, Japanese buffet eating, destiny.

The confusion over coming solo started at the ticket office.

Ticket girl – ‘How many for the buffet, observation deck and aquarium?’
T – ‘1 please!’

The ticket girl gave me a look that lasted longer than necessary, then quietly took my money.

I decided to do the restaurant first. It didn’t even phase me that this was going to be my first single buffet, in fact, I had been looking forward to it. Looking forward to not having anyone tell me when I’ve had enough, and no one to look shocked at how much I can consume. So far, I’ve been eating ‘politely’ and even then people have been impressed. (Just quietly, sometimes I’d leave food on my plate just so my company don’t freak out). Today was going to be liberating.

I was standing with a couple in front of me, a Chinese girl with an American boy, waiting to be seated.

Host – ‘Table for 3?’
T – ‘No, I’m not with them’
The poor girlfriend who had come to spend a nice romantic lunch with her boyfriend looked at me sympathetically and asked ‘ unless you want to join us..?’
T – ‘Oh, no, it’s ok really Im fine.’
Boyfriend – ‘brave girl’
ok, that was a little annoying..

The hostess asks me again, just to be sure ‘ Just you?’
T – ‘Yup, just me, I’m alone. Table for 1’ holds up one finger.

She led me to the seating team, 3 waiters, where they continued to heatedly speak in mandarin while looking around, then looking at me, then laughing like it was just so ridiculous and inconvenient that I had come alone.

Now I was getting a little paranoid.

They finally settled on a four seater table. I guess all the two seaters were taken, that or they wanted to me feel even more alone.

I went to collect my first plate of food, salmon and king fish sashimi and lots of it. I come back to my big empty table, sit down and start eating while appreciating the revolving scenery. I couldn’t enjoy it, I was too aware of people noticing me, giggling (so I thought) staring at me. I felt like my table was so empty that it was the most fullest, most eye-catching, table in the whole establishment.

Full paranoia set in.

By the time I returned with my second pate of food – stewed beef, roast duck, Sichuan chicken, stir fried veggies – I couldn’t find my table and was convinced they had given it away. Distressed, with a plate full of food, I complained to one of the waiters accusing them of releasing my table to the party of four that had just been seated. I had come all by myself and they must have thought the table was free when I went to the buffet.

She tried to calm me down and find my table but I was adamant that this was my table, now complete with four solid placings.

Two more waiters came over to try to help sort the crisis out, all baffled over how this could have happened. I was horrified, by myself, with a plate of food and no table. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, another lady came over with a cheerful ‘Come with me’

I followed her expecting to be lead to a newly prepared table, and was surprised, and hugely embarrassed, when I saw that the table was already mine. ‘yup, that’s my plate, with my orange juice. These revolving restaurants.heh.so confusing..’ sheepish smile ‘xiaxia’

Ok. Maybe too paranoid.

I sat down and tried to calmly eat through some fried vegetarian dumplings, mushroom soup, a desert plate, and a fruit plate, without making eye contact with anyone. Due to being sick, I hadn’t even been hungry, but I was too paranoid to leave without giving it a good, un-selfconcious, go.

With lunch over and done with, I fled to the observation deck to look at the views of Beijing. ‘Wonderful, Beautiful, gorgeous!’ I was starting to feel better about the day.

Moving onto the Aquarium, which was located under the tower, it was once again a more stressful environment with signs not being obeyed. It was really irking me that these people weren’t thinking about the stress they were causing the fish, I felt a tightness in my tummy which wouldn’t go away. I had to get out of there.

Back out on the streets I started feeling woozy, like the ground was still revolving. I took deep breaths as I made my way back to the subway.

In the subway I had to concentrate to not vomit on the good people around me. I had a violent case of the hiccups, and the tightness in my gut had gotten so bad. For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about the emperor penguin, suffering and starving their way through bitter sub-zero conditions for four months to keep their egg warm. That’s how bad I felt, I was comparing my condition to one of the worst breeding cycles ever.

I made it home in time to orally empty my lunch into the toilet. 3 times. I don’t think I’ll be doing another buffet. Not by myself anyway.

‘Now I know where you live’ -The Elusive CCTV Tower Part 2

After my initial failed attempt at finding the elusive CCTV tower, I did a little online research and discovered that there were indeed 2 CCTV towers. So the following day, I started out my second attempt in the scorching Beijing heat, this time armed with directions.

My directions ended at the subway station closest to the tower, with the next logical step being to look up in the sky, see the tower, and start walking in its direction. In reality, I looked up, and saw nothing but blue sky’s. New logical plan, walk until you can see the tallest building in Beijing. Within 20 minutes of circling the town on foot, I eventually see the bulbus head of the tower in the distance between two low-rise shopping centres. Elated, I march on.

Following a series of premature right turns and backtracking, I finally reach the entry at 1.45pm. Having started my hunt at 10am that morning, I was now hot, sweaty, dehydrated, starving and slightly delirious. Still, I was shamelessly excited, my curiosity had now become an obsession.

Unfortunately, after being informed that the revolving restaurant was only open from 11am to 2pm for lunch, I decided that I hadn’t come this far only to be rushed through my Japanese buffet, even though by this stage 15 minutes was more than enough time for me to consume everything in sight. This moment was to be savoured.

Looking up at the CCTV tower, I thought ‘ Tomorrow, it’s you and me my friend. Now I know where you live’, and I swear I heard the Wicked Witch of the West cackle in the background.

‘I am not asking you on a date’ – The Elusive CCTV Tower Part 1

I’ll start of by saying that my friends will understand my reasoning and obsession behind this.

When I heard from Harry, my local mate in the hutongs, that the CCTV tower was the tallest building in Beijing with an observation deck where you could view the whole city, and had a really good revolving Japanese buffet (did you say Japanese buffet?), I made it a personal mission to check it out.

So I had Eileen, my favourite girl who works at the Hutong Inn, (she’s really cute and always friendly) write down in Chinese where I needed to go, and confidently hailed a cab and agreed with whatever he said about directions.

Ten minutes later, the cabbie got excited as we neared a strangely angular shaped building, which was an interesting, beautiful, structure, and I’m no engineer, but all my revolving restaurant eating experience (and I’ve had my share) and instinct, was telling me that no, this was not where I needed to be.

The cabbie and I motioned back and forth, which in english would have gone like this:

Cabbie – ‘This IS the CCTV tower’

T – ‘No, it can’t be, a revolving restaurant can’t have edges’

And so on..

We even called over an innocent bystander to ask his opinion. He was a young man, kicking it on the curb with his 3 mates, who knew a tiny bit of english.

T – ‘Excuse me, where is the CCTV tower restaurant, where there is food’ (hand to mouth eating motion)

Guy – ‘erm’ (looks back at his friends, looks at me), ‘I am having lunch with my friends now, maybe later?’ takes out his phone.

T – No no no no no (crossing arms, shaking head) I am not asking you on a date! I want to eat. Not with you. Where is the CCTV tower??’

Guy – ‘Eat with me?’

T – To the cabbie ‘GO GO GO GO GO GO GO!’ frantic forward motioning.

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