Beijing Hutong: Enjoying a drink and a game of cards.

Photo of the week

Enjoying a drink in Beijing’s Hutongs

This photo was taken in 2004 just before the mass demolition of Beijing’s Hutongs to prettify the city before the 2008 Olympic Games. The whole area where the photo was taken (Di’ anmen Inner Street and Di’ anmen East Street) has mostly been demolished and rebuilt and much of the vibrant street life has been lost forever.

Playing Cards in Beijing’s Hutongs
Busy Scene in Beijing’s hutongs
Playing Majong In Beijing’s Hutongs
Having a hair cut in Beijing’s Hutongs

Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001


From our Diary 

Monday 24 September, 2001.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

We are picked up at 7.30 sharp by Sue Lin in his shiny black car and leave Beijing via a four-lane road, lined with old trees. The road looks innocent and pleasant enough, but apparently people get killed here everyday. Although Sue Lin is a good driver, we ourselves experience a couple of near misses, due to the crazy manoeuvres of other vehicles.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

It’s supposed to be only 60 kilometres to the village, but it takes us more than two hours. We have to stop and ask for directions a couple of times and once we even have to backtrack a bit. We don’t mind at all, because the scenery is absolutely gorgeous; we are surrounded by those dark, rolling mountains that I remember from my first visit to the Wall, so many years ago.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

In fact, our route takes us quite close to Mutianyu. From time to time we can actually see crumbly bits of the Wall, running along the tops of the hills. At the foot of the mountains there are fields of corn, wheat and beans, and small villages. There is a busy traffic of donkeys and carts because this is September and the harvest is in full swing. We are in the middle of the real, rural China, we have seen so little of on this trip, and so close to Beijing as well!

Our journey ends at the refreshment stall of an incredible old lady who whips out a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ and explains all the pros and cons of the two possible routes. She proudly shows us her collection of photos, taken by and with foreign visitors.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

Apart from selling drinks, snacks and film, she also keeps the most amazing toilet: it’s a concrete box, open to the air and entirely without doors, so that you have to climb over the wall to get in, or out. Most importantly, it’s clean, airy and quite pleasant.

The Wild Wall at Huanghua 黄花城

The views from here are stunning: there is a very steep piece of Wall right in front of us, and a reservoir on the other side. Something that looks like a Continue reading “Huanghua Cheng 黄花城 Walking the Wild Wall: 2001”

Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客: Photo of the Week

Slow train to Chengdu


 CITS (China’s official travel agency’s description of an L Train 临客)

“L – Temporary Train In Chinese: LinKe (临客)
L trains operate only during the peak travel season, such as the Chinese Spring Festival and the National Holiday. These trains are not listed in the official fixed train schedule. It is not advised to take L-trains if you have other options as they are known to be relatively slow and regularly subject to delays”.

Slow train to Chengdu

“46 hours”. I doubted my Chinese at that moment, but the ticket seller repeated the departure and arrival times, there was no mistake. Bagging next day hard sleeper tickets from Beijing to Chengdu can be a taxing experience at the best of times, but in early August, you’ve got about as much chance as winning the lottery. Unless … unless, of course, you are willing to take the slow train 临客 , or L Train as it is known in China!

We got two middle berths, which are the best, as during the day you can escape the crowded lower berths, where everyone sits, and they have more space than the often claustrophobic upper berths.

Pandemonium broke out when the gates were opened at Beijing West Station 北京西站 to allow the passengers on. Those without reservation ran frantically, pushing and shoving the old and weak out of the way, to grab one of those precious seats. It was a simple case of survival of the fittest; get a seat or stand for 46 hours.


With a reservation in our hands, we took a more leisurely stroll to the train. Unfortunately, Continue reading “Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客: Photo of the Week”

Alive and Flipping:The Dalian Seafood Restaurant, Beijing.

The Dalian Seafood Restaurant, Beijing.

It was only a Wednesday night, but the place was heaving. The smartly-uniformed waitress told us we were 4th on the waiting list. My friend David, who has been working in Beijing for several years, said that it was worth the wait and that, anyway, tables moved fast here. He was right on both counts; 10 minutes later we were assigned a table and told to go and choose our meal from the magnificent displays and amazing fish tanks.

The Dalian Seafood Restaurant in the Chaoyang district, almost directly opposite the huge Landao Shopping Centre, must be one of the great restaurants of Beijing. It has certainly made it onto our list of favourites. If you are a lover of fresh seafood and fish, as we are, then this has to be one of the best bargains in Beijing. Everything looks and smells as if it has just been plucked straight from the sea. Strangely enough it is actually a Muslim run enterprise but alcohol flows freely.

The restaurant’s centre-piece is a rectangular area of fish tanks, filled with all kinds of fish and sea creatures. In front of the fish tanks, there are countless trays of ( Continue reading “Alive and Flipping:The Dalian Seafood Restaurant, Beijing.”


Chuandixia: a small stone village some 60 kilometres from Beijing. It is extremely photogenic and the surrounding countryside offers ample trekking possibilities. Villagers have cottoned on quickly to Chuandixia’s tourist potential and have started opening simple hostels and restaurants. As a result, there is now a 20 Yuan entrance ticket and a small coach park at the entrance.

However, it’s touch and go as to whether Beijing residents will take to this place. The ones we went with, couldn’t see what all the fuss was about: “Everything is old and like it was 20 years ago”, they complained.

Foreigners love it though!

For more on in and around Beijing go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

Great Wall Marathon May 16th 2009

The Great Wall Marathon is becoming an increasingly popular event.  People run this gruelling race for various motives.  Some do it for professional reasons, others for charity and others just to test themselves. Fancy doing it? Take a look at a couple of Youtube videos to get a taste of it.  The next Great Wall Marathon is on the 16th of May 2009.

Great Wall Marathon ®

YouTube – The Great Wall Marathon 2008

YouTube – The Great Wall Marathon 2008

For more info on the Great wall go to:

HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

Great Wall Marathon ®

Manfulou, uno de los templos culinarios de Pekín

Manfulou, uno de los templos culinarios de Pekín

Escrito Por Fu Dawei

El restaurante Manfulou está situado en el corazón de Pekín, a pocos minutos caminando de la ciudad prohibida y en una zona donde aún se puede pasear por los hutong, los callejones tradicionales de muros grises tan característicos de la capital china.

La suntuosa decoración interior de Manfulou se inspira en los palacios de la China imperial. Tanto en la planta baja como en el primer piso, (al que se accede en ascensor) hay amplios salones y acogedores reservados con decoración tradicional china. Una de las sorpresas que reserva Manfulou es su espectacular terraza con vistas directas al parque de Beihai, y en especial a la pagoda blanca que corona este antiguo parque imperial.

Manfulou se especializa en huoguo, o “caldero mongol”, uno de los platos más típicos de Pekín. Pero más que un plato en sí, el huoguo es una manera de comer. Consiste en una olla llena de agua con determinados condimentos que se pone sobre la mesa al fuego hasta que hierve. Entonces se van introduciendo los ingredientes crudos en la olla para cocinarlos al momento. Una vez hervidos, se sacan de la olla, se mojan en una salsa especial (la tradicional es una salsa de sésamo a la que se añade perejil y cebollino chino picado) y ya están listos para comer.

Las ollas de Manfulou son las tradicionales de cobre, aunque en lugar de una gran olla por mesa para compartir son pequeñas ollas individuales.

Los ingredientes que se pueden comer de esta manera son muy variados: todo tipo de verduras, setas, tofu, y, sobre todo, carne de cordero y ternera. Al comer huoguo, lo mejor es hacer una selección equilibrada de ingredientes, pidiendo carne, verduras, setas, tofu, bolas de pescado o marisco e incluso fideos chinos.

La calidad y frescura de la materia prima y la selección del producto son la insignia de Manfulou, que ofrece carnes de cordero y ternera procedentes de lugares famosos por sus pastos, como Mongolia Interior e incluso Nueva Zelanda. La carne es fresca, o congelada, pero siempre cruda para hervirla en el huoguo.

La cocina china es famosa por aprovechar todas las partes del animal. De hecho, para los no escrupulosos, el corazón de cordero cortado en tiras es una de las elecciones más recomendables para el huoguo. Otra de las estrellas de la carta son las bolas frescas de calamar, elaboradas artesanalmente y sin fécula.

La excelente calidad de sus productos, su espectacular decoración y su ubicación hacen de Manfulou una parada obligada para los que quieran captar la esencia de la cultura culinaria pekinesa.

Precio aproximado por persona: 120-150 Rmb

Platos recomendados: Huoguo (caldero mongol). Ingredientes recomendados (para el huoguo): Cordero lechal fresco, corazón de cordero cortado en tiras, ternera grasa, bolas frescas de calamar y setas negras chinas (xianggu).

Beijing Hangover

HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

It’s not often I make forecasts on what will happen in China, usually they leave you with egg on your face. However, this time I’m going to venture that China is going to face a big post Olympics hangover. Below are my thoughts.


There will be big rise in Inflation due to the governments efforts to artificially keep inflation in check before the Olympics will be removed. As a consequence interests rates will have to rise to keep inflation in check.


Even long before the Olympics there has been a housing boom in Beijing and other cities. After the Olympics thousands of hotel rooms are going to converted into flats adding to an already saturated market.

The Stock Market

All ready more than 50% down on its peak, it will continue to fall as inflation rises and global growth slows down. Many small investors are being seriously burned.

Jobs and Output

China’s industrial model based on low wages appears to be stalling. In the industrial heartland of Guangdong factories are having to deal with a number of increasing problems that are cutting profit margins and seeing record factory closures.

Some of those factors are:

  • Falling global demand
  • Higher wage costs
  • Difficulty in recruiting new labour from the provinces
  • New environmental and labour laws
  • Dislocation by foreign and Chinese companies to countries with lower costs.

Beijing 1990 – 2007

Up until the 1950s, Beijing was an architectural wonder, an almost perfectly preserved metropolis from the pre-industrial era. Many ancient towns and cities exist around the world, but Beijing was enormous: 62.5 square kilometres (25 square miles) large including lakes, parks, palaces and of course the Forbidden City, the emperor’s home. Surrounded by some of the greatest fortified walls of antiquity, it was a microcosm of ancient China, a city that symbolized the political and religious ideals of a system that had existed for twenty – five hundred years. Ian Johnson, Wild grass, p. 101

HolaChina: Your Gateway to China


Part One- Beijing 1990

Stepping out onto the concourse outside Beijing railway station into the sharp winter sunlight we saw the number 20 bus pulling in. “That’s the one!” I shouted to Margie. We stormed it with the rest of Beijing. The descending passengers didn’t stand a chance as the mob rushed the opening doors. I tried to use my backpack to annihilate any opposition in my quest to get a seat. However, despite my efforts, the old ladies with their jabbing elbows still managed to get on before us. But we did get our bums on those precious seats in the end. Two foreign tourists getting off the bus looked at us in total shock and disgust. But, hey, we had already been out in Western China for 2 months, and when in Rome… Welcome to Beijing 1990.


It’s a long time ago, but Margie kept a diary, so the memories come flooding back every time we reread it. I remember a cold, hazy city. The sun, though occasionally glaring, was more often weak and blotted out by a polluted sky (worse than now). When the clouds covered the sky, snow sometimes fluttered in the air, but mostly melted before it had time to settle. The people looked pretty poor, though there were some inklings of an incipient urban sophistication we hadn’t seen elsewhere in China. Something was happening but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it…..

For more go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China