Sunday, August 12, 2007

Beijing III: The Forbidden City

Yeah. No kidding.

Hazy central courtyard when you first walk in. The white marble meridian was the emperor's path and the only point upon which his feet touched the ground. Though word on the street is that Marco Polo got to walk it. Note that the largest, most-grandiose structure on the horizon is closed for renovation.

Detail of the giant doors at the gates between courtyards.

The "rank" and class distinction of each building in the city center is rated and displayed using what I call the "little-fanciful-animals-on-the-roof" system. The sequence of mythical creatures is static and only the number of figures indicates rank: the more figures, the higher the rank of that particular address. The only building with nine (the most divine and highest rank) animals is the central temple in the Forbidden City. Most concubines got 3 or 4 on their roofs.

Robert flexing with mom in the imperial garden.

Some more humble corners of the vast imperial palace have yet to see renovation... perhaps retaining some faded charm?

Gold plated vats were used to store rain water for extinguishing fires in the Forbidden City (built of all-wood and lit by oil lamps, the buildings often fell victim to destructive conflagrations). The scraped marks are those famously left by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers when they occupied Beijing post-Qing dynasty; the "barbarians" of the west proceeded to plunder all the riches of the middle kingdom's capital, including using their bayonets to scratch even the plated gold off these urns. Some bookish types out there suggest that this helps to explain some of China's intransigent attitudes toward outside political involvement today... gee, ya think?

Beijing II: The Great Wall at Mutianyu

Early on a Sunday morning at the beginning of June, our trip to the Great Wall of China was almost derailed when the van my mother chartered through friends broke down. Temporarily demoralized, we sulked in the lobby of our courtyard house hostel. It was only through Ginger's quick thinking, a few hundred RMB, and the goodwill of the staff of the Red Lantern House that we were able to hire another van, complete with driver--who was willing to shuttle a carload of tourists on his precious day off. We set out for the Great Wall at Mutianyu, a paltry 1-2 hours drive from the east side of the city.

Though it is only about 90 kilometers from (and just outside the Sixth Ring of) Beijing, the route up to this stretch of the Great Wall seems a world away from any urban center. On the way, I leaned out the window of the aging Toyota's back seat and captured some of my favorite images of a changing China and the indomitable spirit of the people who live here.

Ancient remnants of communist proclamations and advertisements are more numerous once you leave the city proper. A lot of property is available out here, and the ubiquity of phone numbers painted up on every wall remind you that anything is for rent/sale.

The rural lunch hour is comprised of these shabby roadside canteens, complete with sprinklings of local patrons sitting at hodgepodge outdoor tables. No shirt, no shoes? No problem. We didn't have time to stop, but I am certain that the food here would be delicious.

Many little grocers flank the one-lane highway. I love the little kids and their versions of the Big Wheel trike.

This man, capable of competing with the best of the Tour de France--without performance-enhancing drugs and with a cartload of produce in tow, mind you--kept pace with our car for a small distance.

These women seem like old friends (or rivals?) They are some of the few people who seem to stand still amidst China's whirlwind of perpetual progress and modernization.

Once you get to the foothills, you can spend most of the day just climbing up to the Wall, or you can join the bourgeoisie in taking the cable car up. Afterall, the ascent is great, but you want to have enough time to actually traverse the wall before nightfall!

A stretch of the Great Wall that is known for its accessibility to most levels of hikers, Mutianyu can however be a steep (but unprecarious) climb in some spots.

Inside the lower level of each of the watchtowers are a series of intricate archways and rooms--built long before the Medieval cousins of which we first think...

Wide group shot from atop a watchtower.

A local resident of the Wall, a cartoony green bug, looked incredulously down on the rest of us before flying away.

You can now pay to take a toboggan ride down from the Great Wall. Incredible fun! My mother, an adventurer at heart, was a great sport and joined us in sliding down the German-made giant metal track. This was definitely the funnest part of the excursion; so much so that we went back up via cable car just to slide back down a second time (sans my mother, who had her fill).

Here's a video that Eric took of the ride down.

A man (with the same surname as my family!) at the foot of the Wall, hand-carving a chop to order-- with my Chinese name on it. I think it cost about 180 RMB, which comes out to less than $25 USD.

The trip up to the Great Wall was incredibly strenuous for my brother Kevin.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Lobster Roll (Lunch)

Like the multitudes of citydwellers every sweltering summer, we recently made that ritualistic pilgrimage out to the East End of Long Island for our Hamptons/Montauk weekend (my first time out there!!). Because we're more about the lowly food stands and beaches than the clubby celebrity-sighting East Hamptons scene, the unassuming but legendary Lobster Roll restaurant was naturally our first stop. Affectionately known as just "Lunch", this place is for many a destination unto itself, for its simple, fresh seasonal seafood specials.

It's easy enough to spot the fabled sign and lonesome building; just be sure to stop by early since the lines can get long later in the day.

The Fried Soft Shell Crab Roll is really just a whole batter-fried soft shell crab slapped on a flimsy little hamburger bun. Simple, tasty, fried-but-not-greasy, and served with lettuce, tomato, and a tangy tartar sauce for dipping. $11.95.

The eponymous Lobster Roll: gorgeous, meaty, buttery, and packed with an extraordinary volume of pink fleshy goodness. The mayonnaise was not overwhelming but substantial (necessary in my opinion). The hot dog bun was probably the biggest disappointment for me personally: untoasted store-bought generic pale doughy stuff.

For the purists, this is the only true vehicle for the lobster salad. But I'm already thinking, "Would it kill you to use a nice crusty ciabatta roll, or a fluffy country potato roll?" Especially since the market price for this little delicacy was a not-insignificant $17. Of course, I am the same person that prefers provolone to Cheez Whiz on my philly cheese steaks... so you can make the call.

All in all, a simple summer pleasure, showcasing the sweet lobster--unadorned and unfettered with fancy shit.

The Lobster Roll (Lunch)
Napeague Stretch, 1980 Montauk Highway between Amagansett and Montauk
Open only seasonally (June to September)

No Sleep 'Till...

Beastie Boys' First Show Ever in Brooklyn. McCarren Pool.

More pictures at my Flickr