The Beijing Diaries, Day 3: 18th National Congress Begins!

November 11, 2012 in China, Travel by pacejmiller

The Great Hall of the People prepares for the opening ceremony of the 18th National Congress

8 November, 2012

The day is finally here. The opening of the 18th National Congress, which I’ve been writing about almost every freaking day for the last 8 months. And while the average Chinese person off the street doesn’t give a shit about this momentous five yearly event, the Communist Party leaders and the rest of the world certainly do.

I ended up leaving the hotel at 7:30 in the morning to walk to Wangfujing station and catch a subway (2 stops) to Tiananmen East. I was supposed to leave earlier but it took me a while to wake myself up after a less than ideal night of sleep. As it turned out, I probably could have left later. I got there by 8am, and it was still relatively quiet, with not a whole lot of press hanging around outside. I went into the Great Hall of the People (which really is a great hall — I’m just not sure it’s “of the people”) at around 8:30 and found a seat on the third floor, which is for writers. The second floor is for photographers and the first floor is for the 2,000+ congress delegates.

At 9am on the dot (those punctual communists!), the spokesperson for the congress officially declared it open, and out came onto the stage all of China’s political heavyweights, all those people I had been writing about for months, from outgoing leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to new leader Xi Jinping, and ancient leader Jiang Zemin, who looked like he was already half mummified.

The whole point of the opening ceremony was for exiting party leader Hu Jintao to deliver his report from the 17th National Congress to the incoming 18th National Congress. Unlike previous years, they did not release the script to the press in advance — we were told we’d have to get them afterwards.

As the speech got underway, it became obvious why they did that. If the press had the script in advance, there’s no way they would have stayed for the entire duration of the 100-minute coma inducer (many didn’t anyway). Seriously, it was utterly brutal, not just because the content was 100% predictable and all about how great the party’s achievements were over the last decade, but it was delivered in Hu’s trademark monotone and with his expressionless face.  I had hear rumors that the dude has zero personality but my theory is that he is a cyborg born out of a secret Chinese government experiment (after Mao Zedong) to create a leader who has no risk whatsoever of establishing a personality cult.

The only thing that kept the 3,000+ people in that hall from falling asleep was Hu’s tendency to periodically punctuate the end of a section of his report with an exclamation, like “blah blah blah…FOR THE PEOPLE!” or “blah blah blah…INTO THE FUTURE!”  and everyone would wake up and burst into spontaneous applause.

I left the auditorium just before the end of the speech to get some water and to drag a copy of the speech. Even though people had been lining up for ages, as soon as the copies arrived the journalists just went crazy and rushed up to the front in typical Chinese fashion. The staff simply started tossing them out into the crowd like they were free T-shirts and the journalists started climbing over each other to get them. Naturally I managed to snatch one.

Before I left, the one other thing I was told by my bosses to check out was the so called “ritual girls” of the congress (essentially staff who serve water and stand around) who have the reputation of being the prettiest girls from all around China. I was told to see if there was a potential story to write about them, and to be honest, I was sorely disappointed with this year’s crew. Perhaps the party leaders made sure most of the girls were average looking to avoid officials from getting in sex scandals. They had more serious things to discuss, like how to convince the world they were working hard to stamp out corruption.

Peking Duck at Beijing’s Liu Zhai Shi Fu (刘宅食府)

November 11, 2012 in China, Food, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

Source: travel.sohu.com (I forgot to take my own)

One cannot say they’ve been to Beijing (formerly Peking) unless they’ve had some Peking Duck, right?

I was very lucky on Wednesday night that my cousin-in-law was free and offered to take me out to Liu Zhai Shi Fu (刘宅食府), a famous Peking duck restaurant with a traditional Chinese setting.

The place wasn’t that easy to find, requiring us to go through a narrow alley until we arrived at the massive traditional Chinese doors. Inside, all the decor was traditional Chinese, from the wooden tables to the benches, making me feel as though I had just landed on the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

We ordered the Peking duck, of course, which is three courses in itself, plus three other dishes. Apologies for the quality of the photos because I only had a phone and not my proper camera (I was too excited about the food and forgot to bring it).

The Peking duck was the highlight of the night. Unlike my previous experiences with Peking duck, the first course was just the skin. And it was so nice and thin and crispy, glazed with just the right amount of oil. And the way to eat it is to just dip it in a bit of sugar and/or chili sauce. Mmm….

The second course is your traditional Peking duck meat and just a little bit of skin (not crispy) wrapped in the pancake. You can add your own scallions and cucumber sticks and hoisin sauce — as much or as little as your want. There’s even this kind of melon you can put in but I wasn’t used to it.

 

And the third course is the bones with the remaining meat on it — you could either make a soup out of it or fry it with salt and pepper. We went with the latter option.

The other dishes we got were a cold cabbage platter which had this real nice sweet and sour tang to it, a pot of stewed chicken and eggplant rolls. All marvellous stuff. If I had to pick a favourite out of the three it would be the eggplant rolls — eggplant on the outside, meat on the inside, fried and dipped in sauce.

Check it out.

In all it was a fabulous dinner that will no doubt end up as my most memorable meal of the trip.

9/10

Details

Liu Zhai Shi Fu (刘宅食府)

Website: http://www.bjliuzhaishifu.com/

Address: 8 Meishuguan East Street, Beijing

Phone: (+86) 010-64005912

Price: Around 60-80 yuan (AU$9-AU$12) per person

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