Beijing 2015: Nanluogoxiang, Gulou and Zhonglou

When in Beijing, they say that one must not miss a visit to a “hutong”…

What started off as an interesting commute through the Chinese MRT…

we ended up in a not-so ancient looking part of town. After entering some buildings and asking around through the use of hand gestures…

..we found ourselves at “Nanluogoxiang” — a hutong found in the Dongcheng District.

“Hutongs” are residential neighborhoods with narrow streets lined up with traditional courtyard residences. With alleyways that have been built since ancient times, walking through them gives one a sense of excitement of discovering secrets and stories of the hutong’s past.

For the sake of urbanization, it’s such a shame that many hutongs have been demolished or left to crumble.

Nanluogoxiang is one of those hutongs that have been developed into a tourist spot. These streets stretch for several kilometers with shops, galleries, restaurants and coffee shops waiting to be enjoyed.

Nanluogoxiang reminded me of my walk through the streets of Melaka where old structures housed present-day shops. (Do you see the hidden Starbucks?)

At the same time, it had a feel of Tamsui where one can go crazy from the shopping and food choices.

Would you be interested in drinking your water or alcohol from a huge baby bottle? It seems that in Beijing, people would love to buy some of that.

Or how about being part of Beijing’s sprouting “grassy fashion”?

With almost every person on the street having some sort of plant growing out of their head, we obviously were not able to resist this one. Cat ears for me and a flower for Yen.

Any type of palate would be satisfied with the food choices.  We were candidly caught checking out bubble tea and  chicken chops aka some Taiwanese..

But were soon distracted when we saw some Japanese Takoyaki.

A few steps after, we were once again confused when the aroma of oily goodness wafted from a deep fried street food stand.

Enticing us were also some cream puffs which tempted us to skip the main meal and go straight to dessert.

But for bread lovers like me, it’s a done deal. Coffee and buns —- err-day, all the way.

Despite the numerous choices, we still opted to sit down in a local restaurant. One which had so-so food but a very strategic table that allowed us to enjoy the live band, people watch and even bring in some food (aka my buns) from the stands.

Exploring the innards of the hutong was our agenda post lunch. We may have taken exploring a bit too much as at one point, we found ourselves trying to enter an actual home. Haha! Good thing an old lady warned us to stop.

Deciding that we’ve done enough exploring, we went off to the “Gulou and Zhonglou” (or The Drum and Bell Tower of Beijing). Getting there wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be though.

When our poor sense of direction and our trusty map failed us..

we entered local shops. And after about twenty minutes of asking and wandering…

we were extremely delighted to set our sights on the Drum and Bell Tower Complex.

In Ancient China, drums and bells were musical instruments used to announce the time. These mirroring towers were constructed for musical reasons at first, but eventually became the official time piece of Beijing.

We chose to enter “Gulou” (The Drum Tower) first.  And just when we thought we’ve already had enough physical exertion for our search, a very steep of flight of stairs was yet to be conquered.

Before modern-day sky scrapers dominated Beijing’s skyline, it were the Gulou and Zhonglou that did. Seeing the view from above was pretty good but getting there sure wasn’t easy.

The Drum Tower used to have twenty-four ancient drums, but nowadays, only one authentic drum remains. Besides the small exhibit and the wonderful view of Central Beijing from the tower, a drum performance can be enjoyed by visitors several times a day.
Next was “Zhonglou” (the Bell Tower of Beijing), which also required…climbing another set of stairs. Haha!

One of the things that I found really memorable about the Bell Tower was the story of how the 6500 kilogram bell was created. As the story goes, an emperor demanded the delivery of the giant bell with a strict deadline. Failure to comply would be punishable by death. But by some miracle, a sacrifice made by the daughter of an old crafts man miraculously helped achieve the bronze color it needed. She distracted the bell makers by saying “Look, up in the sky!” and jumped into the fire. (I’m sorry but look up in the sky just really hits the spot. Hahaha.) 

With all that searching and climbing, it was a must that we took a break to enjoy the cool breeze.

But soon enough, we found ourselves walking once again. This time to our next adventure: Jingshan Park.

The Beijing 2015 Adventure

Come join me as I track back on the cultural and gastronomical adventure we had in the following blog posts…

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