Cruising the Alleyways of Old Beijing

Assistant Editor Skye Mayring blogs about Old Beijing’s charms from rickshaw rides to scorpion-infused alcohol

By: By Skye Mayring

Traveling old Beijing by rickshaw // (c) Skye Mayring 2009

Traveling the alleyways of old Beijing by rickshaw

It is day five of our 11-day Beijing to Shanghai itinerary with Uniworld and Victoria Cruises, and our group spent the morning touring the alleyways of beautiful Old Beijing by rickshaw. Old Beijing’s hutongs (ancient alleyways and lanes) are approximately 700 years old and dotted with private residences, eateries and specialty shops, selling everything from leather-bound notebooks to antique jade figurines and steaming bowls of noodle soup.

Along the way, we got glimpses of elderly locals playing mahjong, while another group of seniors gracefully took turns twirling and kicking something that resembled a badminton birdie. The ground was muddy from yesterday’s snow but, somehow, our rickshaw driver managed to drag my friend and me through the heart of the city, dropping us off at the local market. There, vendors enticed us with silk wall-hangings and bags of saffron. However, I must admit that I started to feel a bit queasy while walking past the meat vendors and their wall of bloody carcasses, some with hairy tails dangling but, at the same time, found the whole thing rather fascinating.

Homemade scorpion-infused alcohol // Skye Mayring 2009

scorpion-infused alcohol

Our last stop was an authentic Chinese lunch at a local family’s home. Our gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Chi, served up a hearty spread of stir-fried dishes and invited us to sample some very special, homemade liquor. The Chi’s proudly displayed hulking bottles of spirits infused with oddities such as scorpions, deer horns, sand dollars and starfish. No one else in my group was brave enough to oblige our hosts, so I volunteered to try a shot of the liquor infused with dozens of baby scorpions (after all, I have travelers’ insurance). I took some deep breaths and, before I could change my mind, gulped it down. The shot was quite smooth — far better than the Chinese “fire water” we sampled the day before — and sweet like brandy. Now I’m not planning on bringing a bottle home with me, but it was a fun and spontaneous experience nonetheless.

Tomorrow, we set sail on Victoria Cruises new ship, the Victoria Jenna. After a day like today, I can’t wait to see what other surprises await us along the Yangtze.