In the early 2000s, I was running around Beijing. Still relatively flat and underdeveloped, the smells, scenes and sentiment of the old city was everywhere. You could however see the beginning of new construction and bright lights.
I would wander around often by myself through the ‘hutong’ streets, ancient and teaming with people. But one time, my friend Andreas came along. We were there doing business.
Andreas is Swiss and 6 feet 4000 inches! Yes tall, and affable and fun – ready for whatever. As we meandered through the packed streets, people would look up at him, point and say ‘lan cho, lan cho’. Bewildered he asked me what does ‘lan cho’ mean? Basketball, I said! they think you must be a basketball player!”
One time, we found ourselves in the Muslim section of Old Beijing. Not sure if it still exists but my friend and I happened upon a street vendors selling bread. Not steamed, or fried as is often the case in Chinese cuisine, but real thick, yeasty round loaves and rectangular flats of baked bread.
These were serious yeasty breads, thick like Roman pizza heaped high with green, green leeks or scallions, also with fried garlic and even a cheesy topping – it looked like cottage cheese and olive oil. Clearly not typical Chinese bread but Turkic breads that had made it all along the Silk Road.
So Andreas and I ordered several large slabs and rounds of the breads, laughing as I attempted to explain that he was in fact not a basketball player! Towering above these wonderful people, Andreas’ face clearly indicated his enjoyment of what he was sampling – which only made them give us more and more!
A memorable afternoon walk in Old Beijing it was!