Sketches of a City

While I was interning in Beijing this past January, I loved the all little experiences that made the city come to life. Traveling always makes me appreciate the nuances of the world, and every time I’m delighted to discover something new.

 
 
In Beijing you can order breakfast from a two-person makeshift cart in the street. For less than $1 you can get delicious homemade scallion pancakes with peanut sauce, sausage, vegetables and fried egg rolled together in this glorious crepe-style breakfast, a slice of heaven if I ever tasted one.
 
 
On the topic of street food, I haven’t even mentioned the steamed pork buns or spiced lambshishkabobs or sticky red bean rice cakes. Or the lo mein. Or the tasty-but-unidentifiable barbequed meats. Or the delectable exotic fruit, which fruit vendors sell practically fresh off the vine—persimmon, lyceepassionfruitcarambolarambutan, papaya, and dragon fruit, just to name a few.
 
 
I still think it’s a pity they don’t sell dragon fruit in the US. Dragon fruit goes well with everything.
 
 

In Nanluoguxiang the chic cafés lining obscure alleyways were like glittering gems hidden in the rough. I remember stumbling upon this one rooftop café that looked like a living Instagram filter. Tiny succulents in pastel pots—mini cacti, aloe vera, peyote, leafy ferns—crowded the wall, while fairy lights hung from a transparent glass ceiling. Velvet sofas piled with Pusheen pillows begged to be touched, while pretty Chinese girls wearing falsies and chiffon sipped fruity tea and posed at flattering angles for new DSLR profile pictures.

 

I briefly entertained the idea of opening up a chain of these boutique cafes—one in Paris, one in Milan, and one, of course, in Beijing. My clientele would be lost tourists and creative types, writers and pseudo-starving artists. We’d get a shout-out in Vogue. It’d be an understated hit.

 

 

Speaking of creative types—at 798, a famous art district in Beijing, I had the pleasure ofaccidentally meeting one of the Gao brothers at their own glass rooftop café. If you don’t recognize the name “Gao brothers,” Google them now. Their art has been racing a step ahead of Chinese censorship for decades. It was crazy actually seeing that fedora in person.

 

Judging by the artfully photographed nudes lining the walls, I did have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t your average treehouse café. Still, it was quite the fangirl moment for me.

 

The next time you’re in Beijing, swing by 798 and spend an afternoon visiting the modern art galleries, admiring the artsy paraphernalia, and soaking in Chinese culture. With a little luck, you might even run into someone (art-world) famous.

 

 

This brings us, of course, to nightlife. There are a handful of fantastic bars in Sanlitun, a popular going-out area in downtown Beijing. My personal favorite? Janes & Hooch.

 

If ambience is everything in a bar, theirs was effortless, and it was something I immensely enjoyed. It felt like a modern-day speakeasy: soft jazz, black leather couches, hardwood floors, and a generous sprinkle of cool. Dimly-lit antique lightbulbs hung down from the ceiling, their filaments casting a warm glow across the establishment. Locals and expats sprawled across both floors, looking to unwind amongst hip strangers. Soft-spoken, suit-wearing bartenders were plentiful and attentive. Drinks were gourmet and reasonably priced, and if you ever go, I highly recommend the amaretto sour.

 

 

Although my stay was too short to truly become familiarized, I’ve grown to love some of the quirks and gems of the capitol city. I’ll definitely be back—it’s just a matter of time.

 

Until next time, Beijing!