Trips and Tales: Part 132
If you think you are lost, you are probably close #3
“I am here to absorb the atmosphere,” she may have said, or just implied, in her search for the authentic Beijing experience. SD stands on the threshold of the charmingly titled “Apricot Courtyard Inn”, lodged down a backstreet Hutong with grinning spirit-face door-knockers and welcoming glyphs guarding the entrance.
Behind the painted red wooden portal, the Inn slumbers. Its three sided “U” constructed in the traditional Siheyuan style cups the enclosed courtyard cum-restaurant that also doubles (triples?) as an impromptu staging area. Here, performers – on occasion – reveal the mastery of their respective arts in the shadow of the 100 year old apricot tree that has bestowed the premises its name. Hung with lanterns and traditional décor, the out-of-time charm of the place belies its convenient location close to the other-world of busy, modern Beijing.
SD relates its cosy appeal: a mere 6 themed guest rooms of various capacities and of course, the associated admin space. Also: of the welcoming characters behind the red-paint doors: A, the friendly manager with excellent English and love of big-name Western rock, plus guests: H who hitch-hiked here from the Netherlands and V from the USA (probably not a hiker). All new passing-friends, happy to bestow their knowledge of the area and point out the good stuff during her stay.
Here in my kitchen, in another time and place I look at photographs that I’ve turned up: the Apricot’s cellar bar resembling a traditional UK record shop with album-sleeved walls, whilst a drum kit (certainly: A‘s) sits assembled in the corner. The beautiful design and décor of the “Ancient”, “Traditional” and “Countryside” Chinese-themed rooms belied by the comparatively restrained – though attractive – exterior. An ornate, snow-laden teapot rests on an outside bench-table – overlooked on a heavy winter’s day. The inlaid wooden décor of the slumbering courtyard, lit lantern-red and aglow against the crowding Beijing night. These are someone else’s memories, now left out to fade.
Because: months later, upon remote investigation I discover that the doors are locked and the Apricot Courtyard Inn is no more. With license lost, the owner has moved on – disappeared even – and the fate of all behind the grinning, knowing spirit-faces: now a mystery.
But here with no suggestion that time is running out – why, these walls feel sold enough; SD can finally shoulder off her luggage, relax and soak it all in. And then eat.
The excursions to literally taste the culture all around her are memorable enough it seems. Even with SD‘s senses blanketed by a cold virus (a hazard of the recycled air on long-haul flights); that which penetrates the sensory fog is “amazing” in her estimation. Her new colleagues guide her to low-tabled street-food stalls with delicious wares. Here, tempting, skewered ingredients are selected and transferred from their respective pots and steeped in a custom broth. Then served with dumplings in bowls curiously wrapped with plastic sandwich bags. Well, it’s a burden of necessity: it saves on washing up, for a small food outfit. Where and how would the vendor accomplish this task anyway? The water in Beijing is dangerously undrinkable, and carrying around swollen vats of Evian (or equivalent) is expensive and hardly practical.
Now installed and and refueled SD is braced to explore the Hutong and the sites beyond.
More next time
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 133) Arrival Beijing #22
[Photo by IvanWalsh.com]