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A Day of Exploration: Nanluoguxiang and Guloudajie

by Mike Newton on March 10th, 2012
A shot of Nanluoguxiang

After a hectic week which culminated in a fast and furious business trip to Shanghai, I woke up yesterday morning feeling refreshed and energized. Outside I can see that the sun is shining and I know right away that today is a good day for exploring.

I don’t linger in bed long, as the growling in my stomach motivates me to get moving perhaps more than anything else, and I pull on the first set of clothes that I get my hands on, suit up, and head out the door.

My mission this morning is to explore the famous Nanluoguxiang (South Luogu Lane – 南锣鼓巷), an historic alley full of all manners of shopping, eating, and drinking.

Quest Accepted: Explore Beijing

As I step outside, I can see I was right about the sunshine, but what I missed was the stiff wind blowing through the alley. Undeterred, I pull on my cap and head off for the bus stop. One bus and three stops later I’m at the mouth of this nearly 800 meter-long hutong.

Armed with a kind of chicken wrap (鸡肉卷儿) purchased from a window store outside the alley, I head in.

The History of Nanluoguxiang

Read Me: the history of Nanluoguxiang

Despite having lived in Beijing for a year previously, I’ve never been down here before. My head is constantly moving from left to right as I try to take everything in, making my neck a little sore. Every store is a combination of old and new; shops range from traditional embroidery and high fashion to cultural knick knacks and, ahem, other items:

Ceramic "members" in a shop window

I think these pieces speak for themselves.

I polish off my chicken wrap but I have not yet slaked the hunger of the beast in my belly. Fortunately, right in front of me is a rather sizable line of Chinese waiting to go into a yogurt shop. I happily hop in line, unsure of what I was waiting for but sure that it would be something worthwhile–it’s always a good idea to follow the locals.

The name of the shop is “Wen Yu Yogurt Shop (文宇奶酪店)” and as I will come to find out later from a friend, it’s apparently pretty famous in Beijing.

Wen Yu Yogurt Shop

I followed the crowd of Chinese into this yogurt shop. Yum!

Once inside, I stare at the menu which boasts easily ten different kinds of yogurt, and I find myself unsure of what to order. The line is moving quick and time is running out, so I quickly ask the man in front of me which kind I should get. His answer is a simple one: original.

A few minutes and 10 kuai later (~$1.60) I exit the shop carrying a decent-sized container of original flavor yogurt. The final verdict? No wonder the Chinese all love this place–quite tasty! I’ll have to head back there sometime to check out some of the other flavors they offer.

Back on the street, I continue on my way south, stopping in a tea shop (and forcing myself to depart before I spend forty dollars on lovely paraphernalia), poking my head into a few t-shirt stores, and eventually hitting the end of the road.

The end of Nanluoguxiang being demolished for the subway.

At the end of the street they're tearing everything out to make room for a new subway line.

My True Mission Revealed

I make an about-face and head back north. You see, my overall purpose for heading out today was actually to locate some instrument shops where I could look at guitars. I had heard that this area had some quality stores, but as of yet I have seen none on Nanluoguxiang. After consulting a fellow inside of a cafe/bar which clearly has live music, he informed me that I needed to go to Drum Tower Street (Guloudajie 鼓楼大街), which was only a short trip on foot from where I was.

On my way out, my stomach informs me that it won’t let me leave without indulging in one of my most favorite foods in China–chuan. What is chuan? Nothing more than meat (and veggies and who knows what else) roasted over coals (don’t eat the stuff they cook in oil!) and deliciously seasoned with herbs and spices. I remembered walking past a shop previously that was similarly occupied by a large number of Chinese all happily snapping delicious morsels off their long kebab sticks.

Chuanr in Nanluoguxiang

BBQ'd chicken and lamb on a stick. The character for chuan is . See the resemblance?

Another few minutes and another 10 kuai later and I’m happily tearing into some delicious chicken and lamb chuan. Finally satisfied and having donated some of my meat to a persistent dog, I’m fueled up and ready to make my way towards the Drum Tower.

Still headed north, I exit the alleyway and cross the street into another hutong. Thinking I’m pretty sharp, I recall from the map I looked at online before leaving this morning that I had to head northeast to make it to Gu Lou. In reality, all I had to do was turn left. Instead, I took a twenty minute detour before realizing that something was amiss.

Fortunately, traveling in the wrong direction lead me to this:

Chinese McDonald's at Gu Lou Da Jie

McDonald's done in the style of ancient China.

It also lead me to a bus stop. After a quick look at the bus routes, I hop on the next bus that comes along (it was really nice–and electric!) and take it one stop down to the Drum and Clock towers.

The Drum Tower (right) and the Clock Tower (left) at Gu Lou Da Jie

The Drum Tower (right) and the Clock Tower (left) at Gu Lou Da Jie

Another ten minutes of wandering has me back on track and before too long I start to see instrument shops popping up. I pick one at random and head in. The interior of the store is comfortably warm and moist (cold, dry weather is bad for instruments) and their selection, while small, contains a few brands I recognize.

A Takamine is the weapon of choice and I take it down off the wall to play. It feels good to have my fingers back on a guitar again, and I’m in the middle of enjoying myself when I hear one of the shop owners say, “Hey, is he going to buy that or not?”

The guitar went back on the wall and I went back out into the cold.

Live To Fight Another Day

I can’t count the number of interesting shops and delicious restaurants I’ve seen during my journey today and I know that there’s still so much to see but a glance at my watch tells me I’ve been out and about for almost 4 hours, and I reckon it’s time for me to head back and warm up at home.

The same bus stop I arrived at this morning is just a stone’s throw away, and I jog quickly over to the other side of the street when I see my bus coming up behind me. Three stops later I’m back on home turf and I make for my apartment.

Back home, I flop onto my bed for an afternoon nap. It’s a good time to get some R&R  before what is sure to be an exciting Saturday night.

 

See more pictures from my adventures on my shiny new Facebook Page!

Have any tips for Nanluoguxiang or Guloudajie? Please let me know on Twitter!

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From → Life and Culture

  • http://niel.delarouviere.com NielDLR

    When I was in Beijing for a summer school, I took one afternoon off and head to Guloudajie to walk around the exact shops you are talking now. I heard about it being “famous” for having many instrument and video game/hobby stores. Didn’t regret taking the long subway ride there. It was very fun dropping into every little shop and starting at instruments and toys. You are making me very jealous right now.

    /Confused Laowai

    • http://lookoutknockhead.com Mike Newton

      Well you know Niel there’s only one way to end the pain–come back to Beijing!

      Last time I was in Beijing and living in Wudaokou, I often avoided heading over to the east ride for the exact reason you listed (transportation woes). Living on the city’s east side now gives me practically instant access to a lot of Beijing’s best spots.

      I do kind of miss the college vibe of WDK though from time to time…

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Mike

  • http://lookoutknockhead.com Mike Newton

    Well you know Niel there’s only one way to end the pain–come back to Beijing!

    Last time I was in Beijing and living in Wudaokou, I often avoided heading over to the east ride for the exact reason you listed (transportation woes). Living on the city’s east side now gives me practically instant access to a lot of Beijing’s best spots.

    I do kind of miss the college vibe of WDK though from time to time…

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Mike

  • Yingying Xue

    nice shot!

    • http://lookoutknockhead.com Mike Newton

      Thanks Yingying!

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