Beijing, Winter '23, Day 7 - In search of biscuits

Published by Bill Glover on

This post is part of the Beijing Winter 2023 series.

We are heading north to Hebei province on Sunday. We allocated today to get everything we needed for the trip, and tomorrow for packing. We’ve learned from experience that trying to pack too much into a day hurts us in the long run. Our youngest still doesn’t sleep through the night and so we trying to keep some semblance of rhythm in the days. By rhythm, I mean food and naps.

Buying tickets in China without a National ID Card is an absolute nightmare. It has always been possible, but the process is forever changing. Finding out what the current process is requires you to be able to read Chinese. I’m still learning, but not fast enough. I tried to buy tickets online but the China Railway website (12306.cn) insisted that they were busy and I could try later. My wife tried to use their official app to buy tickets but this was equally frustrating. When we booked in the summer, we provided a passport number and received e-tickets for travel. This time, I needed to provide a passport scan. Verification will take three days. Then we need to have the passport verified at a ticket office before I’m able to travel. After much frustration, we have two tickets for four people. Children under 120cm travel on our laps.

Beijing is gloriously sunny these days.

Beijing is gloriously sunny these days.

With tickets purchased, our second priority was food. We needed snacks, and we needed lunch. Buying snacks on an empty stomach is asking for trouble so we headed for our favourite restaurant, Xi Bei (西贝). Xi Bei stands out because of how easy they make the experience of eating with children.

We had to wait a couple of minutes for a table. But, before we could sit down in the waiting area, our eldest was offered a snack and we were handed a cup of hot tea. Children aren’t used to waiting for their food. We aren’t the only parents who make food first and then, when it is ready, call the children to eat. This works at home but sets up the expectation that food arrives instantly. This isn’t the case in restaurants that cook food after you order it. This expectation mismatch leads to much frustration. Xi Bet has a solution. Before you’ve looked at the menu, every child receives a bowl of millet porridge (小米粥), even our 8-month old. With the porridge you get a bib, colouring crayons and something to colour in.

These are all simple things, but they buy you time to sit down, look at the menu, place an order and wait for the food to arrive. Your meal is set up to be enjoyable from the moment you arrive.

This restaurant does everything to make eating with children easier. If you have to wait, you get a drink and the children get a snack.

This restaurant does everything to make eating with children easier. If you have to wait, you get a drink and the children get a snack.

With lunch out of the way, we went in search of snacks. We’ve stocked up on savoury snacks, sweet snacks, pastry snacks, bean snacks, so many snacks.

Buying enough snacks to last us through five days in even colder conditions.

Buying enough snacks to last us through five days in even colder conditions.

On the way back to the subway we stopped at the Lego store to see if they had any local or Chinese themed displays. My son started trying to make his name with Lego bricks. Before long we were talking about what it would take to have a Lego wall at home.

My son left his name in Lego on the play table.

My son left his name in Lego on the play table.

We have a request for a Lego grafiti wall so that he can practise ‘writing’ his characters.

We have a request for a Lego grafiti wall so that he can practise ‘writing’ his characters.

I couldn’t resist mentioning the genious of this Ikea advert. Careful placement of these homely Christmas scenes proved popular. People were queuing up with suitcases full of outfits, photographers in tow. These weren’t casual selfies, there were lighting rigs, gimbals, long lenses, the works. This was an advert that had people making plans to come and see it.

A girl poses for a photo in front of a christmas tree surrounded by presents.

A girl poses for a photo in front of a christmas tree surrounded by presents.

Today was a good day. We have more than enough biscuits to get us through the travel ahead.