We wandered among the hutongs. They unfurl one after another like the tidy blocks of a quilt, following a familiar pattern but each unique. We stumbled upon a busy street of shops, extending between two hutongs as far as the eye could see. We went into a charming little stationery shop bursting with notebooks, cards, illustrations, calendars. We dithered among them, but eventually chose. "Travel alone in the translucent world," the white paper notebook band counseled. Inside were glorious watercolors of whales floating in starry waters. On some pages, a lone figure stood or sat, looking absentmindedly upward like a lost aquarium visitor. Thin lines of indecipherable (to us and Google translate) Chinese text floated among the waves.
Sampling the wares
Great Leap Brewing
We turned a corner and there it was, a taste of the West nestled into the hutong’s low-slung curve. Great Leap Brewing - the promise of a real IPA served by someone who spoke English. It was a small place, with an outdoor patio, partial glass walls, and hipster furnishings that wouldn’t look out of place in Austin. At a polished wood table by the glass sat an expat, one of the first white people we had seen in China, calmly sipping a dark, frothy beer and reading a book. We ordered two different IPAs from the extensive wall menu (a revelation - no pointing, charades, or Google Translate required!) and retreated to rickety wooden stools by the window. The IPAs were cold, hoppy, perfect, and we soon ordered a second round, settling into a giant booth in the corner. With the beer this time came peanuts mixed with spices and, we soon discovered, sly peppercorns ready to put your entire mouth to sleep.