China visit blog: Scorpions on a stick near the Forbidden City

PUBLISHED: 10:03 05 August 2015 | UPDATED: 10:03 05 August 2015

Reporter Mark Shales in Tiananmen Square

Reporter Mark Shales in Tiananmen Square


Reporter Mark Shales is in China on a tour of facilities operated by ABP, the company that are developing a business district in Newham’s Royal Albert Dock. Read his latest blog entry below...

Scorpion 'kebabs' on sale in the street marketScorpion 'kebabs' on sale in the street market

After an afternoon touring ABP’s huge business complex in Beijing and chatting to some of the companies, we were treated to a memorable day visiting some of the world’s most iconic sights in the centre of the capital.

We began in Tiananmen Square, the fourth-largest public city square in the world and symbolic heart of the city.

Surrounded by the ancient home of the Chinese emperors, the National Museum of China and the mausoleum of former leader Mao Zedong, the area is bustling with tourists throughout the year.

Mark eyes up the scorpion snackMark eyes up the scorpion snack

But we were visiting on a Saturday that also happened to be Army Day – a public holiday commemorating the founding of the People’s Liberation Army in 1927.

It was packed, but that just seemed to make the view all the more vast and impressive.

Wandering, or rather squeezing, through the square we arrived at the beautiful Forbidden City – the Imperial palace until 1912 and now a World Heritage Site and museum.

A collection of 980 buildings over 180 acres, nobody was allowed inside the walls from its creation in 1420 until the fall of Imperial China in 1912 without the Emperor’s permission.

With a bit of courage, he finally goes for a tasteWith a bit of courage, he finally goes for a taste

A stunning contrast to the 21st city we would re-enter on the other side, the palace was an amazing example of traditional Chinese architecture and craftsmanship and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Moving on into downtown Beijing, we walked through an inner-city food market where all kinds of unusual treats – at least to the Western eye anyway – were on offer.

Ignoring the noodles, cuttlefish and starfish I noticed a stall full of scorpions, alive and wriggling. So in the spirit of not-saying-no I thought I’d try something new.

Three to a kebab, the little arachnids were grilled and salted, and no longer moving, but it wasn’t until they were inches from my mouth that I began to have second thoughts.

After a brief hesitation I chomped down on the first crunchy fellow and was surprised at just how good it tasted.

Hard and seasoned, it was like a particularly tough crisp, so in popped numbers two and three.

After a slightly more normal lunch – if cold pig’s trotters and bubble tea can be classed as such – we took a walk through some of the city’s hutongs (a series of small alleys and courtyards) offering a glimpse of Chinese life as it has been for generations.

Later we visited a Confucius shrine and a giant Buddhist temple on the way to a chilled-out rooftop bar on the banks of a lake.

But before the day’s end, we found ourselves drenched to the bone in the middle of a Chinese thunderstorm.

What a day!

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