The Bell Tower and Drum Tower of Beijing

Hi Honey:

I got scammed. I remember reading about it online but it just did not click until it was too late … or kind of too late.

After the Lama Temple, I was thinking about where to go have something to eat. After walking so much around the Beihai Park and Lama Temple, I also needed somewhere to have a proper seat down too with a cool drink or something.


It was then I remember a lot of people I spoke to recommend that I go to Houhai (the “Rear Sea”) because they have a lot of eateries. My friends at work too told me how great it is and how I must definitely go. Then the Beijing folks I work with the week earlier also recommend the same place. And finally, I remember a rickshaw puller who approached me a few days ago also offered to take me there.

So without hesitation, I hailed a cab for a short ride there.


When I told the cab driver to drop me off at “Houhai” and I want to “chi dongxi” (eat something), he dropped me off on … a small lane. He pointed out a “xiaochi” (literally, small eat) place. Not knowing what to expect, I took a look at the “xiaochi” place and decided, I better walk and explore more.

There were not any other restaurants at the part I was at. But I knew the general direction. My friends were pointing out to me that the eateries are at the north western end of the lake.

It was a nice walk and was a while before I got to the end of the lake. There I saw a lot of eateries and then I realize that this is not exactly the kind of place I want to go for a meal. You see, most of the places are bars and nightclubs. Not all of them are opened and obviously this place gets going only at night. I can see straight off that this is a place for foreigners and expatriates.

Well, I am a foreigner and no wonder so many people recommended me to come here.

So I went to one restaurant that looked the most local, without big signboards of beer and things like that. Something more traditional.


I thought it was a great place to eat. The customers there were locals and some of them were having hot pot. I sat down, they gave me a menu.

And that was then I made a mistake. The menu was entirely in Chinese and I asked them for an English menu. No wonder they were so delighted and eager when I asked them for the English version.

Beware of English menus. Especially in this part of Beijing. The prices were exorbitantly expensive. Those guys think all foreigners plucks money out of trees. Everything on the menu was like $12 Canadian and above. It is even more expensive than the food we have in Vancouver.

Well, it is not that I can’t afford it or what but it gets ridiculous, even insulting. And the menu was smaller and limited too. Just a two pages with big prints. Since I did not want to walk anymore I decided to stay. Not knowing what is what, I just picked something called marinated beef which was 90 RMB ($15 Canadian).

And what I got was just above. I thought it would come with noodles. Nope, no noodles. The waitress had the cheek to ask me, “you want noodles”?


“Oh yeah, I want noodles”. And they brought me the noodles.

That is an extra 30 RMB ($5 Canadian), honey. Just noodles, cucumber and sauce.

If it was good, I wouldn’t mind the crazy prices. But it wasn’t. It was salty. My distaste over this even made this taste even worse. And I can’t stand the smile of the waitress who has this “ka-ching” eyes.

The 50 cents Myojo Ramen Pedas 100 instant noodles I make at home tastes a million times better than this.


This had got to be the worst meal I had in Beijing. As you always say in situation, honey, I left the place “bei yan jum doe seng gang heet”. That is a Cantonese expression that says something like “letting people slice my throat until it was all bloody”. Something like that.

I did not even eat half of the food.

Let me tell you, if you want to drink beer and into nightlife, Houhai would be the place to go to. To Uncle Ben, unfortunately, it is just not his cup of tea.

Also, beware of asking for English menus!


After that, I decided to go check out the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. They were just around the area and so it was a no brainer. This would be the last place to visit for the day for me.

The Bell Tower and the Drum Tower are two important buildings in old Beijing. They are so important that they lie on the exact north-south axis as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and all important building in Beijing. This drum tower was originally built by Kublai Khan about 800 years ago and then rebuilt 500 years ago by Emperor Yongle.

Both the towers are separate buildings. The entrance was $5 Canadian.


OMG. It was a really steep climb. Not only steep, it was very long too. It was so steep that people coming down had to hold the railings. I am getting too old for things like this. I had to stop mid way and a young Chinese girl looked at me as she scampered up really fast. Hey don’t look at me like that. I was faster than you when I was your age OK?



Up in the tower, there are some drums. There were supposed to be drum performances every hour or so. So I stayed a bit to see the drum performance. I was expecting a few people drumming together but it was just one guy. Nothing fantastic as you can imagine having just one drummer.


If I am not mistaken, this device is used to measure time. Indeed, the function of the drum and bell tower is to keep time and announce time. In the old days there were no other means to tell time. The drum tower and bell tower is common across many cities in China. So it is not just in Beijing.


There was once a set of one big drum and 24 smaller ones. All of them are gone except for the big drum above which is falling apart.

The Chinese used the Bell Tower and Drum Tower as the official way of telling time until the end of the last dynasty. When the Qing dynasty fell, the towers fell into disuse. The Chinese used the more accurate western clocks thereafter.


Here is the view along the north-south axis. The mound at the background is the Jingshan Park and beyond that is the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.


So the above is the drum tower.


About 100 meters south along the same north-south axis is the bell tower.


The same loooong and steeeeep climb.


Hanging on the stout wooden frame is the bell. This bell is said to be the largest and heaviest in all of China.

That’s it for day three … Beihai Park, Lama Temple, Drum Tower and Bell Tower.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Dianetty

    Hi Ben, it’s great to see you are enjoying yourself in Beijing!

    I’ve heard that in China it is very common for the host company to take foreign associates out to kareoke bars where they get to select from a lineup of young girls to be their “wan ban” or “play things” for the night. I hear even 5 star hotels have prostitution services. Just out of curiosity, have you encountered any of this?

    1. Ben

      Hi Dianetty: Our company has strict policy around things like these and so no, not at all. The host company did host quite a number of great lunches and dinners though but that’s the extend of it. It was all strictly professional. However, I had been approached several times on the street for “services”. I remember once in Wangfujing, twice in nearby my hotel but am not into things like these. Ben

  2. Su-Lin

    Oh no! Shame you didn’t get the full drum performance – the one we saw had men on all the drums (well, except the really old ones).

  3. johnny

    Maybe u should download the cam translator on your smartphone. Just snap a pic of the words and it translates for you!

    1. Ben

      Hi Johhny: Oh yeah, I have that Chinese translator software but it is clumsy to use and also quite limited in the ability to provide good translations. I have Pleco on the iPhone. Ben

  4. bill

    Ben, I am glad you are enjoying the visit , maybe not so much the food. And yes, the Chinese can really scam the english speaking foreigners really well if you are not careful. Incidentally, Beijing being part of Northern China offers more Norhtern Chinese cuisines and Northern Chinese cuisines tend to be salty (Colder weather i supppose makes for saltier foods as the meats/vegs are often dried and preserved with salt)

    When you guys are going to be doing the Northern Chinese cuisine blogs back in Vancouver in future, I suppose you will realize that as well

Leave a Reply