Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Great China Adventure: The Hutong District

The third day in Beijing was a "free" day for those who were brave enough to explore the city on their own, but for cowards, like me and my aunt Cathy, who were too intimidated by the language barrier, you could take advantage of an optional tour of Beijing's historic District and tour the Temple of Heaven.

The two previous days, we had driven just outside the cement walls of the Hutong district, but I wasn't sure what to expect once inside. It is basically a city within the city. It is the oldest part of Beijing, and even though it appeared "run down" in parts, we were told that the real estate is some of the most expensive in all of Beijing. Because if you own a piece of the Hutong District, you own history.

Before heading to China, I had no idea what a rickshaw was. But since I was going to be touring a part of the city in one, I decided to look it up. Here's a rickshaw. And, yes, I toured the "Old City", Beijing's Hutong District, in one of them.

Here we are with our rickshaw driver. Poor guy had to work hard on that bike.

This part of Beijing truly is a city within the city. There are clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and even a lake hidden within the cement walls of the Hutong District.

The interesting thing is that you cannot tell that any of this is hidden behind the crumbling cement walls that conceal the Hutong District from the rest of Beijing. It is like a hidden treasure!

What made this day extra special was the chance to visit an actual home and have lunch prepared for us by a local woman and her family. She gave us a dumpling-making demonstration, and we were each allow to make a dumpling. As usual, this home-cooked meal was soooooo much better than any of the food we had in restaurants. It was the best meal in Beijing.

Our hostess spoke no English, but the language barrier didn't seem to come into play at all. She was so warm and inviting.

My dumpling left much to be desired. Thankfully, hers were much, much better.

When we left the Hutong District, we headed for the Temple of Heaven. If it's one thing the people of China cherish, it is community. The Temple of Heaven is a beautiful garden of sorts where people can come in and just be together. There was one group singing traditional Chinese songs, and another group of retired women dancing, and even karaoke. It was a great slice of everyday Chinese life.

Young and old people joined in the singing. I couldn't understand a word of it, of course, but you don't have to understand the words to feel the music. It was lovely.

The Chinese women tend to retire around age 50 (jealous!!!) and to stay in shape, many of them participate in daily dance as a form of exercise. Anyone is invited to join in. I'd never seen anything like it.

People played cards and instruments, and others just watched and listened.

The "Hall of Prayer and Good Harvest" is the largest structure in the Temple of Heaven, and according to Feng Shui, it is the exact point where heaven and Earth meets.

I have so many great memories of this day. While The Great Wall of China had been the thing I most looked forward to in Beijing, this day of touring the city's historic district and seeing its people go about everyday lives was, by far, the best part of Beijing.

As an extra special treat, I have a bit of video from our Rickshaw ride. It really is one of those you-just-have-to-do-it-for-yourself experiences, but hopefully you can get a feel for it.

Next, we move on to the ancient city of Xi'an (pronounced Shee-an) which is most famous for its Terracotta Warriors. One word: PHENOMENAL!!! You will not want to miss this!