June 29, 2012
From the bus, the dependence on bicycles in Beijing is visible wherever you go. Street lights of old were yellow lanterns. Now, the yellow lanterns are lit with electricity. On this street, the clustered lanterns are white. We are taken to the inner city area of Beijing called the Hutongs, a neighborhood of closely built, attached houses with narrow alleyways, and tricky warrens, with no house numbers, typical of old Beijing. Most of the Hutong neighborhood has been bulldozed and people living there forced to move to high-rise, ugly, cement, apartment buildings.
We walked to a modern, bicycle powered rickshaw parking lot.
Michal, my travel partner, and I shared a rickshaw. Our driver’s name is “Joe”. He speaks some English and told us he has two kids. He lives in the country and spends one month per year with his family. In the city, he bunks in with other drivers and sends a required amount of his licensed earnings home to his family.
Hutong families may have a garage for bikes, and storage. Most are two rooms, with a small courtyard where they can grow herbs and a few radishes or lettuces for something fresh, or maybe flowers in a pot.
Some places are too narrow for a rickshaw and after a few minutes ride, we walk to meet our host family.
The Hutongs are handed down from generation to generation. Families here didn’t have deeds to their houses, but now everything is tracked and recorded. The neighboring family to our host has a fancy ceramic table and stools. This is an upper middle-class area.
This family is very proud of their spacious living/dining room. Because they are affluent, they have decorations on the wall, family pictures, beautiful coverings for their furnishings and a television set.
The dining area of the main room with long ago acquired furnishings handed down, are now possibly valuable “antiques.”
In their private bedroom, the bed takes up most of the room, but it is fancy and many room decorations are visible with a modern lamp beside the bed. This type of residence is rare in China and very much desired. The neighborhood is safe and friendly. No one locks their bike or doors. None of them have bathrooms, they share community toilets and washing areas.
A very modern kitchen with running water, and the ability to cook inside. The Hutong houses of old had tramped dirt floors covered by bamboo mats, since replaced with tiles. Cooking was done outside in a communal courtyard, if they were lucky to have that much room. Some just had a charcoal brazier on the roof, or in front of the door. The host family is paid by the tour company to open up their house to a mob of tourists.
As we walk out of the neighborhood, Vicki points out areas where the Hutong houses have been removed, cemented over and expanded to allow automobiles in.
One place had a bonsai obviously hundreds of years old. In Japan, that bonsai would be surrounded by items of beauty and serenity to enhance the bonsai instead of a rolled up hose and a fire hydrant. Gave me a chuckle.
Our group moved on to Prince Gong Imperial Gardens, a city park.
We stopped to visit a rug factory. It carried excellent quality merchandise but the workers conditions were upsetting.
This young girl, still wearing her jacket, sits for long hours, in a cold unheated building and a hard seat. The rug she is working on will take a year to complete. She is a skilled worker and is grateful to have a job.