Posts Tagged With: Beijing

THE HUTONGS OF BEIJING.

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.

It was a beautiful spot in the middle of the city, but so packed with humanity, we hurried away.

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.

 

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THE SUMMER PALACE

The Summer Palace sits majestically over a lake. It is still used by the Empress Dowager and we didn’t go into the buildings but it was the favorite place of  Empress Cixi Putz, pronounced sissy-putz, who died in the late 1800’s.

We were ferried over the man-made lake by dragon boat to a landing where we waited in line to cross the seventeen arches bridge.

I am guessing that later construction in China did not obey the multiples of nine as in older buildings. The Summer Palace,  while still used officially, is a huge tourist attraction with boat rides of all types on the lake, beautiful gardens and in short, a lovely way to spend a day and picnic.

You enter through this beautiful gate.

As always, I had to take a picture of the ornate roof of the gate.

Our group stopped for a picture in front of this beautiful gate. The site is now designated a UNESCO site for its unique beauty and features.

The side of the gate is lined with the stone lion guards. Peeling paint is being scraped; the site repainted in preparation for the Olympics to be held in China for the first time in 2008.

Two  interesting  features of the Summer Palace are the Marble Boat, seen only in the background behind these people and the Long Hall which is not a hall, but a long covered walk way for the Empress to use.  On the Marble Boat, the Empress entertained guests  with a banquet as though they were actually traveling to some exotic place.

The Long Hall is also beautifully decorated. You can see the roof trusses beneath the picture.  The hall has many pictures depicting Chinese History, or famous storied fables to entertain her and her guests. It is lined with benches to rest often since the Empress, (and all women then,) had bound feet. The royal Empresses of old were confined to their Peaceful Garden and Long Hall since it was difficult for them to move about.

It would be fun to hear some of the stories these pictures represent. We were free to wander around the gardens and lake.

There are many bridges of great beauty. Chinese tourists love boating here.

Every bridge is guarded by those marvelous stone lions.

When we first arrived on the Island, we saw workers disembarking from a boat. This woman carries her own big metal “dust” pan and straw broom. The thermos we expect is her lunch. The dust pan can obviously hold discarded paper cups, napkins and other large debris dropped on the walkways and gardens.

These two little girls were well dressed and obviously having a good time. The one child per family edict resulted in more surviving males, by design. Women would line up to have sonograms and abort girl babies. Men grew up and couldn’t find a wife and had to go to Korea, Viet Nam, Indonesia,  or elsewhere to import brides. The sonogram “factories” have been closed and now, through education, people revere and prefer girls, especially in the big modern cities.  Farm families are allowed two children.

Since we couldn’t read Chinese script, we have no idea what significance this beautiful sculpture of a cow had.

At lunch, Viki explained to us that her own grandmother had bound feet, the cruel tortuous practice instigated by the Emperor’s favorite concubine who had tiny, tiny feet and danced for him on a drum. He considered them so beautiful and dainty, that aristocratic women made their own daughters emulate that beauty by binding their feet.  Vicki called it five hundred years of cruelty and crippling of women. Her grandparents were political, meaning outspoken, and were banished to the high country of China near Tibet. She remembers as her grandmother aged how painful her feet were and her inability to walk properly or very far.

All restaurant meals  are served on this giant turntable that takes up the complete center of the table.  We had delicious meals in China  that typically  included sea weed, cabbage, always bok choy, chicken, beef, cucumbers, soup, little meaty hors’ dueovres. Meat is in small quantities with many vegetables none of us recognized; always fish, normally cooked whole with head, eyes and fins attached. Everything came in a tasty sauce. Rice in good restaurants and affluent Chinese homes, is served last. It is only to fill you up if you didn’t get enough primary foods. We all wanted rice WITH our meals and of course, we were accommodated.

For more information about the summer palace, click the following link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_Palace

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THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

We take a bus to visit one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China. I’m so excited, I can hardly believe I’m going to actually walk on the Great Wall of China. On the way, Vicki gives us a history while we look at the passing scene out the windows. We see the Beijing Romance Club, a matchmaking club, which seemed strange in 2006. Now, don’t we all know about on-line matchmaking?  We see farms, fruit orchards, vendors along the highway lay out their produce on blankets. Highway workers in droves sweep the edges of the roads with straw brooms. I mean straw brooms that look like “witches” brooms. China doesn’t buy machinery to do a task that can be accomplished by human labor, though, that is changing. But what then do you do with a huge population of workers without work asks Vicki?  People don’t drive as fast here and the highway is teeming with people on foot.

The walk up to one of the Great Wall’s entrance places is lined with vendors, since the Great Wall is the biggest tourist attraction in all of Asia.

I took a picture of this camel and was shushed away by the owner. Vicki explained that this man makes his living by charging for pictures taken of his camel, usually with mom and the kids standing near it. I felt bad for my “sin”, but I couldn’t read the sign nor undo the picture. Vicki explained that most of these vendors have been licensed to sell here because they were once farmers displaced by the flooding of the Yangtze River.

We enter near one of the towers built to house the soldiers and their families who lived  there and manned the towers all day and night.  I was stunned to learn that. It isn’t as though the Great wall could be driven to from a nearby city during the 1200’s. Somehow, I thought the wall was its own defense, a deterrent. Vicki took us to an entrance that is the farthest from Beijing city center, and not as busy as others. Notice the dip on the right to take rain water away from the steps.

This gives you an idea of the height of the walls at the top, just over five feet tall.  From magazine pictures and travel ads I’d seen, I  thought of the wall as this smooth brick roadway for miles. It is smooth here.  This section has been restored and looks quite new.

I guess I expected an even structure built in a ring at the Chinese borders, never giving much thought to the undulating terrain of the mountain passes it guarded. It is mind-boggling just trying to see in the distance as it traces the tops of the mountains in every direction you look.

It’s uphill, jagged, stairs both straight and crooked; weathered and broken.

You can hike the wall for days, or weeks. We met a family that backpacked in for miles and found vistas, and wild animals, and broken, crumbling sections of the wall where they could climb down and explore the woods and meadows.

When you look over the edge, you realize that the wall is much taller than it looks on the “inside”.  Here Vicki pointed out the remnants of an old fruit orchard the soldiers and their families depended on when they guarded the border. They had to grow their own food and carry or pipe water to farm on the Chinese side of the wall.  On the opposite side, it was part of their job to cut away all vegetation within 30 feet of the enemy side of the wall. Ascending and descending the wall many times a day, to toilet, haul water, tend gardens, and other tasks,  tests the sense of believability.

This is a spot where soldiers could get out to their work detail off the wall.

In inclement weather, you can imagine how treacherous it would be to patrol this wall. It drains one way and then another. Like castle walls, cut outs were built for the soldiers to fire their arrows at raiders below.  The towers and exits are located I’m guessing about every 300 to 400 feet, or so. Inside those towers, all open to the air above, the families kept warm by body heat and a charcoal brazier, also used for cooking. The feat of building the wall is hard to put your mind around. It at one time stretched 13,171 miles. And, while we were in China, news came that archeologists had uncovered another 400 kilometer section of earthen and stone wall from ancient times. The original wall was started in 200 B.C.   Each section has a distinct character, an individuality,  as one worker differed slightly in his method than another. Hauling and mixing the cement in a remote area, hauling the water, again, it tests the sense of believability. I expect they used horses and donkeys to help with the work. Even so, a monumental achievement.

You can see this section of the wall is  shorter, warmer and sunnier.

This was an emotional experience for me. I felt it was worth the whole trip’s expense just to see the wall. I cast one last look at this impossible place, straining my eyes through the mist to see, as far as I could, this amazing wall etched like a painting  on the mountain tops. I hated to leave.

The website below gives some history, facts and pictures of this one of seven of the greatest world wonders.

http://www.chinahighlights.com/greatwall/fact/

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THE HUTONGS

During the cultural revolution, the city was cleared of many of its old quarters and high rises were built as the “standard” housing. Some old families were allowed to remain in the center of Beijing called the Hutongs. Old, dilapidated one-family residences have been preserved. They are part of the narrow warrens, the crooked uneven, unplanned streets where at one time shacks were built on top of shacks and people rarely wandered more than a few blocks from their home. All business was conducted on the streets where neighbors traded goods with neighbors.  Some streets have been widened enough for a small car. At one time only bicycles and rickshaws plied the rough streets of the  Hutongs.

We disembark from our rickshaw and push our way through the throngs to a family home where our guide has arranged a home visit.

Just about every family has a  bike, still the main mode of transportation.

The area is dark and moving from one place to the other is from memory. No numbers or addresses are seen on these buildings.

We reach our destination and we crowd into two different houses.  They are very basic dwellings with a small shared courtyard to grow and gather herbs and some vegetables or flowers in pots. This is middle-class housing, usually one room. A few families have more spacious places with three rooms.  They are occupied by working middle class people, not at all what Chinese think of as poor, but to us they seem poor.

These neighborhoods are friendly, and safe. They are a very desired commodity, individual family housing, rare in modern China.  The  Hutong  families have modern amenities like a TV, a refrigerator and a place to cook on a coal or wood stove that is also used for heat. No indoor toilets.  The tour company pays them to open their homes to tours. Our hostess’s furniture was matched.  Our host family was very proud of their special home.

This is one of the bigger houses with three rooms.  Pictures  of family members share space with “decorator” pictures as well, showing their affluence.  The floor  at one time was well trodden dirt with bamboo mats.  The floor is now cement tiles.

The third room, a small bedroom with a fancy spread.

Here is a place where buildings have been removed to allow cars to enter.

Our rickshaw driver is “Joe.”  He knew some English and told us he has two kids. He was very chatty. He lives in the country and spends only one month per year with his family. Country people are allowed two children per couple. Joe works in the city and bunks in with other drivers and sends a required amount of his earnings home. He scowled and didn’t like his $1 tip. (Our guide warned us not to pay more.)

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