What is a Hutong?

Today was really the last day I had total freedom, and while it’s sad that the majority of my trip is over, I am excited to be around people again.  It was also the last day I had to sleep in – tomorrow I am meeting with VanceInfo about my paper, and Thursday I have an all day hike on the great wall.

So, I decided to take full advantage.  I woke up late, went for a run, in attempts to find the temple of heaven, but, of course I couldn’t find the streets I had written down.  It also doesn’t help that no one at the hotel can find exactly where the hotel is on the map.  But, I ran by the forbidden city and beihai park, and a few other things as well.  It was nice, but difficult to run here because there are so many people, especially around the touristy stuff.  And hardly anyone here exercises, so I just stick out more, but whatever.

After my run, I was starving, so ended up grabbing lunch at the restaurant here and tried another signature cocktail.  I looked at the map again during lunch to see if I might be able to figure out how to walk to the Hutongs suggested in this article (http://www.time.com/time/travel/cityguide/article/0,31489,1850076_1850078_1849777,00.html).  I thought maybe I would recognize the street names from my run or something, and to some extent, I did.  However, the whole not really knowing where the hotel was didn’t do me any favors.  So I asked the front desk (really the employees standing around in the lobby, since there isn’t a front desk) and they told me I had to take a cab or a bus since it was too far to walk.  I took a cab, but I’m pretty sure it was a mile and half tops.  But, when you don’t know how to walk there, your options are limited.

Once the cab dropped me off, the hutong area I was looking for was actually quite easy to find.  Hutongs are neighborhoods with narrow alleys and traditional courtyard houses.  Of course, the first person to grab me was the trishaw driver.  Typically, I just walk away, but since they popped up in the article and seem to be a good way to see the Hutongs – short of renting a bike and going on my own (I’m pretty sure I’d still be lost if I did that), I went for it.  I’ve only been one other time, in Philly, and it was a fun way to see the city, so why not.  I also needed to find an ATM, but they were like, don’t worry, we’ll pass one.

And it was a cool ride.  I was pretty sure I was seeing things I would never see on my own.  These were tiny little neighborhoods with narrow streets and all sorts of people.  It was like taking a step back in history.  Cars parked outside most of them which seemed very out of place, like they were in the wrong era or something.  We’d get passed by bikes or scooters, maybe the occasional car, or trishaw coming back in the other direction.  For the first ten minutes or so…

Then he pulls up in front of a house and puts the break on, looks at me and says ok, gesturing to the house.  Ummm….what’s going on?  When I did this in Philly, they just drove us around, no getting out…and why am I at someone’s house.  So a guy comes out to let me in, and I step inside to a courtyard with four random dogs, some trees, and four houses.  Almost a smaller version of the summer palace I saw yesterday.  He asked where I was from and then called to someone….I still really didn’t know what was going on.  So a lady comes out and starts telling me about the house and her family, and how its been in her family for years.  She showed me the different yellow and red pomegranate trees, and I tried to ask her questions, but it was difficult with the language barrier.  She explained how it was feng shui due to the three trees and the set up of the four parts to the house.  Then we went in one of the parts and she showed me photos of her family, and explained how the house has been in their family for years.  It was actually pretty cool once I got over the randomness of being dropped off at someone’s house factor.  Then she tried to teach me Chinese…it didn’t work, but I guess it was worth a try.  Individual words, maybe, phrases…not so much.

Part way through, another couple showed up at the house, from…San Francisco.  They were able to translate a little bit of what she was saying, but even they were having trouble understanding.  We stayed with her a bit longer, signed one of her many guest books, and were on our way.

We went through a little more of the Hutongs, but then ended up on the main road – I guess because that’s where the ATM was?  So I thought maybe we’d go back to the Hutongs after that, especially since I didn’t see any other trishaws…or we’d take it on an adventure on the main road…including an upstream salmon like swim in traffic.  So he could go to a cell phone place….really?   So I’m just chilling in the little cart while he’s doing whatever, hoping nothing hits me.  That part wasn’t so fun.

Once he came back, we took another spin through the Hutongs, passed a couple of schools where the kids were being let out, so that was pretty cool to see.  Made the single lane road pretty crazy…lots of kids, lots of parents, plus bikes, motorbikes, and us.  It was interesting to see the parents picking up the kids….some had kids jumping on the backs of their bikes, some were walking, other kids were walking home in groups.  I was also somewhat surprised as to what the kids were wearing.  Very similar clothes to what kids in the US would wear, if they didn’t wear uniforms.  They did have matching visors or hats, with what I’m guessing was the school logo on it.  Then, he pulled up to the end of a road and gestured ahead of him.  I was like, oh, we’re stopping again?  And he was like, finished.  Really?  You don’t take me back to where we started.  Then he asked if I wanted a photo…umm…sure.  So we took one, right there in the middle of traffic.

I realized he had dropped me off at the Shichahai Lakes, which weren’t far from where we started.  The lakes were once part of the palace, a recreation area of sorts, but are now circled with shops, bars, and restaurants.  There are also places to rent paddle boats and bikes along the way.  I wandered, and did a little bit of shopping, and hoped I may be able to avoid my first run in with the squat toilets.  Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a public restroom in the middle of Beijing, that’s probably all you’re going to find.

I decided to stay for dinner, and decided to try another Chinese restaurant.  I ordered sautéed duck (I have plans to get roasted duck for lunch tomorrow) and some rice.  It was…spicy, nearly inedible.  Sad, because it actually would have been pretty good had I been able to taste it.  Not the best dinner choice…and the drink choices weren’t that great either….and I think water was $5.

After dinner, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel, prepare some questions for tomorrow, and probably have dinner number two since dinner number one didn’t really do it for me.  I started working on stuff for my meeting tomorrow, and of course, I get hungry.  So I call room service.  Of course, they don’t answer…so I call the front desk, who tells me to call room service.  I tell them no one is answering.  So they transfer me to the restaurant, they take my order and I wait…and wait…and then wait some more.  Finally, I call back, of course it hangs up on me.  So I call the front desk, and theyre like, oh…they called a while ago cause they didn’t ask for your room name.  Perfect.  So I have them transfer me back to the restaurant, who takes my info.  I wait another 15 minutes and call back.  Apparently the message didn’t get relayed?  I don’t know.  The lady on the phone assured me it would be on its way.  And it finally was…and it was free.  Apparently that’s what happens when it takes them an hour and a half to bring you dinner.

Now to finish prepping for my meeting and get everything ready for tomorrow….I am wearing a red dress and a black sweater.  Apparently I donated my white pants, my only non-blue jeans, to the hotel in Sanya.  They were old and too big, so no huge loss, but they really were the only thing I had to wear to this meeting.  Hopefully I’m dressed ok.

Until next time…

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