Sunday, October 28, 2012

Beijing Touring, dreams come true

Awesome Beijing drivers.  Everyone in this picture is moving.  Scary
Typical Beijing sidewalk.  I love this!  Look at how solid and used those bikes are!

Pretty girl, pretty water, pretty pagoda
This one is just for you, Katie Hass!  A genuine Chinese Kung-Fu Panda!

Ooh, wanna get me some of THESE in Colorado Springs.  Love the bike culture in Beijing.

Little Happy Anime-style police warning

Another awesome Beijing vehicle

I just loved the look of this pagoda
(Internet back - posting what I wrote over the weekend)

Friday, October 26, 2012

I thought I would sleep like a rock all night, given how exhausted we were from traveling 28 hours, but as usual, the hotel air did its obnoxious trick and I woke before 2am with congestion and a raging headache.  A few essential oils, a couple ibuprofen and an hour later, I finally fell asleep for a good 4-hour block. 

At 7am we got up and ready, and ate breakfast in the hotel.  Breakfast was a buffet of a few familiar things like bacon, Rice Crispies and toast, and a lot of less-familiar things like spicy sautéed bok choy, congee, salt vegetables and hawthorne juice.  It was awesome.  There were things I skipped that I look forward to trying tomorrow.  We met up with the rest of our group at 8:30a and headed out to the HuTong.

On the way, our guide George gave us some of his awesome advice and perspective.  We love George.  I’m going to put all of his “talks” together in another post.  

We went to the HuTong district, which is a preserved historical area of the elite “Old Beijing”.  They are small, now run-down neighborhoods with narrow alleys.  The HuTongs go back 800 years to the Mongolian Dynasty.  The Mongols saw the Han people’s tribal homes that the rich and court officials lived in – walled-in tic-tac-toe blocks of eight houses with a well in the center and called them a hurt (rhymes with yert), meaning “water”.  The Han people (native Chinese) changed this to HuTong. 
There are lots of the feudal symbols left there, such as the number of wooden beams above the door, the number of stairs in front, and the door stones, which tell the occupation, rank, and social status of the occupants.  

HuTong district

HuTong Pizza - classic feudal-era Chinese food

George "Sticky Chopsticks" leading us through the HuTongs
Neighborhood produce market

History lesson from George "Sticky Chopsticks"

The door stones showed occupation and status.  This one shows that the occupant was a military official (round shape like a war drum), member of the royal family (lion on the top)... and I can't remember the rest.

Door beams showed status and were always in even numbers.

Door steps also showed status and were in odd numbers corresponding to the door posts (this one was redone - it originally had 3)

A design under the eaves like this showed wealth
 We rode in bike rickshaws through the district.  That was a neat experience.  

Lashi and Antigone's rickshaw
I shared the rickshaw ride with another gal in our group.  (I need to work on names)
 We got to tour parts of one of the HuTongs, the home of Mr. Yu and his family.  His house was 200 or 300 years old depending on who you listened to. 
Mr Yu and Little Yu telling us about his HuTong four directions house
After the HuTongs, we went to lunch at a really yummy restaurant and had “real Chinese food”.  Other than having less salt than I’m used to in US Chinese food, it really wasn’t terribly different.  There were more gristly pieces in the meat, and there were some less-used vegetables, like lotus root and LOTS more bok choy. 

After lunch, we went to the government-run silk factory and silk mall.  WOW.  We saw the whole silk-making process from egg to quilt.  It was pretty amazing.  The sales people were well-trained to follow us everywhere and try to slide us into buying anything we even gazed at.  They were ready to just wrap it and get the bill ready.  We declined (me with more struggle than Lashi) and wandered into the back part of the silk mall.  I got a red Chinese dress for Fiona, Antigone and myself.  Antigone got a little fan, Lashi got a couple pieces of art (one embroidered and two on silk).  The prices were very reasonable and the quality far above what we’d find on the street.  (One benefit of super-regulated government)  

Yuan Hou Silk factory and mall - Government-run silk market
Silk worm specimens.  Each set is only 5 days older than the last.  Dang, they grow fast!
From the front: double-cocoon raw silk, single-cocoon raw silk, and double, then single cocoons
This machine unwinds the soaked single cocoons
Next, we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  It was YEARS of dreaming come true!  I got my degree in Asian History, and spent two years of that studying China almost exclusively.  My senior paper was on “Women in the Chinese Cultural Revolution”.  To be there in person – I never thought I would.  I have to admit tearing up several times.  It was overwhelming to me. 

Tiananmen means “Gate of Heavenly Peace”.  It was the area in front of the emperor’s palace complex, now known as “The Forbidden City”, although the name (given to the area by the poor class) really originally applied to the entire first couple rings of the city, not just the palace.  The HuTongs, the Square, etc., all were part of the Forbidden City because the poor were forbidden to go there.   

Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world at 70 hectares (173 acres).  It’s incredible.
One flippin'-big flower pot

In front of Tiananmen Tower
The Chairman and Me
While we were there, something happened that I had been told about, but had never witnessed.  People stopped members of our group (including my family) and asked to take pictures with them.   Over and over and over…  Antigone handled it very well.  A crowd of curious people even gathered around George to hear his lecture on the history of the Square and the Forbidden City. 

A crowd of Chinese gathered to listen to George discoursing on Tiananmen Square and the buildings surrounding it

Can't tell you how many times I tripped on these uneven stones.  Gotta watch your step on 600+yr old surfaces
Random people who wanted to take pictures with my daughter
More random people who wanted to take pictures of my daughter. 
We crossed under the street between the open square and Tiananmen tower (the one with Mao’s picture) and entered the palace complex proper.  I had no idea how big it was.  I knew the Son of Heaven, undisputed ruler of the Middle Kingdom was an audacious position, but his palace is a couple miles long.  We went through gate and courtyard after gate and courtyard.  The history is fascinating and I’ll regale anyone who really wants to know, but I want to move along here.  

Finally touching the Gate of Heavenly Peace
Inside one of the outer courtyards (we've already gone through 3-4 layers)
Beautiful Forbidden City
This place just keeps going!!!
Really big lion :)
Antigone and Lashi racing across the courtyard
Add caption
I don't know what this is, but I've started calling it "Santa's team"
One of a series of thrones in this place.  Unbelievable stuff
These very big pots were filled with water as part of the fire-protection system
The phoenix image appears over and over and represents the Empress
Dragon image also appears frequently and represents the Emperor
Pretty canal through city
Our time there ended WAY too soon.  I wish we could have gone all the way to the end of it, but even after 1 ½ hours of walking, the final pagoda was still small and hazy in the distance.  We had to turn back.  On the way back to the bus, a teenaged boy in our group got backed into by one of Beijing’s fine drivers and Antigone made a new best friend. 
Antigone and her new best friend Jaden
When we got back to the hotel, we were all wiped, but I was hungry.  I asked Lashi what the plan was.  This was his response:
Nice, guys.  I guess I'll just... eat trail mix for dinner.
Oh well.  G’night!  Great Wall tomorrow. 


  1. So cool! I'd love to hear more. I love the pictures & history.

  2. WOW! I love the pictures! I've always wanted to see the Forbidden City! You are soo lucky!!