First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Playing Tourist: Hou Hai and Forbidden City

Family in Beijing Countdown: T-minus 1 Day

Today was a typical work day for me, while my family concluded their tour with visits to the Great Wall, Ming Tombs and enjoyed a Beijing Duck (also known as Peking Duck) dinner. So I'll round out our day yesterday with some pictures.

First off, let it be known that while I say 'playing tourist,' I have a whole new respect for package tours after visiting yesterday. Not only for their quality - and the company my family went with was PHENOMENAL, by the way - but for the stamina required of tourists themselves. We have this snide image of tourists entombed in their buses, getting carted from gift shop to gift shop, but man, on a good tour? They work you!

I was exhausted at the end of the day, and I had seen more than I ever could on my own. So props out to the tourists who can do that, day in and day out, for 12 days in a row.

Anyway, after 'church,' we went to Hou Hai, a famous hutong northwest of the Forbidden City. A 'hutong' is technically the narrow alley that runs through these ancient neighborhoods, but it is often used to describe whole areas now. I had walked through this one once before, but this time we took the bicycle-rickshaw (still haven't looked up the name) and made three stops.

The first was at the house of Soong Ching Ling, an important woman in the formation of the People's Republic and a significant political and social figure in the country until her death in 1981. She was the only woman on the stage with Mao when he declared the founding of the PRC.

She was married to Dr. Sun Yatsen, a key architect of the PRC. One of her sisters, meanwhile, married Chiang Kai-Shek, the generalissimo of the Chinese Nationalists who the Communists drove off the mainland and onto Taiwan during the revolution; the other married one of the nation's richest men. Would have loved to attend their family reunions!

Then we were ridden to one of the ancient houses in the hutong, where we got to meet the family that lived there and ask them about life in 'old Beijing.' Very interesting. The man and his wife (both retired) as well as their two sons and granddaughter all live in the courtyard house. Each family has a set of 3-4 rooms, including a small kitchen, and all open into the courtyard, which is garden, social area and storage all in one. Their table has a canopy or grape vines with huge grapes, and there's even a small pomegranate tree apparently growing out of stone.

Lastly we went to an ancient garden that some prince or another had built. He apparently had a fascination with bats - they are everywhere in the decorations - and showed a fondness for the kind of small, rock-lined paths I found in Bei Hai park some weeks ago.

We also got to see a bit of daily life. Lots of small-scale construction going on. We stopped at a public park by the water, complete with public exercise machines - there were parallel bars, non-motorized eliptical machines, rowing machines, resistance machines - and people were out exercising on them. Cool to see.

Some pictures:

After that we went to the Forbidden City, but this time via the north gate, and we went down the eastern side (I had gone up the middle before) where many of the historical and art collections are. So I saw many things I hadn't seen before.

Absolutely stunning, or course. The Chinese aesthetic seems to be the anti-Swedish - the more ornate, complex, intricate, gilded, colored and detailed, the better. I have to say, it is some of the best eye candy I have ever seen.



For some reason, there's a bird in the office. It's black with white wingtips, about the size of a large robin, and seems to be flightless. I saw one coworker watching and feeding it at her desk today, and saw assorted people stopping by to check it out.



At least, that's what this sign says to me.