Friday, April 2, 2010

Touring Beijing

Our Group

When I compare the Beijing I visited 15 years ago to the Beijing of 2010, the biggest difference to my eye is the lack of bicycles.  In 1993 the streets seems carpeted with bicycles and riders going to and from work while carrying loads of groceries and laundry and kids.  Now, the streets are wall to wall cars and buses and trucks.  Although there are still bicycles, it seems that residents have put them away in exchange for the almighty car.  Unlike 15 yeas ago, this is not a city I would feel comfortable riding in.  Although I can't begrudge them their auto, (we Americans have taken so rigidly to ours), you can smell and see the pollution in the air.  There are no new sleek bikes like you see in the states, either.  Most are old single speed bikes with rusted chains and baskets for carrying things.


Yesterday, we awoke at 5:30 am which is 5:30 pm for those of you back in EDT.  We lazed about and had breakfast at this enormous breakfast buffet at the hotel (grand mixture of western food and Chinese food)  and Geoff got our guide to set us up with a very special tour of the old city of Beijing called the Quiangong Hutong.  Hutong means well (as in water well) and are the old original walled cities.  They have been preserved with shops and night clubs and restaurants and some are still residences. It was a cold and sunny day.  Catherine booked us a small van and much to our surprise, everyone decided to join us.  We squeezed in and when we arrived there were 6 rickshaw drivers waiting to take us by twos through the old city.  Our guide, Ox, explained who lived there and how the Hutong's worked and he even took us to someone's residence.  (Some retired people make money by allowing tourists in to see where they live.)  The man we met had a lot of pets: cats and dogs and homing pigeons and a mynah bird that said Nia hou. 
Our host in Hutong

The Hutong seemed unusual, as you hear that in the preparations for the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese made way only for everything new and modern.  This old part of the city I found surprisingly beautiful amid the concrete and traffic and high rises.  Beijing is a bustling modern city with Starbucks, McDonalds and KFC on every corner and even the Hutongs, though dating back hundreds of years were made into discos that sold Budweiser.  I think everyone liked this special glimpse into a seemingly secret part of the city.
Charming streets in Hutong

After the tour and a quick lunch, we all boarded a bigger tour bus and did the big Beijing tourist schlep:  Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Olympic Stadium and an Acrobatics show.  All these places were filled with tourists of all kinds and also vendors hawking postcards and souvenirs (don't even look at them or they follow you for a mile.)  and of course beggars.  Grayson was upset to encounter a man who would not leave him alone.  He kept pantomiming that he wanted food.  We finally got him to leave us alone and Catherine taught us how to tell beggars to go away.  A sobering lesson for Grayson.

Catherine, Grayson, and Amy 
Forbidden City 

Forbidden City Garden

Olympic Stadium

I was impressed by the soldiers everywhere.  Young men dressed impeccably in the green uniform of the people's republic.  They are marching everywhere around the city.  Words everywhere were in Chinese Characters with some English translations.  Gardening in and around the monuments and hotels is not very pretty.  (I am told it gets better.)  And yes, in Beijing people spit on the streets with regularity.  Hearing that suddenly guttural fling of spit is never very pleasant.  But even with all the things that seemed so different at the end of the day, it was a city, filled with construction workers and traffic jams and noise and parks and people going out to dinner.  Not so different than in any American City. 

By the end of the day we were all exhausted.  Geoff, Gray and I caught a quick meal at a Malaysian restaurant and home to the hotel.  Tomorrow we see the Great Wall of China.


  1. Wonderful post. We are all following your adventure closely. MKP

  2. Next time we go to China, I am going to insist we go to Old Beijing... that looks fascinating! Takes you back to a different time, doesn't it?!

  3. Wow - that Olympic Stadium is amazing! So are all your experiences.