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Jo's Tour of Southern China - Day 5

heading into the bejing hutongs
shopping areas in the bejing hutongs Jo Wedlock
thousands live in the bejing hutongs Jo Wedlock
mao on the forbidden city Jo Wedlock
Tiananmen square Jo Wedlock

Jo's Tour of Southern China - Day 5

story by: Jo Wedlock

The next morning get a sleep in with a 7am start which has me thoroughly excited!  Today is a big day as we are planning on combining what was originally 1.5 days of visits into one.  On the agenda is Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Hutongs before a trip to the silk markets if we can fit it in.

We travel first to a convenient place to leave our mini bus, which happens to be about a block from Tiananmen Square.  We have government approval to take some camera footage in these historic places, but our guide advises that there are very strict regulations about what we can say on camera.  Apparently there can be no reference to the Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989 as we will be arrested on the spot.  We can’t even recite this as a past fact as the government will allow no reference to it.  Our guide tells us that the numerous police on the square will even arrest tourists who are talking about it if necessary!

After an initial wander around the square we cross the road to visit the Forbidden City. It’s about a 15 minute walk under the road to the Forbidden City and when we arrive, we are cordoned off as the Philippians Prime Minister is visiting and everyone has to wait until he has done his tour. Finally we get inside and get our chance to wander. The architecture is amazing and the ground is still the old cobblestones which are well worn. There are big crowds but there is still room to move and visit the temples and other attractions. There’s also plenty of hawkers so we can purchase water, snacks and use the bathrooms.

Back to Tiananmen Square for some more pictures and then we are off to the Hutongs to get a rickshaw and have some lunch.  The hutongs are ‘alleyways’ and are traditional to Beijing being where the locals live in the little cobblestone alleys behind walls.  Typically a house in a Beijing is on prime real estate so the ‘owners’ if locals are considered wealthy even though they are rundown and have no money. The Government owns about 85% of the Hutongs and rents to the people.  Most houses in the Hutongs have no sewerage system, so much like a NZ camping ground there is a toilet and shower block for each neighbourhood.  I unfortunately needed to use the ‘ladies’ and to my horror, noticed they are communal urinals for men and women!!  Hmmmm – I think I can hold on after all...  We get around the Beijing Hutongs in a rickshaw and these areas have there own shopping district which is amazing. In this part, they’ve done a great job in creating a series of shops and restaurants with a lot of character.  There is a multitude of funky little modern bars scattered amongst the shops and this is now the ‘place to come’ if you are a hip bar hopping local or tourist.

We get off the mainstream shopping areas and into the local housing.  We are being hosted by a local family who speak no English and are cooking us a typical Chinese lunch in their home.  The “Wangs’ are wonderful and through a translator we learn that Mr Wang used to be the head chef at the Imperial restaurant when it catered for heads of state and the like.  The Imperial was famous for its extreme food such as ‘elephant trunk’.  Thankfully there is no elephant on the menu today and we get a selection of deep fried lotus root, marinated garlic shoots, sweet and sour, spicy pork and some slightly stale USA fish crackers (the last a bit random but I think Mr Wang’s concession to our ‘western nature’.)  The food is fresh, tasty and a treat to our senses!

By the time we are finished eating then getting great local photos of regular ‘house hold activities’ such as washing, shopping etc of the hutongs, the day is winding to an end. Just in time for some more shopping at the Silk markets before finally returning to our hotel.  We are departing tomorrow to return to NZ, so everyone retires rather early to pack, refresh and start the long journey home!

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