Small shop in one of the hutongs in Beijing

Photo by Lucie Field

Day 4 (Sunday), afternoon - Beijing
Lunch at Mr. Wong's home, Rickshaw Ride, Temple of Heaven, the Pearl Store, and Peking Duck Dinner

After leaving Tiananmen Square on the bus, we headed towards one of the old sections of Beijing known as the hutongs. A hutong is a narrow alleyway surrounded by courtyards, homes and walled gardens all of which came right up to the alley. Some are only four meters wides while others might be nine. Little shops opened onto the street. The hutongs, or alleys, run in a maze and it would be easy to get lost. There are many hutongs in Beijing but they are rapidly disappearing, torn down to make way for new buildings.

We walked through this construction area in the hutong to get to the house where we were going to have lunch.

Photo by Gene Field


Having lunch at a private home in one of the hutongs, followed by a rickshaw ride, was an optional choice for which we paid extra. Everyone in our group went and it was a great experience. Each of the different bus groups went to different private homes.

We went to the home of Mr. Wong who had worked many years at a steel factory. Because the steel factory created a great deal of pollution which blew over the city, the factory was relocated to the other side of town so the pollution would blow in the other direction. Because it was too far for him to travel to the new site, he retired. Mr. Wong was only 52 and he could not retire until he is 55, so he and his wife, who used to work selling washing machines, open their home to tourists and serve them lunch.

The rooms were very small and simply furnished. In what must have been the living room, there was a large stone bowl with fish in it. There was a painting done by their daughter.

Mr. Wong talked to us for awhile about his life and how they originally owned only the three rooms on one side of the courtyard. Later on they bought the rooms on the other side of the courtyard.

Then his wife and daughter served the lunch to the three tables of our group. The dishes kept coming and coming and the food was excellent. Some of the dishes were different from what we had been having each day so far.

After lunch we had a few minutes to look around in each room, in the courtyard and in the rooms on the other side of the courtyard. The kitchen, a bathroom and another room were one the other side. We were amazed to find a tiny kitchen with a two-burner stove which was where our meal had been prepared.

After the visit, we left the courtyard and headed back out past the construction area and climbed into our rickshaws for our ride around the hutongs.

Entering the courtyard

Photo by Gene Field


Some of group M-6 having lunch at the private home in one of the hutongs. All the food for this meal had been prepared in the tiny kitchen across the courtyard.

Photo by Gene Field

In this picture you can see the lovely patio and also the case of beer. Beer was served at every meal and was easier to get than water.

Photo by Gene Field

Rickshaws and drivers waiting for us to get on board

Photo by Gene Field


Jean and Anne ready for the rickshaw ride

Photo by Gene Field

Because the hutongs were so narrow, rickshaws were the perfect way to get around. The rickshaw drivers (if that is what you call them) sat and smoked on their break. Smoking seems to be very common there. All kinds of things were going on in the hutongs, from little shops to people sitting outside talking on cell phones, to old men playing games. The rickshaws went very fast at times and at one point two of the rickshaws ran into each other and had to untangle themselves. We stopped at one point and got off and went up to the gate of a private residence - all behind walls. Behind the wall was a home with a lovely garden, but we could not go in to see it.

Rickshaw ride through the hutong

Photo by Gene Field

Temple of Heaven, Beijing.

Photo by Gene Field


After the tour of the hutongs and the rickshaw ride, we climbed back on the bus and headed for the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven, built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, is three times the size of the Forbidden City. Because it was built for the Emperors to offer sacrifices to the gods, they could not build the dwelling for heaven bigger than their own dwelling.

There are several buildings in the complex surrounded by gardens and pine trees. The Temple of Heaven was a very holy place where the Emperors would come every year at the winter solstice to worship heaven (only the Emperor could do this) and pray for a good harvest. The buildings are round, to symbolize the heavens and the complex is rectangular, to symbolize earth. Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest are 4 large posts symbolizing the four seasons, 12 more to symbolize the months, and 12 more representing a time period of two hours each to sybolize a day.

Much symbology and numerology went into the architecture of the site. It is now a park where visitors may wander among the gardens and buildings. In 1998 it became a World Heritage Site. We left the buildings and walked down pathways surrounds by rows and rows of pine trees and gardens.

Lucie, regretting her decision not to buy pearls at
the pearl store, bought them later in Chinatown in Shanghai.

Photo by Gene Field

At the end of the park we came to the buses parked next to the Pearl Store. We were given a quick lecture of how pearls are made and what to look for and then let loose in the store to spend money. There were pearls of all colors, necklaces, earrings, loose pearls, and rings. After at least an hour in the Pearl Store, we drove off in the buses to our Peking Duck dinner and then back to the hotel. Instead of crashing into bed, we were told that we had to have our suitcases packed and left outside the door at 10:00 p.m. so they could be picked up and taken ahead of time to the plane. We were given fair warning not to pack what we might need in the morning and told stories about those who had neglected to pay attention. One poor soul forgot to leave out his shoes; another had no pair of pants. So, after carefully packing and setting the suitcases outside the door, we went to bed.

18 April 2006 [China Trip index|next]