The city of Beijing originally was protected by huge walls, and each Beijing home also had a wall built around it. Walled houses were attached, forming a labyrinth old city with narrow paths connecting the maze. Anyone with a sense of adventure who wants to see a more traditional Beijing will need to explore the old city on foot or via pedicab, checking out the numerous gardens, courtyards, and alleys along the way. This ancient part of the Beijing is called the hutong. The hutong area is rapidly disappearing, replaced by modern apartments and stores.
We checked out of the hotel and our guides made sure our suitcases were loaded on the buses. Our cruise tour group then rode the short distance from the Beijing hotel to the hutong near Tiananmen Square. We climbed aboard two-person pedicabs for the fascinating ride around the hutong. It was great fun riding the narrow alleys, peering into doorways and homes. We stopped and toured a school area, but since it was a Saturday, no students were present. My husband, a retired educator, would have loved this school and hearing about the Chinese educational system. We also visited the home of an elderly retired couple, who told about their lives in China from the days of World War II, through the cultural revolution, to the present. The man was a retired accountant at a power plant, and he proudly spoke about their home, which they shared with their married son's family. The two couples had separate bedrooms, but shared a common living room, kitchen, and courtyard. The communal bathroom was down the alley, shared with other hutong residents who lived nearby. The most interesting feature of their home was a large (30+ inch) television set, which dominated the small clean living room. It was a stark contrast--no private toilet or bath facilities, but a very modern television!
We also spent time wandering the hutong area on foot. What a marvelous photo opportunity this was! Small grocery stores, shops, and tiny eating areas all were wonderful sights. Watching women make dumplings, men grilling meats, and vendors selling their wares was simply fascinating. It was hard to imagine that modern Beijing was just a few blocks away. I think we all felt that our tour of the hutong was a highlight of our short time in Beijing.
Our three days in Beijing had come to an end. We had seen just a small part of the city's highlights, and I think everyone was impressed with the city, its history, and its people. The buses took us to the airport, where our afternoon flight to Chongqing awaited. As much as I hated to leave Beijing, I was anxious to board the Viking Century Star and cruise the Yangtze River.
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Pictures from Beijing Hutong Tour Via Pedicab
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