This is a typical entrance into a courtyard in the Hutong Area of Beijing, with the symbolic red door and frame and the worn threshold. Red, the emperor’s color, is used for good luck. The ancient threshold, now worn to almost ground level, was believed to keep out evil spirits. Look inside. Can you imagine the people who make this small courtyard their home? Can you see the bicycles, the mop, the stool? Deep inside, there’s another door, leading to yet another living space.
I was enchanted by the hutongs of Old Beijing. These narrow alleyways/streets are created by courtyards (siheyuan) that house several families (nine where I visited). Walls of the courtyards add privacy and keep out evil spirits who are unable to turn corners. Hutong is a Hun word meaning “water well” The story is that during the Hun occupation, as they took their cattle down the narrow alleys for water each morning, the Chinese asked where they were going. They responded “to the hutong.” The Chinese, misinterpreting, took that to mean the narrow streets.
When I was in Beijing, I chose the Mutianyu Great Wall over the Badaling Great Wall because it was advertised as less crowded. I had seen incredible shots of endless vistas revealing the immense structure snaking across the mountain ridges and looked forward to capturing similar images.
However, it was not to be as a fierce storm set upon us … actually, when I was alone on top of the wall. For a few minutes, when I was standing at a juncture, with the rain falling in sheets and lightning painting the sky much too close for my comfort, I did not know which way to turn. I had moments of true concern (fear?) thinking of the tour van leaving at the scheduled time while I wandered in the pelting rain on top of the mountain.
I am frequently asked what I liked best about China and the answer is always the same: THE PEOPLE. I found them to be warm, open, friendly and generous. As we exchanged stories about our cultures, our families, and our jobs, I learned that we are alike in so many ways.