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.
I toured the ancient sites of Beijing by myself and had a great time. Click the image to see my memories of my first day in Beijing.
“You have a lot of energy for a senior citizen” they told me. My students gave professional and job-related comments on my evaluations, but one after another complimented my work ethic, my energy level (oh if they only knew how drained of energy I really felt), and my courage for traveling and taking chances “at my age.” I chuckled each time they referred to me as a senior citizen, because, even though I regularly get invitations from AARP, my parents, in their early 80s, are “senior citizens.” I learned that, in their culture, I would not be working except to watch my grandchild.
I spent more than five weeks this past summer in China; I toured, took pictures, and taught. I had been hired to work with three other teachers from my high school district in Feicheng, China (which is southwest of Beijing). We were contracted to work with 160 Chinese teachers of English. Their skills ranged from nearly proficient bi-lingual to learning the language (the teacher with the weakest English skills still puts me to shame in my understanding of Chinese).
Before the job itself began, I toured Beijing and Shanghai. My team had experienced Beijing before and wanted to see more of China; because this was my first trip, I wanted to see the sites of this ancient and modern city. I took a chance with an English-speaking Beijing tour group I’d found on the Internet tour-beijing.com and was delighted with their service.
They arranged for my train passage from Shanghai to Beijing; a young lady picked me up from the train station, delivered me to my hotel, and four days later, made sure that I was safely on the train returning to my team in Shanghai. Each evening, my tour guide called my hotel with information about the next day’s activities. I was a little sorry that I had a different guide for each day and that I would be with a different group of people as I enjoyed the people I met the first day. However, it was also fun to meet new people.