Day four in China! Today we had the opportunity to visit Beijing’s hutongs – narrow streets and alleyways lined by traditional courtyard residences. We made our way through the cramped streets by electric rickshaw, where unlike those in Japan that are powered by guides running on foot, these were hooked up to a nice electric bicycle. More speed, more power! Once we were seated in the back of the the cart, we were off to the races. The ride was exhilarating (and a bit dangerous) as our guide zipped around blind turns, narrowly avoided miscellaneous objects sticking out onto the street, and zoomed across intersections- traffic coming at us from all directions. I was amazed at our driver’s ability to predict each obstacle and avoid it just in the nick of time. Mom likened the experience to being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Disneyland and I couldn’t have agreed more.
We arrived at the entrance of a small home in one piece, disembarked the carriage, and convenied in the courtyard. A small pomegranate tree hung in the center and a pot filled with water held swimming koi. We were served jasmine tea by an elderly couple before sitting down to hear them speak about their home and living experience. Their residence had four tiny rooms, two of which were separated from the main house. Everything was quite small, though the kitchen did look more spacious. There were no private baths or bathrooms in the old houses, so the family used the neighborhood public bath. I could feel a strong sense of familial and neighborly community pulsing throughout the hutong as well as a deep richness in history. Although the family house was quite small, we were told that the property was valued at over 1 million dollars because of the historical significance it held for Beijing.
After saying farewell to our hosts, we got back into the rickshaws for a brief ride to another home. Here we were served a delicious family style meal complete with fried peanuts to snack on, and main courses of chicken, duck, veggies, dumplings, beef, and rice. The food was lovely and tasted much better than the welcome dinner we had had a few evenings prior. I ate until complete fullness.
After our meal, we boarded our rickshaw one last time to head back bus. I had enjoyed each of the bustling rides so I was sad to have reached the end of our bumpy adventure. We made our way to the train station and were soon on a four hour ride to our next city of exploration, Xi’an!