The plan before I left and although the dates shifted a bit, it did all work out famously.
’05 May: Beijing and The Great Wall of China
What’s left of hutong life before it’s entirely gone.
May 12 Beijing
In the morning outside my door on My Street, in one of the neighborhoods where ‘hutong’ streets are awaiting the buzz-saw of redevelopment.
It is a complicated matter, all the redevelopment and not so obvious. We tourists will cry and moan over the loss of the real Beijing but at least a good number of the residents here, living in original real conditions are looking forward to indoor plumbing.
In one of the most well know city parks is this huge plaza, and huge in the Chinese sense is Huge, given over to playful activity. There were several different dance groups performing in different styles, and there were tai chi groups, and musicians, artists and kids playing this kind of foot kicking thing like the old hacky-sack but this one has feathers on it.
May 14 Beijing
I rented a bicycle today. Now that was an Adventure with a capital A. At first you have to keep your mind entirely and well focused on not dying and then after an hour or so that part quiets down but still, a tumble looms just a heart beat away. That said in my three days here I have not seen a single accident at all or even the aftermath of an accident.
This was a quiet moment in the Back Lakes area just up the road from My Street.
May 15 Beijing
I won’t get to a computer again until the 17th at the earliest since tomorrow the 16th is all day at The Great Wall followed immediately by an overnight train to Pingyao.
This was my last breakfast, dumplings and rice porridge, the same breakfast I’ve eaten every day since I arrived and it was delicious every time. Beijing of course has every type of food and many regional specialties but for me it’s been all about the dumplings. That first day I showed a picture of the woman making dumplings. That’s where I eat lunch. And for dinner, I search out dumplings.
There is a reliable sameness about them and yet each plateful is a singularly satisfying experience. Steamed or boiled, puffy or chewy, spicy or mild, and stuffed with various ground meats, veggies, herbs, lots of tangy garlic and on and on. I’ll bet it’s one of those things I’ll end up dreaming about.
This is not however food eaten according to the newly published Food Pyramid.
I’m lovin’ Beijing. But there’s this one thing. The air quality is so bad it is so bad it is INSanely bad.
They say Fall is a good time to visit. Winter is bone chilling cold, Summer is mind numbing hot, and in Spring you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
The reasons for the bad air are numerous and often attributed to ‘fog’, but no. The guidebook reports sandstorms off the Gobi Desert, then there is the dust from the construction that you can’t believe, and more and more cars, and an inversion layer like LA.
But the air in LA was worse and then it got better so we can only hope.
A view from Tak’s window at work. It’s a good example of the construction frenzy such that even relatively new buildings are going down in favor of taller ones.
What’s happening to the hutong, the traditional neighborhoods like where I am staying, is a subject of endless bemoanment. I’ll tell about it along with illustrative photos next time.
This is the second entrance gate to the Summer Palace. You haul yourself out there (I took the bus!), you haul yourself up staircase after staircase and when you finally get yourself up to the tippity top you can’t see jack.
It is though a magnificent site. I think in Beijing anyway we-the-people are doing an amazing job of making happy, optimistic lives despite the disappearance of the good old days. I’ve just never seen streets so full of people smiling at each other, laughing freely, looking healthy, happy, and wise.
I just cannot resist these kids! And even bad teeth can’t make this guy look like he has anything but a happy life.
I should mention about the spitting. Spitting used to be a plague upon the streets of China so the government in good government tradition outlawed spitting on the street. I wonder how much spitting that must have been since people do frequently and in my presence break this law. You just do not expect some guy to honk up a giant luggy and then pe-twoey it right there in the gutter.
…and another reason.
The above section is original and this is how it looks after refurbishment.
Now I’m going to copy the guidebook summary:
‘Even after you dispense with the myths that it is a single continuous structure and that it can be seen from space, China’s best-known attraction is still a mind-boggling achievement…’
A break in the steps.
‘Its origins date back to the Warring States Period (453-221 BC) when rival kingdoms began building defensive walls to thwart each other’s armies. The king of Qin, who eventually conquered the other states to become the first emperor of a unified China, conscripted around 300,000 laborers to combine the walls into a more or less uninterrupted rampart…’
‘During the Han dynasty (206 BC -AD 220), the wall was extended farther west, with subsequent dynasties adding their own bits and branches, which makes it difficult to pin down the Wall’s precise length. It is at least 10,000km (6,200 miles) long by common estimates, but some guesses go as high as 50,000km.’