Summer Palace and Hutongs

Yesterday we went to the Summer Palace. The  number of tourists, most of whom were Chinese which is what we have found throughout our trip, was crushing. These were supposed to be lovely gardens but the number of people pushing and yelling, the constant pressing of souvenir peddlers and the numerous souvenir shops dotting the tree lined walk  made it less  than an auspicious occasion.

At the end of following a long and what should have been a lovely walk we arrived at the Marble boat that the Empress had had built. Marble would not rock a lot,  she decided.  From there we took a dragon boat across the lake which again might have been lovely but the smog was so heavy that you could hardly see the other side  and the real view of the palace  that we were leaving was shrouded in a gray haze.

From there we took our bus to one of the four Hutongs still left in Beijing. These are neighborhoods that are still in the style of old China. They have not been torn down and I am guessing will not be; they are good tourist attractions.

Rickshaws bicycled back and forth, carrying us and a large number of other tourists on a circular tour of the area.  It was a warren of streets that reminded me of the alleys in the Stans. Rough paved narrow streets with the rear of the homes facing the street and the front doors looking inward to a courtyard. But few of these had courtyards.

After circle tour, we walked several streets to arrive at our host's home where we were to have lunch. We turned off the street into a short, narrow path leading to the front door which was massive and made of beautiful wood that looked quite new.

This was the home of an interior decorator and his wife. Because of his craft, the interior, though small, had some beautiful pieces in it. Two wide wooden hand cut screens partitioned the bedrooms from the main room which served as a living room and dining area. Several lovely paintings adorned the room, a large lantern style chandelier hanging from the center. At the far end, in sharp contrast stood a large, 40 inch flat TV screen.

The house had two floors, unlike most of the homes on the area. This was because the craftsman owned it; most of the others in the neighborhood rented homes. Behind the main room near the entrance was the kitchen with an old gas burner cabinets, and sink where the woman cooked. (The government advertises for people who would be willing to have guests in their home. People agree to do this as they are paid by the government which is paid by the tourist agencies). She was very gracious but she did not join us for the meal, instead serving each course and there were many.

I had done much of this on the trip to the Stans and as I felt at that time; we are not really seeing a home. Only one part and not really getting to talk to the hostess. I would rather meet people in a supermarket or go with only one other person to a home to join them at dinner with their family. But it was good to be able to do this much.

More Tianmen Square.

 

Filed under: China, Travel

Tags: Hutong, Summer Palace

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    Carolyn Boiarsky

    " I am an American," but not "Chicago born" like Augie March. Only Chicago aged. I'd like to think that if Henry Louis Gates were to investigate my geneology, he would discover in my past three women who traveled around the globe, chronicling their adventures. Sarah Kemble Knight traveled 112 miles by carriage from Boston to New York in 1704, a journey most women did not embark on alone (and men did so only with some trepidation). In fact, women were only just beginning to exercise their independence in the 1920's when Emily Kimbrough took off with her friend, Cornelia Otis Skinner, to explore Europe. But it is Auntie Mame, transforming herself from a New Yorker to the wife of an Austrian Baron and climbing the Matterhorn, whose mantra I have adopted. "LIFE IS A BANQUET...LIVE!" I began travelling in the 1960's when I traveled around western Europe between graduating from the Univiersity of Pennsylvania and my first job as a statehouse correspondent for UPI (United Press International) in Charleston, West Virginia, which was about as foreign a place as Europe was to someone who grew up in the environs of Philadelphia. Since then, I've also travelled to Kaunas, Lithuania, to teach at Vytautus Magnus University and to Sheffield, England, to present a paper at an engineering conference. I've been to the Alps and seen Auntie Mame's Matterhorn while climbing, by a series of cable cars rather than by foot, toward the peak of Mont Blanc. For the past 10 years my husband and I have been traveling to unique places: a sheep farm during lambing season in England's Lake Country, a hotel on one of the Barromeo Islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, and a cottage in Dun Quin on the Dingle Peninsula which the Irish claim is the last parish before Boston. Between excursions, I'm a professor in the Department of English at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana,. My husband passed away recently and, Auntie Mame-style, I am in the process of transforming myself. Last year I joined a tour to Central Asia. This year I'm going to China to work with the pandas. A new adventure. Another banquet.

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