3Nations: Hutongs and Towers

Well, you can't say that I didn't warn you about the last 3Nations post... and that was only the morning.

If you're wanting to start from the beginning, cause it's a very good place to start, then head to the Expedition page. It even has a map now of places featured in the posts!

... so if you have gotten your good self comfortable and a cuppa tea, or even better a glass bottle of wine, then we'll begin. Well, continue... you know what I mean!

Saturday 18th July 2009: part two
We were taken back into the city for lunch, where we were treated to a dance while we ate. We were also given a red bit of wool that was tied round our wrist, for good luck. I still have that bit of wool actually, its tied to one of the inside zips of my bags

By the by, they served some glorious fried golden dumpling thingys that we were to dip in condensed milk. If anyone happens to know what they are called I would be eternally grateful although my waistline may eternally suffer... but that is a risk I am willing to take.

Now, I should warn you about a particular game that we played for the vast majority of the trip. I will admit it is rather childish... and kind of sets the tone of the group really... the game was to say "badger" when you fart. I have since been told it is badger cause its supposed to smell like a badger climbed up there and died... lovely ehI am dragging this conversation into the blog purely because it was during lunch that we tried to find out what the Chinese word for badger was. Serena, our guide, had never heard of a badger before in her life, which prompted some interesting descriptions:

... it's like a black marmot, but a bit bigger... o'h and with white go faster stripes

... or think of a rat-panda.

Somehow Serena didn't manage to understand what on earth we were talking about. Go figure!

It was off to the Hutongs next. They're the ancient residential areas of Beijing, which are still in use today. The best way to get round the Hutongs is on a riskshaw, and man can those guys get round/over/through obstacles, be it roadworks, piles of rubble, anything... they would care not a jot.

*rumble rumble rumble*
Ooo look at that!
how cool is thi... wait, is that a hole in the road?...


*holds on for dear life*

*prays to God, Allah, Buddha... anyone that will listen*

During our tour of the Hutongs we paused by the gateway to one house so that one of the guides could describe some of its features.
  • The number of beams above the door was a status symbol, so much so that marriages would be arranged on the basis of how many beams were above the door. hastily nails beams above my door at home
  • The doors are flanks by either guardian animals or drums. The different animals or drum shapes would signify the military rank of the man of the house.
  • Now this one is the weird one... all the traditional gateways has a raised ledge along the bottom. This is to stop the evil spirits entering the house. How it stops them I hear you ask... well, apparently those evil spirits don't have knees and are therefore unable to step over the threshold. Is it bad that I am currently imagining a pile of evil spirits, flat on the floor, unable to get up? hehehe

It wasn't until after the rest of the rickshaw ride that we actually got to explore behind one of these gateways. We were taken into a families home so that we could see how a traditional Chinese house is laid out.

The traditional style of house is courtyards with surrounding rooms/buildings.

I will admit that I wasn't entirely comfortable with this part of the Hutongs tour, even though the family were very welcoming, it still felt like the whole... look at the poor Chinese people type of tourism.

But at least it wasn't for long, we had a tower to climb!
The Bell Tower
Traditionally the Bell Tower, along with the Drum Tower, told the time to the commoners, one for the day time and one for the night time. To my surprise we were ushered into the Bell Tower.

The Drum Tower- but we didn't go in it
Now, a lot of people have this stereotypical image of a Chinese person being short, either that or we are just overly tall, but it came as a shock to realise that even if they are short or not, they are certainly fans of steep stairs! Some of the steps came a good way up my shin (in fact, when coming back down them later several people sat down and descended with posterior aid- and before you ask this wasn't the only steep stair case on the trip, but that's getting WAY ahead of myself).

You can see them struggling with the steps way at the back?
At the top we were greeted by some fantastic views of the city... and a HUGE bell. Well, I suppose that was to be expected really given that it's called the Bell Tower, but it really is rather huge. (The internet reliably tells me that it is in fact 23 feet tall... that's just over 7meters... that, you have to admit, is huge)

Ding Dong...
And that's all there just to hold it up!
In fact it is so huge that they had trouble casting it! The story goes that the Emperor had wanted to bell made from a single casting. The casting kept failing and the Emperor, who was used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it, set a dead line. A literal dead line. It was the day of the deadline, and if it didn't work today then the caster would be executed, when the casters daughter prayed to the gods... right before jumping into the vat of molten bronze! The caster, realising his daughters self sacrifice, cast the Bell. this time it worked... as her soul helped keep it sound.

... so bell makers remember, if nothing is working right for you today, then you're probably just missing the secret ingredient... dead daughter.

We were then given the choice of getting the coach back to the hotel, or making our own way there. Needless to say, most of us opted to make our own way. While walking back to the hotel we found a gorgeous little area of Beijing. It was what we all had in mind when they said that we would be going to the Silk Road Market the day before.

It was only unfortunate that this touristy style of china was also accompanied by tourists prices! £3 (yes pounds!) for a can of Sprite... and you thought that the vending machine at work was bad

Things I learned today:

  • Hailing a taxi is difficult in China, they just think that you are waving, wave back at you and keep on driving
  • They are rather curious about white people, and will stare... even in the public toilets... which have no doors
  • You can get viennetta ON A STICK! why don't we have this in the UK?! lets get with the program people...

  • Beijing has its own version of the I (heart) NY t-shirts... Beijing can be shortened to BJ. I'll give you a minute to fully appreciate that
  • A stair master would be a pointless present for an evil spirit
  • If in doubt, chuck your daughter into a vat of molten metal
  • Beths shoes can fit entirely inside Eds...
      Yup, she is wearing her shoes inside those shoes!
      Again, thanks to those that donated photos.