Still Day 1
Rickshaw tour of old Beijing's Hutong district
After our morning tour of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City we took a short bus ride to a local Hutong. A Hutong is a collection of center facing houses with common courtyards, surrounded by narrow streets. Our tour of this hutong was aboard peddle powered rickshaw. We got comfortable in the back of the richshaw and our driver even happily took a couple pictures for us and then off we went on a fabulous tour!!! We were in a convoy of a dozen or more all in single file as we approached the narrow streets of the Hutong. And by narrow I mean not much wider than 20 feet. As we rode through the meandering streets we could occasionally catch a glimpse of the interior of a house or even the central courtyards. The single story row houses are built in blocks of several units per block. It was quite an experience being driven through the very narrow streets peering into the open doors and courtyards.
What were once mid to low level type housing for the administrators and their families to the emperors during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) have now become a very expensive enclave. Condos are the way of life in Beijing and a common size unit would be in the 500 - 700sq ft, in a high rise configuration. These Hutong units on the other hand, are all single floor low rise and in many cases are protected heritage sites that restrict structural modifications, so are now very expensive to own - if the opportunity ever comes up. Many are passed from generation to generation and never come on the market.
Just about every day on this 2 week grand tour of China includes some entertainment after dinner. Tonight we were treated to a condensed version of a Chinese Opera. Condensed as our guide put it, because a full length opera is the better part of 4 hours long! The highlight for most of us was NOT the opera, but rather the dressing of one of the characters. We arrived 30 minutes before the start of the show and on stage was the main character having his face painted and then the very elaborate process of layering on his costume. I counted 6 layers of extremely colourful, ornate cloaks, sashes, belts that made up his costume, including 6" platform shoes and a black beard that flowed to his waist. Watching him assemble the costume was impressive. The opera itself was unlike anything I had seen before, and as a result was something that was totally unappreciated by most of the western members of the audience. The music and singing fell on unfortunately, very tired ears and eyes and it was all I could do to not fall asleep. Good thing our seats we in the back row of the balcony. Most of our group had to leave and wait in the lobby, some of us did fall asleep and a few of the group managed to stay awake for the entire performance. Day 1 with jet lag was simply too much, but, incredibly enjoyed!!!