Got our first visit of a Chinese hutong the other day, the famous neighborhoods that feature old-fashioned, narrow streets and courtyards filled with small homes. Many have been razed in the name of progress, but there’s a number still remaining. The media was given a three-hour tour of Beijing and only allowed to stop once, that to check on one of the hutongs after much pleading with tour organizers. It was only a glimpse, but it was pretty cool. Neighbors greeted each other as if long lost friends the way they only do in places with close surroundings (ever see anyone jump out of their SUV in a large mansion and run next door to hug their neighbor? I mean, without spilling their latte?). Kids clambered on steps and bikes of all shapes and sizes rambled past with racks overflowing with vegetables or parcels wrapped in brown paper. A row of bikes stood silently in one of the narrow alleyways, and the family’s laundry was flapping in the breeze perhaps six inches from the curb of the street.
Our tour guide, who was pretty good despite refusing to stop at Tiananmen Square so we could take pictures, explained that families usually lived in prescribed styles in courtyard homes. The rooms in the southern parts were given to the elderly because they would be warmer in winter (with the sun coming from the south at that time of year) and cooler in the summer, when the sun was higher in the sky. Males were in the eastern portion of the courtyards, while females and married couples took up shelter in the west. At least I think that’s what she said. Definitely an experience.
Badminton and ping pong still rule, but basketball has become increasingly popular in China. There’s a giant likeness of Yao Ming outside a sporting good store on Wanfujing Street, near Tiananmen Square. Not far away on Sunday night, a huge throng of youths, perhaps a couple hundred, were gathered under the lights playing pickup games in the gathering dark. Not far away were huge stores for everything from Gucci to Dolce and Gabbana and Ferragamo. You wonder if Chairman Mao, who’s buried nearby, would recognize the place.
COME ON IN
Spotted on the street near Tiananmen Square: a restaurant with the name “Palatable Pizza.” It’s not very good, folks, but it’s palatable.
WHOLE LOTTA CARS
Sunday night it took 50 minutes to drive five miles in choking traffic. Whatever happened to the city where everyone used to ride bikes, anyway?
A story in the China Daily states that Beijing’s subway system will be the world’s largest by the middle of the next decade, surpassing the 415 km kilometers of subway in London. The city has since 2002 has invested more than $7.69 billion U.S. on the subway, and yet the traffic is still thick.
The first subway track in the city wasn’t built until 1969 but there’s now 200 kilometers of subway line in the city.
It costs only two yuan, about 27 cents Canadian, to buy a subway ticket. Guess they get a bit more subsidy than the Toronto Transit Commission.