Another early start, this time accompanied by the master of the house, Ian. Ian is 25 and until recently taught English to primary school children but has decided to try his hand at being a tour guide. Never people to miss an opportunity – we volunteered to be ‘guinea pigs’.
We left the house by turning left out of Gladys Garden (new territory for us!) and found ourselves in local land, with the local green grocer having set up shop round the corner!
Some of the Hotung area is on the Chinese tourist guide route and we passed large groups of them visiting one of the houses which has been opened up as an attraction. Apparently there used to be many more than there are now but as part of a drive for modernisation some families are being encouraged to move out and we were to quite a lot of evidence of this during our walk.
I saw a lovely old Chinese saying written on a wall: ‘There are 3,600 hutong with names and as many without names as the number of hairs on an ox.’
We moved out of the Hutong area, crossing the wide thoroughfare marking one of the ring roads that form a major part of the grid system upon which the city is based. We eventually arrived at Jingshan Park, a much larger green area than yesterday’s Behai Park. The meticulous gardens were very colourful and there were several choir groups practising, so e of them quite large with their music accompanying as we puffed up the steps of Coal Hill to reach the top and the amazing views of the city. There is a Buddhist temple on the top with Buddha looking out on the amazing sight of The Forbidden City laid out before him. The view was well worth the climb! Apparently the hill was formed by the earth excavated to make the Forbidden City moat. It must have been some moat!
We descended to enjoy further activity in the park – dancers, singers, flag wavers all totally, taichee groups and individual. All totally unselfconsciously went about their particular ‘thing’.
During our walk Ian told us something of his parents history. They had met in Canada studying ancient classical art and his father followed his mother back to China. Her father had married an English woman and both had been imprisoned during the cultural revolution for being intellectuals and intermarriage. Ian’s grandfather had been imprisoned for 4 years. His wife had been in solitary confinement for much longer. Both of their parents had been missionaries. David’s parents were also missionaries
While we talked we left the park and meandered back through a street of local artisans and the Drum and Bell towers, two enormous buildings, the originals forming part of the Mongol capital. The drum and bell tower used to be the timekeeping devices of the city with drumming and bell ringing marking the passing of the day. The bell tower is a enormous hexagonal red building, a landmark which I found later could be seen from the roof of our Hutong. Looking at the map, both are on a line forming the northern axis with the Forbidden City in the centre and south of that Tiananmen Square.
We then walked back to the house to find the dreaded bag had still not arrived. Leaving our hostess to await it’s arrival, we took Ian and David, our host, off to lunch. Choosing was left to David and we enjoyed a feast of very different dishes including an ‘interesting’ combination of celery and tofu shaped (and tasting) like straw. I don’t think that particular dish will go down as one of our favourites! We drank beers, but David gave us a sample if his preferred beverage. A raw spirit, 56 % proof.
It was definitely time for a siesta after this as the temperature had risen to 96 degrees. When we arrived at the house – alleluia! – the bag had arrived. Thank goodness! There was no indication of where it had been. I was just very relieved to get it back!
At last some fresh clothes, lighter shoes (I have been wearing walking boots since I left London on Thursday!) and some toiletries!
After a snooze I adjourned to the house roof which gave a good view over the surrounding rooftops and showed how closely the houses of the Hutong are crammed together. There is no sign of the alleyways from up there, just roof tops butting up to each other. There was also evidence of a lot of pigeon fanciers! Many of the roof top areas had cages of pigeons and there were swirls of them overhead. Nevertheless it was very pleasant up there with lots of breeze albeit hot!
We decided no more eating was required and instead strolled round another part which to date had not been explored. It took us to the most western tip where the bars were a lot less raucous and the cars much larger.
Deciding we deserved a beer – we also found the prices considerably more expensive. It was £9 for two bottles of Hoegarden beer! That’ll teach us! Darkness comes down very quickly and we wandered back past all the fisherman much better equipped in this area with little green lights on their floats!
Another day over!