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Why We Hate Guided Tours

CHINA | Monday, 11 August 2014 | Views [1112]

"Birdsnest," Beijing Olympic Village

LAST NIGHT’S THUNDER STORM RINSED SOME OF THE DIRT from the air and we could actually see blue sky this morning.  Our itinerary called for a visit to the “hutong districts,” the original residential areas of Beijing.  While the “hutong districts” — guides always refer to them as such, never just hutongs — go back hundreds of years, the buildings are more recent, 20th Century would be my guess.  Barry expected us to be shocked that from four to eight families would share a courtyard and communal toilets are still the norm.  But these homes are concrete with metal roofs and electricity.  They lack the charm of Morocco’s medinas and are nothing like the conditions we have seen in India and southern Africa.  Even worse, he turned us over to a local guide who insisted we ride in a bicycle rickshaw as a treat — as if we hadn’t done enough of that in India! — when we could have walked around the hutong on our own.  I dislike guided tours more and more every day.


     Summer Palace

After the “hutong districts” we visited the Summer Palace, a cooler place for the emperor to pass the sizzling days of summer.  It was a mob scene on this Sunday morning   with thousands of Chinese crowding into the Gallery (at 728 meters the longest covered gallery in the world Barry kept reminding us)  and dodging one another in peddle-boats on the artificial lake.  

After lunch at Pizza Hut, a gastronomic target of opportunity, we coerced Barry into taking us to the Olympic Village even though it wasn’t on our program.  We wanted to get a look at the famous “Birdsnest” stadium and the aquatics “Cube” to see if they were worth all the fuss the media made of them.  And they are.  I don’t know who the architect is (we can’t access Google here in China) but I take my hat off to him. 

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