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Beijing-Culture

CHINA | Tuesday, 24 April 2012 | Views [724]

Red doors of Beijing; living quarters behind.

Red doors of Beijing; living quarters behind.

21 April 2012

Beijing is the culture heart of China.  While the city sets sight on international trade it still holds the authentic and ancient Chinese culture in everyday life.

Hutong-Many pictures of Beijing catalogue the red doors around the city.  A red door indicates an entrance to living space.  From the streetside all one can see is shops and restaurants there are no houses.  Living space is set somewhere behind the shops in the middle of what a square block would be.  Hutongs as they are called are narrow alleyways that cut through long streetways for public passage and access to lovely courtyard homes.

Architecture- Some of China's oldest building exsist in Beijing.  Classic Ming & Qing Dynasty architecture can be seen in the temples, Palace Museum, and Summer Palace.  As noted with hutongs, courtyard structures are a classic example of Chinese homes.

Squat toilets- Squat pans as they can also be called are normal all over China but unlike Shanghai that has modernized many places for tourism Beijing has not.  Given the sheer number of people that live in Beijing, public toilets are not hard to find via signage on the streets.  After dinner a couple hostel friends and I detoured our walk to the toilets to find an awkward suprise.  A room with a line of 4 squat toilets and no partitions!  Better yet, the girls room was in use and she was working hard to push out something a little more than fluid but didn't seem phased by the walk-in.  As mentioned in China Culture Shock story, the Chinese are comfortable popping a squat nearly anywhere; and I have seen street side.

Salty & Savory- Beijing is considered North China and compared to other regions is said to have more salty and savory foods.  Shanghai is known to have foods that are sweeter.  While Sichuan province is known for their spicy food, I don't think I have ever had a spicier meal than the Chinese restaurant we picked out one evening.

Dry and Sunless- Being in North China Beijing has a very dry climate and has frequent dust storms in the spring and summer.  The whole world has heard of Beijings polution problem but I have never seen such a muted glowing sun like that in Beijings smog.  My program coordinator Zoe is a native Beijinger and she told me that of 27 years she has only seen blue sky maybe 10 times.  As she likes to say, the sky is gray not blue.

little English- Traditions are hard to break.  Beijingers speak very little if any English so navigating the city you are pretty much on your own outside of major hotels or international hotspots.

shop/sell- Knockoffs, cheapo, bought it at the market and now selling it on the street corner to you for 3kuai higher, yeh thats China.

tourist price traps- Travel books, travel websites and locals will all tell you to be aware of anyone who approaches you to sell something or offer to take you to a tea ceremony.  It is likely that it will cost you and arm and a leg if you are to fall into their traps.  Taxis that should cost 25kuai might burn you out of 300kuai under illegal operation.  I headed this advice but fell for one.  A man approached me when I was reading a sign that said enter the Forbidden palace on the South end and come out the North.  He offered a ride to the South end (its a pretty big place)in his bike pedaled passenger cart (rickshaw)for what I understood him say san kuai which means 3. After repeating it to him several times I decided "why not, thats cheap".  After 2 blocks out of the way and dropping me off at a nearby East side gate he pulled out a card and pointed to it that said 300Yuan.  I tried to tell him how ridiculous he was. My chinese was good enough to say taxi maybe 10kuai, bus 2kuai, here is 3.  But he tried to act as though he had to pedal and he took me through a neighborhood...Again I said here is 3 take it.  He was not ready to give up so I gave him my lowest bill which was 20yuan and walked away.  At that point I figured there was not a whole lot he could do about it. So I got out of the situation and it was only about $3.40.  Needless to say I avoided taxis and rickshaws altogether after that and laughed when I saw other people trying to reason or clarify prices.

Tags: beijing, food, hutongs, scandals, shopping, squat toilets

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