July 8, 2005

Liulichang and the Temple of Heaven . . . this is the real China!

We joined the Paynes today for a look at the "real Beijing." We started out by going to an area called Liulichang. The area is a labyrinth of streets and hutongs (alleyways). Hutongs are traditionally lined with iheyuan (four-sided courtyard homes). These homes don't have bathrooms and often don't even have running water. Sadly, as Beijing grows and changes the hutongs are being torn down and a part of China's ancient history is being lost.

The Liulichang area is really amazing and has lots of shops, restaurants and vendors selling all sorts of things. The outdoor food market was really interesting and had fruits and vegetables, a bakery and some really unique meats. We wandered around the streets trying to find the section of Liulichang that has lots of nice antiques and art shops. We couldn't find it so we finally took a rickshaw ride through the streets to the right area. We negotiated the price before we got in the rickshaw but when we got to our destination the price had doubled. Go figure!

Once we were in the right area, we followed the signs down a hutong to someone's home who was selling antique rugs. It was so neat to get to see inside a part of their home. Plus, Chris and Ileana bought a beautiful rug!

Lots of the shops have birds, or crickets, hanging in the front of them or just inside the door. You can see a bird hanging just to the left of the door in this picture.

We walked from Liulichang to the Museum of Chinese Architecture and then on to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple is best know for its unique Ming buildings and beautiful 267-acre grounds. The temple is a symbol of Beijing and was built in 1420 for the solemn rites performed by the emperor.

To get back to our hotel, Eric and I tried to hail a cab but two cabs told us they wouldn't take us to our hotel. I have no idea why.

So when a third cab agreed to take us, we decided to overlook the fact that it wasn't air conditioned. (Did I mention how hot and humid it was today?) The driver drove right by our hotel so Eric tried to tell him to stop but he just kept going. He went at least a mile farther than we needed to go and then just abruptly stopped and motioned for us to get out, which we did.

We then walked up the street, crossed through a tunnel to get to the other side and then tried, again, to hail a taxi. After trying unsuccessfully for about 20 minutes we got in a rickshaw. The man who pedaled us to our hotel must have been at least 75 years old. He was quite theatrical the whole time he was pedaling, huffing and puffing and making sure we knew we were making him work very hard! My heart nearly stopped when he decided to drive in a lane of traffic, going the wrong way! And, you guessed it, once we got to the hotel the pre-negotiated price for our rickshaw ride had doubled!

Tonight we had dinner inside a tent at a Mongollian restaurant with four other families from Harrah's. The food was really interesting and very good! We also were serenaded while we ate.

Eric is standing with Betty, who works for Harrah's and is from Beijing, in front of our dining tent.

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