Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday 11-20-12

After another big Chinese breakfast - our last one at the Lido hotel - our charter bus took us to a traditional Hutong neighborhood where we all got into Rickshaws and were told to remember the number on it - 340 - but for us it was more about our driver who wore a UCLA hat. John, a UCLA alum, and Jemma a current China buddy at UCLA, were thrilled with the coincidence. At first we felt a little guilty having this man pedal us around but he was only too happy to do so, and he was impressively steady considering the fast speed. As touristy as this is, it was still a thrill and a great way to see the neighborhood. Hutongs are old communities made up of many quadrants and few survive in Beijing today, as the government tore down many of them to make way for much-needed high-rise apartment buildings. Hutongs didn't have electricity or running water but now the remaining ones do. They are mostly inhabited by older people as the younger generation prefers to live in the modern apartments. The Hutong we visited is set up for tourists, meaning they were paid to keep it looking authentic. This one had some paint rollers lying around and some general housewares here and there. The man of this Hutong made his living selling traditional Chinese paper cut-outs so it was no surprise when we were led into a room filled with paper cut outs for sale. Kickback anyone?
Our lunch was made by another woman in a different Hutong quadrant and it was a delicious and authentic meal - Jonathan Gold would have loved it. And they even made special gluten-free dishes for me and Kevin, the other gluten-free freak on the trip. From there we went to the airport to board our flight for our quick visit to Chengdu - home of the pandas. Susie was our local guide in Chengdu and was quick to fill us with an everything you ever wanted to know about Chengdu and more on the bus ride to the hotel. She was especially happy to share that the women of the Sichuan province were spicy! Susie or Shi Shi if you preferred, cracked jokes, taught us some Chinese and quickly lived up to her spicy moniker. Our hotel, the Tian fu Sunshine hotel, was in another off the beaten path hood, but it was a nice, European style hotel though the rooms were small. When we arrived we were clearly not as important as some other group who was also arriving and at breakfast the next morning we saw throngs of men in bright red jumpsuits getting special food at their very long Dias. Turned out they were petroleum executives on a retreat and we are still not exactly sure what the bright red jumpsuits signified although Adam seemed to think a combo of standout and bonding.

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