As a traveler who has seen a handful of Asian cities and fell completely in love with every single one of them, Beijing left a lot to be desired...
Between being scammed at every turn, the blatant angry stares from locals, and a general vibe of being unwelcome; the city left me feeling unusually lost and isolated. But this all faded away when we made our first few steps into one of Beijing's Hutongs.
South Gong and Drum Lane was rich with traditional Chinese culture and completely devoid of foreigners except ourselves. To my amazement, as we (two perfectly stereotypical Canadians) walked through the Hutong neighborhood, waving and smiling to those who passed us by; we were greeted with waves and smiles back. Excitedly, I walked towards a woman sitting heavy in a wheelchair with a small white poodle. I gestured to ask if I may pet her pup and her face immediately lit up. We experienced one of those rare wordless moments of connection over our mutual love for her exceptionally round-faced dog dressed in a little orange jacket.
Red doors laid casually open as lives were lived inside on that lazy weekend morning. People walked casually through the streets pushing carts filled with precariously piled eggs. An assortment of hand-picked mushrooms dried on newsprint on the sidewalk.
"Calligraphy brushes and carved stone stamps lined windows and storefronts. The smell of frying Youtiao filled the air."
We continued down what appeared to be the most residential area so far; a stone colored, brick-lined corridor with a tangle of power lines that created an electrical canopy. We stopped to awe at the maze of wires and laugh at how such a mess could never exist in the West. As we stared, a curious woman with a tiny pantless baby took interest in our wonderment, confused at what we were so focused on. In slow gestural English we explained Corey's career in installing cable and fiber; and by the time we finished talking, a small audience of military boys and a local man listened in. The moment of understanding hit them and everyone laughed at the chaos of it all, or maybe at our interest.
The Hutongs we visited provided the experience I had hoped to have in Beijing but found difficult to hunt down. As a traveler, you will inevitably find yourself in this crazy, cold, rude, genuine, colorful hub of a city eventually. Take the time to find these tiny havens, hidden from the bustling roar of Beijing.
Golden dogs stand guard upon red, gold, turquoise, and cobalt backdrops. Stone fountains sit motionless, without water to run through them. The Imperial Garden floods you with greenery and you understand why it sits beyond the Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility.
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