I have walked the paths of the ancient emperors and nobility. The indelible splendor of the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City provides an excellent insight to Chinese history and culture. However, neither of these marvels can compare to the experience tourists receive in the hutong area of Beijing.
â–º Semi Finalist 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
For my first trip abroad, I chose EF Tours, a group that sends students around the world in order to further their knowledge. Throughout my travels, my group was engulfed by the dense Chinese population. It is easy to be overwhelmed in a culture so different from what you know. Even though I came prepared to learn as much as I could about this archaic culture, the modern American facilities at the Holiday Inn made the transition easier.
Every day was compiled of tours of magnificent places like The Summer Palace, The Great Wall, and Tian’an Men Square. Just when I thought my adventure couldn’t get any better, it did. One evening we were told that we would be having dinner in the hutong area of Beijing. We waited outside what looked like a dingy alley until a line of man-powered rickshaws lined the narrow street. As I climbed into the cart, I was greeted by the friendly driver whose countenance told me he was pleased to give a tour of the ancient area. I learned that a hutong is an antiquated alleyway with houses and a few shops. Originally built in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, many have now been replaced by modern buildings. However, hidden between some of China’s finest structures, are the hutongs that are now protected by the government.
As I sat like a queen in the cart of the rickshaw, I realized what a luxury my diurnal facilities and appliances are for some countries. It was evident that as foreign students, we were living the high life. The crowded and active streets were cluttered with bicycles, equipment scraps, and underwear dangling over clotheslines. According to modern American standards, these people had little to nothing. Yet the residents of this miniscule vicinity consisted of the most generous people I encountered on the entire trip. They were pleased to preserve the culture of the distinct area and welcome foreigners into their homes.
As we arrived at our destination, the forty of us struggled to fit into two local houses. Each abode consisted of only one room. Inside, there were tables that we crowded around as we waited for our meal. Each dish was rushed in fresh as it was made. Without a doubt, it was the best food we had while in China. Chicken, rice, and vegetables of all types introduced me to new flavors characteristic of this part of Beijing. The chef, a considerate elderly man, smiled as we tried to communicate with him how grateful we were for receiving the meal. None of us wanted to leave, but after getting pictures with him, we departed back to the hotel. The bus that once seemed old and cramped now appeared luxurious.
I thought about how this man and his wife were willing to share everything they had with a group of complete strangers. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about the experience I just had. It has only solidified my intent to learn more about people on a global scale. I am determined to learn Chinese. The world is the best classroom. I intend on and recommend learning as much as we can from it. I will use my knowledge to open eyes to diversity and how it makes our world beautiful.
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