Towering steel skyscraper, bustling feet, and churning engines of hundred of cars surrounded me as I walked around in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, also known as the new, commercialized part of this metropolis. The first few days in Beijing were spent touring around the city and shopping in the hip places. Of course, there were trips scattered during those days to more "touristy" destinations such as the Forbidden City and Great Wall, but the majority of that time was passed by staying comfortably in air conditioned, modern, and commercialized institutions.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Staying in such luxurious places was great the first few days, especially when I was still a bit jet lagged, but I soon realize that I was not fulfilling my purpose of traveling to Beijing. I wanted to explore the city with the eyes of a local Beijinger. I quickly noticed that an average Joe in Beijing does spent his or her time in shopping malls. I saw locals buying groceries, sitting on wooden stools and chatting at night, hanging clothes to dry, and doing many activities that contradict the lifestyle in a metropolis.
My family and I decided to go visit traditional Beijing institutions. We started with hutongs and siheyuans. Hutongs are very old-school streets in Beijing. They are made of gray bricks, and the many years of their existence are shown by the eroded surface. Many hutongs intersect and form courtyards call siheyuans. We visited HouHai Park which is a large intersection of many hutongs, and it contains numerous of siheyuans. The park’s name literally mean “behind the lake”; it is an epitome of the harmonious relationship between nature and man. A lake, clear and round like a mirror, is situated next to a small playground where children run around and adults play ping pong. The charm of this park immediately captured our hearts and we excitedly explore the rest of it. The hutongs are lively, and its contents simultaneously attracted all my sense. I smelled the grilled spiced lamb kabobs from vendors that line along the streets. I tasted the bottled homemade yogurt. I heard both the cicadas chirping and the elders chatting. I felt some people accidentally brushed against me as they leisurely walked, and I was alright about that because they weren’t like the rushed businessmen in Chaoyang. I saw the bright red paper decorations stuck on the doors of siheyuans.The siheyuans here are still occupied by families, so when doors were left open as if they were welcoming visitors, I curiously peeked inside. There were four sides; each side was covered with a sloping pagodas that was once elaborately painted with pictures. Because there are four sides per courtyard and spacious garden in the middle, the bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms, and kitchen are all located in different sides. Imagine going across the garden in winter to get from your bedroom to the kitchen! The courtyards don’t seem like the ideal place to live during the winter but with gardens in the middle and traditional architecture, they are beautiful to me.
When I explored the hutongs and siheyuans of Houhai, I felt very nostalgic, as if I was visiting a piece of a reminisced memory of the old Beijing. This place is truly traditional and displays the lifestyle of a real Beijinger. I discovered that the glimmers of millions of Led lights and sleek interiors of newly built institutions can not always capture a place’s identity. The new is shining and fantastic for Beijing, a growing metropolis, but the past is what shows this city’s uniqueness and sets it apart from others.
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