Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Exploring Beijing

Quaint Nan Luogu Xiang Hutong.

By Cindy DeLong
UNL Graduate Student

Spectacular Rooftops in the Forbidden City.
Having only three days in Beijing, we didn't waste a minute.

Friday morning we got up and going, first to the Forbidden City. It was probably two or three miles away and could we walk it? Well of course. So we walked and walked and walked and after a few wrong turns and a wild goose chase a local sent us on through a local neighborhood, we made it. 

The Forbidden City, built during the Ming Dynasty, is enchanting. It took a tiny bit of imagination to see the city without the hordes of tourists, but instead with magnificent gates, imperial courtiers, emperors and empresses, government officials scurrying about and of course many were wearing the spectacular robes, gowns, and head pieces we've all seen in museums, books and other places. The city has a few artifacts (mostly reproductions since during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century, many were destroyed), but of course most impressive are the palaces, temples, and courtyards. 

We saw the Palace of Heaven and Purity, which was where the emperor and empress lived with their family, the Palace of the Empress which was where her birthday was celebrated, the Palace of Earthly and Tranquility, palaces for the emperors mother and one for his  concubines. After the palaces and courtyard, a fabulous and vast garden seemed to never end. 

To confirm our reservations for a tour of the Great Wall the next day, we went in search of a neighborhood called Nan Luogu Xiang Hutong. Hutongs were built in the early 20th Century, and though most have been torn down to build high-rise apartments, a few, like this one, remain. 

Did we miss our turn?
We walked and walked and walked. Finally we realized we had gone way too far. Thankfully a Westerner on a bicycle saw us pouring over a map and stopped to help. We finally decided we didn't have enough time to walk back and find it so we called a cab who quickly took us where we needed to go.

Thinking ahead, Dr. Crews had printed off a map and directions to Nan Luogu Xiang Hutong (in Chinese) before she left so this cab ride was no problem.

The Hutong was quaint and fun to explore. There were many gardens, hanging lanterns, restaurants, fast food eateries and shops of all kinds -- clothing, handicraft, shawls -- yes several shops that sold only shawls, very expensive shawls. Amanda even tried on a fabulous cashmere shawl that had buttons and was something completely new to us. I think the price was 1,950 RMB. At about 6 RMB to $1 you do the math! 

We had tickets to a Chinese acrobat show that night, so we caught another cab that took us across town and we enjoyed a wonderful show. How do they do one-armed handstands and twirl around on a stack of ten chairs?  I don't know, but it sure felt great to get off our feet. 

Later the three of us all admitted we had trouble staying awake during the show. I myself almost nodded off several times. We had been walking all day long except for our lunch. I think I was asleep that night before my head even hit the pillow!

Cindy DeLong is working on a master's degree in textile history with an emphasis in quilt studies at UNL. She has a bachelor of sciences in home economics (clothing and textiles) and journalism from the University of Missouri. She has worked at the New England Quilt Museum as a curatorial intern and the International Quilt Study Center & Museum as a collections intern.

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