The Peking International Youth Hostel in nestled in a the heart of the bustling, funky Yu’er Hutong. A Hutong is the name given to the old or traditional collections of houses, shops and lane-ways of Beijing. Primarily made up of grey brick buildings, with sloped grey tiled roofs. Traditionally four buildings would be clustered together around a central courtyard, members of the family would each share a wing – North, West, East or South – based on their status within the family.
The Yu’er Hutong is still home for many families, houses passed down from generation to generation. Now the Hutong is also home to a trendy shopping strip by day, come 10pm the shops close and night markets open up on the streets selling anything from teapots to scarfs – but you must barter, it is part of the shopping process. I would watch to see how much the locals paid and then haggle for the same or similar price.
We were still waking early so Poppy and I scooted off for what had become our little morning ritual in search of street food for breakfast. She is my adventurous one when it comes to trying new foods. On this day steamed pork buns were what the locals were eating for breakfast, so we did too. Fox like his Dad wanted something that felt more like home and managed to find museli at the Hostel cafe.
‘Seal Carving’ – did you see the photo above?! I was a little disturbed when I saw the sign in the street…..until I realised that it wasn’t an animal carving but rather carving a family seal or name for stamping purposes….phew, right!
Foxy mastered the art of squatting like the locals do. When he started getting tired Fox would start to whinge and cry, it is a big trip for our little family and the kids were remarkably well-behaved for the most part. There were times however when we, because we were tired, growled or scolded a little too much or a little too quickly. That is one of my disappointments.
Our drive to the Great Wall with Steven and our driver Mr Moo took a little over an hour, showing off sites of great new high-rises built to house the massive movement of migrant workers and farmers around Beijing. The smog rolled in like a thick haze, it was almost as though you were wearing glasses that you just couldn’t clean. The kids were tired and watched the Cars movie on the ipad during the drive. I wished they had wanted to see the scenery but they just didn’t have an interest in it.
This was our first car to have an appropriately fitted car seat for Gil. We had pre-booked and paid for a guide, driver and car seats for at least one day in each city. Seat belts are few and far between in China. Most locals traveling in cars with a child, simply sit the child on their lap!! All sorts of wrong for someone coming from a highly regulated child restraint country like Australia!! Even where we were supplied with child seats the seat belts in the vehicle didn’t work and there was no anchor point. I have to admit I found it pretty scary in Shanghai holding my children as we wound though traffic often at high speeds.
Once we arrived at the foot of the Great Wall I walked carrying Gil maybe 1.5 – 2 km’s from the car park up to the Wall. I had asked Steven if it was mostly steps or a steep road to the wall. ‘I think there are some steps’ he replied. Let me tell you the phrase ‘I think’ when in China needs further clarification. I have found that it often means ‘I don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s steps’. For reference, if you walk from the car park to the Wall it is straight up and all steps! Good thing I needed the exercise.
We spent a couple of house on the Wall. It is an amazing construction and to think every bit of stone was carried up. There are some very large pieces of stone – you have to feel for the poor builders. Mark, Poppy, Gil and Steven returned the way they had reached the Great Wall, via cable car. Fox and I meanwhile walked along the Wall further until we found the toboggans, which we took to the bottom. That was Fox’s best part of the trip. There were a couple of older men in front of us (Fox and I shared a toboggan) who were going slowly, even by my conservative tobogganing speed, so we did need to keep slowing down so as not to crash into them.
Back home, dinner in a recommended restaurant organised by our guide Steven who ordered for us dealing with the language barrier which was a real hinderance at times. Our limited vocabulary of ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ was rather pathetic. If we had more notice prior to the trip we would have learned a little more.
The day ended with a little wander for me through the night markets followed by a long sleep snuggled up with Gil, my sleeping companion throughout this journey.