Anne and I with a Hutong family, Beijing
Anne and I with the local family we visited
Visiting a foreign country is one thing, but mingling with and getting to know some of the locals is a completely different story. On our excursion through the hutong we stopped and had tea and snacks with one of the local families (left). Julia, a local guide, interpreted for us so allowing us to ask questions and understand the responses. In the family we visited the mother was employed at a shoe factory and the father in the airline food service business. They had one son, a teenager, who was out playing as they often are. I'm not sure how many rooms their apartment was (I think 2). The room we sat in served as the kitchen, the dining room, the family room and even a bedroom. They had many modern conveniences including a refrigerator, stove, television and computer, but the reality was that they lived in cramped quarters with little privacy.

Of course Anne and I learned little of the Chinese lifestyle in the short time we visited, but we did get a glimpse of what their life was like. A better, more detailed glimpse was provided by our local tour guides. Quite often, after they finished talking about the day's sightseeing itinerary, they would discuss their personal lives and the lives of the Chinese including education, housing, employment, medical and retirement.

Our local guide in Beijing, Jack, being the first we were exposed to explained much about daily in China to us and the changes that are being brought about by the new "free market" economy. Jack was a communist and proud of it. You could tell from the way he talked that he credited China's communist party for the advances they'd made over the years. Julia, our local guide in Shanghai, was in her early 20's and described what life was like for the young Chinese today. Shanghai has always been somewhat different from the rest of China and you could tell that when you compared what Julia said to what the other guides said. Our local guide in Suzhou, I forget her name, was middle aged and described what life was like during and following the Cultural Revolution. Among the things they described were:

  • China's "one child" policy. Depending on where you live Chinese couples are discouraged from having more than one child and are penalized for breaking this rule. In Chinese society this is a difficult rule to abide with especially if your first child is a girl. The Chinese have always looked upon boy children as being the center of the family.
  • China's housing situation. With the new "free market" economy housing is changing very quickly in China. It is possible now for the Chinese to buy and own their apartments, although the costs is quite high.
  • Jack described growing up in crowded living conditions. Apparently his family had an apartment on the 15th or 16th floor of a building consisting of two or three rooms. The room sizes were small, as he described it, with barely enough room to walk around the furniture in the room. Kitchen and bathroom facilities were shared with other families living in adjacent apartments. He described how his father hated the apartment because of his shift work. Apparently when he returned home from work the electrical power to the building was turned off and he had to climb the stairs to get to his apartment.
  • Both Julia and Jack also described how apartments were controlled by the companies their parents worked for, and how, as the father's position and tenure with his employer continued, they got better and better apartments because of their job. The better job and the longer you were employed by the company allowed you to get a better apartment.
  • Jack, his wife and two children, still lived with his parents in what he described as a very comfortable apartment. As he described it, living in his father's apartment they were much better off than what he would have if he decided to live on his own. Of course what he described, although modern, was still very cramped living conditions. I believe they had a total of about 1,200 sq. feet for his family, his parents and another sibling.
  • Julia described a very comfortable lifestyle living with her parents and even indicated that she might not be willing to give up her lifestyle to get married. Apparently when girls marry they go to live with the parents of the boy meaning she'd have to give up her lifestyle and accept what the boy had to offer. Her father, employed by the same company for 26 years, had a spacious apartment and she was allowed to have her own room with lots of privacy.
  • Our local guide in Suzhou, who grew up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, described how that affected their lives. She and her husband were both educated people, but that was totally disregarded during the Cultural Revolution as they were designated to perform menial jobs. During their years of marriage they apparently moved a number of times. She described how, each time, they had to get the permission of the government to move from one province in China to another. You just couldn't pick up and move anywhere you wanted. In fact, your citizenship was based on the province where you were born and, for the most part, that was where you have to live.

I know I haven't done justice in describing all these things, but it give you an inkling somewhat into the lives of the local Chinese that we were exposed to during our trip. While my descriptions may not be 100% accurate they are what I remember most of the discussion we had during our many bus rides. You have to keep in mind that, most of the time, I was looking out the window of the bus soaking up the countryside and the different things I saw and not always paying close attention to what was being said in the bus by the tour guide.

Jack our local Beijing guide
Jack, Beijing
Julia our local Shanghai guide
Julia, Shanghai
Sansanee our local Bangkok guide
Sansanee, Bangkok
Mei our tour escort with fellow travelers
Mei, Tour Escort

As I've mentioned previously, GCT did an excellent job in providing knowledgeable and friendly local guides throughout our trip, and our tour escort, Mei, well, there isn't any better. She was effective in taking care of any problems that arose and she was extremely friendly. She knew how to win your affection and she earned it every day. I'll tell you one of her secrets. Every time we boarded the bus after touring a site she had something to hand out to the group. It it wasn't a piece of candy, it was a piece of some exotic fruit we'd never seen before, or maybe just a wet-nap to refresh ourselves with. Several times during the trip she would visit a local market and pick up some vegetables to have the cooks at lunch or dinner prepare for us. She was always doing something like that, and we all appreciated it.

Speaking of food. Many worry about visiting a place like China expecting that the diet won't agree with them. We found it to be the exact opposite. The five of use went the entire trip with absolutely not tummy problems at all, and we know of only one person who had a problem for one day. But, I'll warn you about this. You better like Chinese food because you're going to get a lot of it. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided almost every day of the tour with the rare exception. For breakfast it was usually buffet with a choice of either eastern or western style food. For lunch it was always Chinese. Chinese lunches were great because there were about eight courses altogether including a soup so you were always sure you'd get several things that you liked and could fill up on. Dinners were Chinese for the most part with a few western style thrown in for good measure.

After our tour of the hutong and visit with the local family we were scheduled to have dinner at a nearby Schezuan restaurant and then attend a performance of the Chinese opera. The rickshaw drivers took us from the hutong right to the restaurant which was located in a wooded area. The restaurant appeared to be very nice and, as most were, popular. It should be mentioned that every place we ate bore a sign at the entrance advising that it was approved for foreign tourist by the government. I'm not quite sure of the significance of the sign. Was it merely an inspection sticker, or was there some government restrictions placed on where tour operators could take foreign tourist? You did get the feeling that the government wanted to control the tourist's perception of China and controlling where they ate to insure quality and service might be one small step in doing so. I should mention this same sign was prominent in all of the hotels we stayed at.

Beautiful cloisonne vase
Beautiful cloisonné vase
Rooster on a cloisonne vase
Close-up of the vase
Can you read the sign?
Fire extinguisher
Entering the restaurant two things immediately caught my eye. First, an absolutely beautiful and large cloisonné vase (stick around to see how these Chinese artworks are made later in the album), and a fire extinguisher. Note the sign on the fire extinguisher. Such presentations of English words without spacing between the words was common. Would you believe, it took me a minute to actually figure out what the sign said.
Anne, John, Carol and Alicia at dinner
Anne, John,Carol and Alicia
patiently awaiting dinner's arrival
Lazy Susan, a Chinese dinner table staple
Traditional Chinese table
complete with a Lazy Susan
One of the things we've always enjoyed about Chinese food is the variety of dishes you get to experience and with groups like ours where each table had eight to ten people you really enjoyed the experience. Without exception for each eastern style meal we were seated at a round table with a Lazy Susan occupying the center. The dishes were brought and placed on the Lazy Susan where everyone had easy access by just rotating the Lazy Susan. It did take a bit of coordination to make sure that everyone was ready for it to be turned, but we learned that quickly. Each meal consisted of eight (and sometimes more) courses including fish, meat, pork and a variety of vegetables. And, for the most part, we were never disappointed in the food. It was all very good.
Leaving the restaurant we walked through a wooded park to the Chinese Opera. The park was beautiful as it was bathed in a soft green light.
Garden area at the opera, Beijing
Garden area at the opera, Beijing
Applying makeup for the opera, Beijing
Performer putting
on makeup
Unfortunately our visit to the Chinese Opera was a "forgettable" experience. Actually not! The Chinese are right ... we westerners are just not ready for Chinese Opera. It's a mixture of song, dance and gymnastics, unfortunately, the songs are terrible and incomprehensible by us. The pageantry and costumes were superb though.
With the end of this day one of the highlights of the trip for all of us was coming up the next morning ... our visit to the Great Wall of China. Continue to the next page to see what that day brought ...
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Welcome to our China 2001 Photo Album
Planning and Getting there: Grand Circle Tours and Northwest Airlines
Beijing : Arriving in Beijing | Tiananmen Square | The Imperial (Forbidden) Palace (1) | The Imperial Palace (2) | The Nine Sons of the Dragon
The Imperial Palace Garden | The Summer Palace | Summer Palace (2) | Summer Palace (3) | Summer Palace (4) | Local Beijing Market
Local Beijing Market (2) | Hutong | Bell Tower | Hutong Family, Dinner and the Opera | Cloisonné Factory | Ming Tombs | Ming Tombs (2)
Great Wall of China at Ba Da Ling | Temple of Heaven
Shanghai : Arriving Shanghai | Yuyuan Garden | Yuyuan Garden (2) | The Temple of the Jade Buddha | The Bund | Day Excursion to Suzhou
Silk Process | The Administrator's Garden of Suzhou | Shanghai Museum of Art
Cruising the Yangtze River : Yangtze Cruise, Day 1 | Yangtze Cruise, Day 2 | The Xiling and Wu Gorge | The Lesser Three Gorges
The Lesser Three Gorges (2) | The Qutang Gorge | Wanxian | The Last Day of Cruising | Regal China Cruise Lines
Chongqing : Chongqing
Xi'an : Xi'an and Emperor Qin's Terracotta Warriors | Emperor's Qin's Terracotta Warriors (2) | Great Wild Goose Pagoda and Xi'an City Wall
Quilin : The Limestone Peaks of the Li River | The Limestone Peaks of the Li River (2) | Guilin and the Childrens Park | Children's Park (2) and Reed Flute Cave
The Hotels: Hotels, rail and air travel in China
Hong Kong : Victoria Peak, Repulse Bay and Aberdeen Fishing Village | Hong Kong at Sunset | Hong Kong Bird & Flower Market
| New Territories Fishing Village | Hong Kong Farewell Dinner
Bangkok : Jim Thompson House and Golden Buddha | The Flower Market | The Food Vendors | Grand Palace | Mystical Figures | Brightly Painted Masks on Mystical Figures
Golden Mystical Figures | Buildings of the Grand Palace | Lunching at the Shangri La Hotel | Loy Nava Rice Barge Cruise | Ayutthaya, Ancient Capital of Siam
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol and the Reclining Buddha | Bang Pa In, The Summer Palace |

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