Asia Travel

Surprising China – Ancient & Modern

Location: China

Surprising China

Installment Four – Ancient & Modern


I’m a bit ashamed to say I did not expect the city of Beijing to be so modern.  I am quit tuned into architecture because of have an architect son, and I have to say Beijing had some of the most beautiful modern architecture I have ever seen. Not at all what I expected.


Beijing underwent an amazing transformation in preparation for the 2008 Olympic games: modern and expanded subway system, freeways, hotels, shopping areas, performing arts facilities and much more.

Beijing National Grand Theatre

Beijing National Grand Theatre


The building boom was at the peril of some of the ancient neighborhoods, markets and sites however.  And today there is a small but ernest revitalization effort to preserve and protect what is left of the old ways of life.


Unfortunately though, and like in many other modern cities around the globe, the preserved areas become less of an actual living, breathing community and more of a tourist attraction.  Additionally, as these historic neighborhoods are being lost, wealthy Chinese and foreigners are finding the charm worth investing.  Scooping up properties and renovating them changes the culture of the hutong and may prove to be the final nail in the coffin.  If you are interested in this topic I read a wonderful article in the NY Times

Hutung (translates to alley) Neighborhood

Hutung (translates to alley) Neighborhood


Travel for me in my Fabulous Fifties has become so much about the people and culture of their day-to-day life.  This is what inspires me to travel, to try new foods, to go beyond my comfort level and attempt to get a glimpse of a life that is unique and exceptional, ancient and traditional and so very different from mine.


Although we marveled at the glass and steel skyscrapers we also marveled at the hidden Hutong villages, the tiny back alley homes, the friendly

Our rickshaw driver takes us through the Hutung

Our rickshaw driver takes us through the Hutung

Chinese man smoking on his stoop, the bent old man in his Cultural Revolution grey uniform, the old woman on her bicycle casually making her way with hundreds of other cyclists through thousands of cars, taxis and busses. We stopped to engage with the old woman selling Chinese flags on the corner and teeny girl dressed in pink head to toe wanting to share her candy.  We were astounded to see an entire family of four riding one motorcycle together (no helmets) and were tempted by the young man grilling tofu on a crusty, and well used back alley

Little girl paying

Little girl paying

grill. We smiled at the man who rode by on his bike with three dozen balloons tied to the back.  The hard working rickshaw driver and the women pulling a cart full of cardboard and scrap wood twice as tall as she humbled us.


These are the moments I will remember; the daily life of the average Chinese citizen.

Watch for my next blog “Kimchee Capers” coming soon.

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