Postcard From Beijing: Hutong Tour, Dr. Tea and The Silk Museum

Amidst the pre-Christmas insanity and the general craziness of getting back to real life, my trip to Beijing now feels like a lifetime ago. It’s times like this when I find myself feeling incredibly grateful for the fact that I take a lot of photographs – and a little sad about the trips I took before I discovered my passion for photography that are not so well documented.

My work trip to Beijing included a weekend so my colleagues, Kara and Allyson, and I had some time to check out the city. Beijing is a BIG city and, given that none of speak Chinese, we decided the best approach on Saturday morning was to take a guided tour of the historical Hutong neighborhood. The tour included travel by mini bus to Hutong, a rickshaw ride around the neighborhood and a home visit with one of the residents, a tea tasting at a government-owned teahouse and a quick stop at the Silk Museum. We also managed to sneak in a quick view of the Olympic bird nest stadium. (warning: photo overload).

Our tour of Hutong started at the Drum Tower. I would have loved to have seen more of the Drum Tower and it’s Bell Tower cousin but the down side of the tour is that you find yourself at the mercy of the tour guide schedule.

Still, the ride around Hutong was fascinating.

Our Rickshaw driver.

Hutong is an historical part of the city where families live in houses (a increasingly rare occurrence in Beijing). These houses are most typically made up of a series of rooms that surround a courtyard which means that the residents walk outside from their living room to their kitchen and then to their bedroom. I imagine it can get pretty chilly in winter.  Many of the houses also don’t have their own bathrooms so we saw signs for shared facilities around every other corner.

The tour gave us an opportunity to visit with one of the Hutong residents inside her house. We visited with a young mother who lives in one of these houses with her husband and small child. (Unfortunately I didn’t write down her name). Her parents lived with them until recently, when they decided that they would be more comfortable living in an apartment.

The family has a tradition of creating cut paper art and we were treated to a demonstration during our visit. Her work was amazing and I purchased a couple to take home.

After the paper cutting demonstration, we were invited to take a look around.

We soon left Hutong and rode in the mini bus to “Dr. Tea”, a government-owned tea house located near the Olympic stadium. Here, we were treated to a tea demonstration and sampling (which was lovely and relaxing) followed by a very strong sales pitch. I escaped by the skin of my teeth with just a tea cup and a box of Jasmine tea.

Pee pee boy made quite an impression. Thankfully they gave us one as a souvenir.

The poster advertisements outside the building were quite beautiful.

Our final stop on the tour was the Silk Museum where, I am pleased to say, I learned a thing or two.

This was first time I ever really contemplated where silk comes from. I knew it came from worms but had no idea that they collected the silk from the cocoons and that the poor little creatures sacrificed their lives  as part of the process.


Finally, we did a quick drive by of the Olympic stadium. And when I say “drive by” I mean we stopped at a viewpoint about a mile away just so I could take this photo. Still, I can say I’ve been there, right?

The Hutong part of the tour was a great way to see a part of the city that is not readily available to tourists (unless you take the tour, of course). While the rest of the tour was also interesting, there was a feeling that we were being given the hard sell at every stop. I gather the city makes a lot of money from tour groups who are willing to spend money on everything from Jasmine tea to (fake) silk purses. Our small group of three limited our spending but I wonder how many silk duvets went home with the large Russian group who toured the silk museum at the same time.

Overall though, I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting the city with just a day or two to see the sights. Just keep a close eye on how you spend your Yuan.

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