Thursday, November 02, 2006

China: Sichahai and the hutongs of Beijing

What I thought was Beihai Park was actually Sichahai. I think I got my directions wrong so instead of going south towards Beihai, I walked north. As I entered, a group of rickshaw drivers started to pester me. They were showing me a map and saying that it was too far to walk. And that they would take me around the sites. I pretended not to be interested and from RMB180 which is the price in the map, they offered to take me around for an hour for RMB50.

So we went around beginning in Houhai or the west bank. I did not realize it until I did some research that what I actually did was a tour of the Beijing hutongs, which are narrow maze-like lanes and alleys that were typical of Beijing communities in the olden days.

Sichahai is the lakes area north of Beihai Park. You can walk around the lakes and into some of the old hutong alleys. There are also a lot of restaurants and bars along the lakes, especially in the southern tip of Qianhai called Lotus Lane.

The driver took me to an alley with a lot of shops. I wasn't the one who wanted to go shopping but I just hit the tourist shop area of Beijing where in my opinion, the best Chinese souvenirs could be purchased at affordable prices, if you know how to bargain. I got myself an English version of Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (毛主席语录) which is known in the West as The Little Red Book. It is second only to the Bible in volume with over 900 million copies printed.

We went around more hutongs but since it was already getting dark, I wasn't able to appreciate it that much. The driver also brought me to some traditional houses which were converted into museums but I didn't want to spend for entrance which was about RMB40 each.

When the tour ended, I took a walk again in Sichahai, this time along Lotus Lane which was flooded in lights (above right). The restaurants looked very appealing but again, I was on a very tight budget so I decided to have dinner elsewhere. I saw a structure from a distance and it turned out to be the Drum Tower or Gulou. So I walked towards it.

Right beside the Drum Tower was the Bell Tower or Zhonglou (left). It was quite difficult to get a good shot of the Drum Tower in the evening since it was quite massive and there was no good angle to shoot from. But I got a photo of the Bell Tower. Hehe!

I found myself on a shopping street and decided to keep walking southwards towards the hotel. Along the way, I found dinner! It was siopao! Haha! There were different kinds such as those stuffed with pork, and the rest were stuffed with various vegetables and tofu. I don't think we have vegetable-stuffed siopao in the Philippines. The clincher here was that each piece was just RMB0.80 or roughly PHP5 each! Now that was a cheap dinner. Haha!

Since I was already tired from walking, I decided to take a taxi back to the hotel. I was already prepared to sleep when Rhea and Marlon found out about Sichahai. So I agreed to go back with them to show them the place so they could shop for more souvenirs.

While we were checking out the shops, I saw a sign which said foot massage for just RMB38. And since my feet were aching, I could not resist. When we got back to the hotel, I went straight to bed.
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