A taste of life in a Beijing Hutong

P1090403We’ve been staying with Karin and Wei in Beijing. Karin is Steven’s cousin, so that makes us all cousins.  Lovely.

Wei was born in Beijing and left when he was 15 years old. He, and Karin, returned l last year.


P1090122They elected to live in the inner city so it’s been a privilege to have a taste of their life in a hutong. Hutongs, the heart and soul of Beijing, are alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences. Neighbourhoods were formed by joining one residence to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. Hutong also refers to the neighbourhoods of alleys.  Many hutongs have been demolished to make way for new housing, others have fallen into disrepair and are low cost accommodation while others have become protected historical areas.

P1090935Karen and Wei’s home in the hutong, is one of the few in the alley that has been renovated, with the rooms wrapping around a small courtyard, a remnant of a much larger courtyard from times long ago.  Wei calls his serene courtyard a ”chaoasis”.  An oasis from the chaos that is sometimes life in Beijing.  Sitting in the sanctuary of their courtyard it is impossible to believe that there is a city of 27 million people just outside its walls.

P1090702Karin is an amazing cook with a passion for Chinese cuisine. We have been treated to a dazzling array of treats from across the country, all created in her tiny kitchen. Her banquets start northern style, with a selection of cold dishes such as marinated cucumber, jellyfish with chilli, lotus root salad, shredded bean curd, three flavoured salad and woodear mushroom salad.  She follows this with an array of hot dishes such as steamed eggplant with cumin, asparagus in chicken broth, duck and winter melon soup, tree bark with egg, pork cooked in red fermented beans, chicken with peanuts, sticky rice in lotus leaves and garlic steamed prawns.  The dishes have exotic names such as La pi, Gong Bao and Su Dong Po but I have been at a loss to remember them and put them with the correct dishes.  I have learnt that Continue reading

We just had to visit the Pandas

P1090729 (2)We could not be in China without visiting the Giant Pandas so took ourselves off to the Beijing Zoo.  Pandas sleep about 16 hours a day so we timed our visit for the morning when we heard they were most likely to be active.


P1090746 (2)The first Panda we saw was sitting up munching on a feast of bamboo leaves.  He looked like he was at a resort, lounging against a rock and enjoying himself.  When he finished eating he walked over to a platform for a snooze and had a cute wiggle as he walked.  Pandas are pigeon toed so I guess that accounts for their unusual gait.

P1090757 (2)We wandered past a few other panda enclosures but they were chilling out and mostly sleeping.  Then we were lucky enough to watch two 18 month old male panda twins playing together.



P1090756 (2)They bear hugged each other, chased each other, nipped at each other, rolled through the dirt together, climbed up a platform and slid off it. We stood there mesmerised for about 20 minutes until they exhausted themselves and lay down for a nap.

 Here are a few random facts I have now discovered about Pandas. Continue reading

The Artist – Meeting Mr Zhou

For some time now I have admired a stunning, and rather large piece of Chinese art that hangs above the dining table in Karin and Wei’s Melbourne home. They affectionately refer to it as “My Concubine”, but I now know it by the artist’s name “China Auspicious No. 2”. I think I prefer “My Concubine”.

She is gorgeous don’t you think?


In Beijing we were privileged to meet the artist, Mr Zhou Yingchao, at his private studio in one of the City’s outer North Eastern suburbs. Wei and Karin have built a personal friendship with Mr Zhou, and he was Continue reading

A water town and a garden city

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Shanghai, a  “water town” and/or a “garden city” should be added to your itinerary. We heeded the advice and included both in ours.

P1090546 (2)Xitang is a “water town”, about 85km west of Shanghai, or for us, a 2hr bus ride. If you are a Tom Cruise fan, you will recognise the name because Mission Impossible III was shot here. It’s a quaint town, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the big Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing. There are narrow cobbled streets, arched bridges and old rustic buildings, complemented by Continue reading

A Night at the Beijing Opera

I’ve only every been to the Opera twice in my life. The first time was 40 years ago as a teenager, invited by our family neighbour to see Rigoletto at the Sydney Opera House. Our neighbour Tom was very aware of my interest in music, and generously took me to Sydney to introduce me to the Operatic form. My second Opera experience occurred in Beijing last week, when our hosts, Wei and Karin, invited Anne and I to join them, and their friend Alfy, to enjoy Bellini’s “Norma”, on the occasion of their 27th wedding anniversary.

Heading out to the Opera
Heading out to the Opera

I’m glad we accepted the invitation. Attending the Opera in Beijing brings with it three distinct Continue reading

We deserve an Olympic medal

beijing-cube-fireworksWho remembers those amazing pictures, beamed all around the world in August 2008, when the Beijing Summer Olympics were opened from the spectacular Bird’s Nest Stadium?…………….

Interestingly,  the actual opening ceremony commenced at 8pm, on the 8th day of the 8th month, in 2008.P1090211 In Chinese culture, the number 8 is quite auspicious, being associated with prosperity and confidence. 91,000 specftators filled the stadium on that night, a relatively small number of people, considering 21.5 million people currently live in Beijing.

P1090234Whilst I wasn’t amongst the 91,000 present at the Birds Nest on that night, Anne and I paid the Olympic Stadium and Aquatic Centre (the Water Cube)  a visit during our Beijing sojourn. So why would we deserve an Olympic medal for following the mainstream tourist pathway?    Simple answer…….we rode bikes to get there along some Continue reading

Spoilt for World Heritage choice in Beijing

P1090096You’d think that as seasoned travellers we would have a bit of an itinerary worked out for each place we plan to visit and be prepared for our time there before we arrive.  Well that’s not really how we operate. Our style is much more to look at TripAdvisor or the Lonely Planet Guide the night before, or maybe on the plane to our destination, and get some ideas about what we should see.

P1090102Consequently, we arrived in Beijing to see Karin and Wei with minimal understanding of the amazing choices that would be offered to us.   Beijing has seven Word Heritage Sites, putting it right up there with Rome and Paris.




To stop us dithering about which ones to see, our hosts directed us to start our sightseeing with the Forbidden City, and follow it the next day with the Temple of Heaven.  One advantage of our laissez faire style of travel is that we Continue reading