After the crowds at Forbidden City, Thom took me on a tour of the Hutongs that he had walked this week while I worked. The Hutongs are where the locals live in complex mazes of alleyways. It felt a little intrusive and weird to walk these quiet places but it gave me a real feel for the simple, poor living conditions of most of the citizens. Concrete huts really with outdoor cooking over fires, adding to the haze of pollution that is everywhere.
Out of one alley and thrust into market day, the Chinese crowds were buying lunch from street vendors-fruits/vegetables, nuts, various meat that looked exotic and made my weak stomach churn. Some smelled delicious but others not so much.
I saw the opening at the end of the crowd into a park. Thom argued that 20 RMB a person was too much to pay-a mere $4 a person but I paid and off we went. Little did we know that we had stumbled into one of Beijing’s most famous and beautiful parks, Beihai Park. With a gorgeous lake and temple, Beihai Park is Beijing’s answer to NYC’s Central Park.
We stumbled upon a large sing-a-long taking place with a small band and a leader directing enthusiastically from a pedestal. We were there on a Sunday but we couldn’t tell if the songs were religious or patriotic. Whichever, the crowd was definitely singing with passion and fervor. They ended after many songs and a sole saxophone played Auld Lang Syne as the crowd dispersed to enjoy the sunny day.
From singing to dancing, many other groups were performing along the way for the park goers. Thom and I enjoy stumbling upon hidden gems like Beihai Park when we travel and seeing how the locals enjoy their lives. There were few Westerners there that day in the park-just Beijing citizens relishing their last few days of warm weather on a rare relatively smog-free day.