Today is the day we move on from Beijing and on to Chengdu, but first we will explore a hutong. What is a hutong? The answer is in Disney's official description for Day 6:
Today's pedicab tour gets you up close and personal to the hutongs of Beijing. In Beijing, hutongs are narrow alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences and is used today to describe neighborhoods that reflect the culture of "grassroots" Beijingers. Along the way, you'll be introduced to the ancient art of Chineses knotting dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasty. Once major characteristic of decorative knotwork is that all the knots are tied using one thread. You'll also enjoy paper cutting, originating from the 6th century when women used to paste golden and silver foil cuttings onto their hair at the temples, and men used them in sacred rituals. Also, try your hand at the Diabolos which evolved from the Chinese yo-yo, originally standardized in the 12th century. Then it's on to Chengdy, the capital of the Suchuan Province.
Once again we left our luggage outside the room so that it could magically be transported to Chengdu for us. We were warned that security in Beijing could be strict, so I put as much as I could in the checked bag. We had one last buffet breakfast at the Rosewood Beijing before heading to our next adventure.
Our bus dropped us off at the entrance to a Hutong, an "old-school" housing area in Beijing. They were opened up for the public to view for the 2012 Olympics and the retirees welcome tourists into their homes to get a little pocket money. We started our journey with a pedicab tour of the district. One noticeable characteristic were donkey burger establishments which serve the obvious. After the tour, we attended three different classes in three different rooms of one hutong courtyard.
The first was Chinese caligraphy. Our teacher taught us the basic strokes of which a maximum of five are used in each Chinese character. We then followed her lead as we wrote Beijing (Northern Capital), China (Middle Kingdom), and the United States (Beautiful Kingdom). She then went to each of us and wrote our names in Chinese. When a foreigner gets a Chinese name, it is made up of words that sound similar to their western name. It was nice to know that they try to find the nicest option. We also learned that since it is so hard to write, that few Chinese practice calligraphy today. On cell phones, they often use voice recognition. They can also start by typing the word phonetically using our alphabet and then the keyboard will suggest the appropriate Chinese characters.
Next was paper carving. Our introductory lesson was on paper that had the cutting lines drawn on. With this, we made the "double happiness" sign. We then moved on to a freeform lesson that made a good-luck sign. Perhaps the best treat was that our teacher gave us a creation she made that was a good-luck sign but that has the Chinese zodiac animals hidden within. It is absolutely beautiful.
The toughest lesson was knot tying. Luckily our teacher was more than happy to fix our knots for us. These are another Chinese good-luck symbol as the single thread represents eternal life. After we made our own knots, we were presented with bracelets she created for us.
After these lessons, we moved to a park to practice the Chinese yo-yo. I quickly learned that I do not have a future with this activity, but our teacher had amazing skill and it was impressive to watch him do all sorts of tricks. After our graduation from the classes, our yo-yo master gave us our pin of the day.
It was then lunchtime at the Noble House Restaurant. This neat location had an array of Chinese antiques that accentuated the eclectic ambiance. I might have enjoyed lunch a little bit too much.
We then headed to the airport. Joe handed out our boarding passes as we exited the bus, and we entered Beijing's domestic terminal. Security in Beijing is very thorough. Several of our group were pulled aside as we entered to be screened for explosives when we got to the security check the examined everything and patted down everyone. They were pleasant but detailed. I saw a few bags go through the x-ray several times as they would ask individuals to remove various contents each go-around.
We got a little bit of a break at the gate, and then boarded our flight. This time we were on China Southern airlines, but the experience was quite similar to China Air. They did serve lunch on the plane (chicken and rice or pork and rice), which I made the poor decision to eat. They also had a security guard on the plane going through the aisle with an on-person camera. You could also not use your cell phone, even in airplane mode, or laptop, at all during the flight. I am not sure what the laptop rule was all about as the security card clearly indicated it could only not be used during take-off and landing. I am glad that I didn't even try to use mine though, because I was determined to catch up on sleep.
Once we landed in Chengdu, we proceeded to the exit and met our local guide, Kun. He escorted us to our bus and we headed to dinner. Kun was celebrating that he just got his US travel visa that day as it is a rigorous process and many are denied. He was an English major and he spoke the language very well, though it was funny to hear him tell us what he had challenges with, like popular vs. population. He also gave us the perspective of Chinese youth.
Now I had foolishly presumed that a city known for its Pandas would be a bit more rustic than Beijing. While it is smaller, Chengdu is still a huge city with tons of bright lights and music. It was described as if New York and Las Vegas had a Chinese baby. Chengdu is known for being more laid back as was made apparent by the "spicy ladies" who group dance in the courtyards of the city.
Dinner was at the beautiful Ba Guo Bu Yi Restaurant. It was our first taste of the Sichuan-style food known for its spicy flavor. Unfortunately, I was stuffed at this point and could barely eat. But the limited amount that I did have was delicious.
We then took the bus to our hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu. Joe handed us our keys and I took this chance to go to bed early for the first time in the trip. The hotel is lovely and the service is impeccable. However, my highlight is the self-rising, self-flushing talking toilet with the heated seat. I will never forget it.