Hutong Hunt

Nicholas Quirke was making plans for more travel on 19 July 2020 though until he was given permission to stay in China these were hypothetical. He had not planned what might happen if he needed to leave and preferred, until the situation arose, to keep his head firmly in the sand. His meeting with the Exit/Entry officials was on Monday and after that he could make some firm decisions. The good news in Beijing was the lifting of restrictions and downgrading the alert status to level 3 meant the Hutongs were accessible again and whole new avenue of exploration was open to him.It was however Sunday and an outing was planned. The first stop on their journey was to a museum of Lu Xun. A revered writer of revolutionary China. It was an unexpected and informative visit, from the exhibition of posters that promoted good health during COVID19 to the exhibition of his life and work. Most famous for his anti imperial stance and a novella, ‘The True Story of Ah Q’ being guided through his life and his struggles, he particularly liked his quote, ‘Anyone who has come down in the world will come, in the process, to see the true face of society’. The site yuan in the Hutong, which had trees Lu Xun had planted in 1925, when he lived there, still growing, was modest and seeing it opened up a conversation with Peng about how homes in the courtyards were assigned and from the models on display he was shown the tiny apartment in a corner his parents were given to live him. There was a period when the China transitioned to a more capitalist arrangement and like Thatcher’s housing revolution they were able to buy their own homes at a fraction of the cost. Now the housing market looks very like the template across the world. The Hutongs, which had been closed to any but the residents, were now open again, and it was a short walk through the fascinating streets to the White Pagoda Temple, sadly closed like most functioning temples in Beijing. They were able to drink in a rooftop cafe in the Hutong which overlooked the Pagoda and could see that there was renovation work happening and it wasn’t just COVID19 preventing the visit. A delicious burnt brown sugar Pu Er tea was downed before they made their way to through another Hutong to the 13th Century Pagoda of Monk Wansong, which he had often seen on his cycle ride to the massage hospital. The pagoda was built to house the remains of The Old man of Wansong (Ten Thousand Pines). Of particular interest was a series of old maps, one from 1936 depicting the various sites of interest within the city walls and to his delight, an Illustration of Caishakou, the local place of execution during the Ming and Qing Dynasty’s. Nicholas had loved his traipse through yet more history of Beijing and to quell the appetite he had worked up Peng found a famous noodle bar where they ate rice noodles in sesame paste with spinach and peanuts and green beans. Very simple and too delicious. The weather was very hot again and rather than cycle they decided to take a cooler walk back to the apartment. The evening was spent watching ‘Greyhound’, Tom Hanks offering on Apple of a World War Two drama on the Atlantic. As always his eyelids heavy from the days exertions he went to sleep.

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