Cue the Class Trip!
A few weeks into Camp, the Blue G group teams up with another class to take us Volunteers on a trip to the nearby Temple of Heaven, and the Beijing Hutongs. Dan, Christine and teacher, Cindy joined our Blue G teacher Jennifer, Stefan, my co-volunteer and myself as we toured Beijing with out students – Cue Class Trip!!
Blue G had everything down to a T, from note-cards with readings describing the history of the 15th century building to the symbolic architecture in excellent English, especially by comparison to the rather bizarre translations given on the public signs, and in addition, carried rucksacks of speciality treats for hungry teachers!
I managed to escape the hoards of tourists, foreigners and Chinese alike, to snap a few shots of the Temple on its own… I can only imagine how tranquil and silent it must have lay until the original harvest ceremonies performed by the Emperors.
Now it’s quite crowded.
As we headed into the Hutongs of Beijing, we soon realised the depth of preparation our classes had gone into as we were split into five groups and handed a bundle of photographs and a camera: we weren’t about to get off easy as our students tested out tenacity and endurance of Beijing summer heat with a Hutong treasure hunt!
The Hutongs themselves are a one-story maze of traditional Chinese courtyard architecture separated into neighbourhoods; a strange time-warp of history, not preserved, but living. The Hutongs are packed tightly with small grey-brick houses, the contents of which splay onto the surrounding streets: chickens, cartons, washing lines and old, stained vested men hunched over mahjong gesticulating with abandoned, plastic flip flops – barefoot.
Some tight alleyway doors are opened, giving brief glimpses into a cool, shaded life; a woman washes her vegetables in a worn, red plastic tub; a small child, jet bowl of hair, squats beside a docile white rabbit; a tiny, floral patterned 阿妈 ( (Āh mā) fans herself with a child’s cartooned fan. Others are tightly shut, windows curtained, front step swept and lintels hanging faded red 門聯 (ménlián) from the New Year. There are no personal bathrooms behind these low-beamed, red doorways, and instead residents from a block will share a public toilet and washing facility.
It’s hot and sticky, and our curious team of Hutong explorers have many a trailing eye following our path through these sharp turning streets as we search for the originals of our photograph clues. The winning team will take a new photo, with the clue, at the original clue site and return to the meeting point once all five clues are solved. There are moments of desperation, and even flickers of weakness, until at last we make all five clues and return, last.
Green tea ice-creams all round!
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