Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hutong time

What is a hutong? It's a traditional area of China that is slowly disappearing. Hutongs are constructed in narrow alleyways. Families live in small houses that sprawl around a central courtyard. Sometimes it's one family, sometimes it is several. The alleys are often dead ends, and you need a guide to find some of the ones remaining.

We found a nice guide whose English name was Lizzie. She was 18 years old and about to begin as a college freshman as an electrical engineer. She took us around a hutong in Beijing -- the family inside was happy to accept our visit for about $3 of American currency apiece. They apparently do this sort of thing a lot.

Where we're sitting now is at a place where family members play Chinese chess outside -- it's a little like the regular game of chess, but not much. That's me, Observer sports editor, our friend Liz Clarke from the Washington Post and Lizzie.

The family also had some interesting pets: a cricket for the kids, a school of goldfish in a bowl (where people throw coins for good luck) and a couple of birds they kept outdoors in cages.

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