Monday, January 26, 2015

Riding into history....and Pandas!

Beijing's hutongs are a glimpse - fast disappearing - of what the city used to look like before the skyscrapers took over the skyline. A hutong is a narrow alleyway formed by joining together courtyard residences. When you hear people speak of 'the hutongs', they will often be referring to the neighborhoods formed by these alleys.

Development has destroyed many of these traditional neighborhoods, but some have been preserved, most notably those around the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. These hutongs, close to the Forbidden City, are the spacious and orderly kind that would have belonged to aristocrats and top-ranking officials in their day.  Beijing's poorer hutongs are far more haphazard and cramped,
but are still an important part of the city's history. Each hutong has its own name - sometimes many layers of names - and its own set of stories.

We began our day by a visit to these hutongs near the city centre, and once we arrived near the area, each of us grabbed a partner and jumped into a rickshaw, skillfully driven by an area resident.  Off we went, in a long line (there were at least 34 separate rickshaws!) weaving our way through the narrow streets and alleys.  Our specific visit was to a hutong purchased by a family in is worth more than $50 Million today.  Seriously....I'm sure that's what our guide said.  :-)    Four small buildings facing a quardrangle (courtyard.)  The owner talked about life here, and how since his family is gone now, he rents rooms to honeymooners and more.  Quite interesting indeed.  I'm not aware of anyone who would pay the going rate to purchase this, but one never knows!
For many visitors, the aim to go to Beijing Zoo is to see the giant pandas and that's where we headed next.  The first birth of a giant panda in captivity occured at the Beijing Zoo 1963. The first artifcial insemination breeding success in the world was achieved at the Beijing Zoo in 1978. As a symbol of friendship, the giant pandas have been presented to many countries. 

Of course, our students were not going to miss the chance to meet the VIP - very important pandas! The Beijing Panda House is composed of two parts, namely the Asian Games Panda House and Beijing Olympic Games Panda House. The Asian Games Panda House was constructed in 1990. During the Asian Games 1990, the giant panda "Pan Pan" was chosen as the mascot of the 11th Asian Games in Beijing. The giant panda "Jing Jing" was again chosen as one of the mascots of the 29th Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing. So Beijing Zoo built the Olympic Games House.  Seems to me that everyone enjoyed this 30 minute visit.....but these Pandas sure don't do much.  Well, they eat bamboo.  But that's about it.  HA!  And we're off to lunch!

Our stop following lunch was at Zhongguancun High School, one of Beijing's top high schools and built in 1982 in the heart of the Zhongguancun Technology Park - the "Silicon Valley" area of Beijing. With 4,000 students on three campuses, and a widely recognized staff, the school is considered to be one of Beijing's "Model Schools."

The campus is a beautiful environment, advanced teaching facilities, building technology, art, sport activities, venues and unique studio, museum specimens of wild animals. The school entrance examination results improved steadily.  The school has  very close relationship with the Chinese Academy of Science.  In fact, the director of this important agency was with us for the mid-day concert.

This high school has a band of some 90 members.  This group has won several national competitions and an international event in Belgium just last year.  They were seated and ready to play for us when we arrived - yet we performed first for about 25 minutes, then they played for us.  We combined the groups for two finale numbers.  All in all, fun.  We may have recruited a few students today!  When they basketball players heard of our season back home, they lined up to hear more about us!  

Off to dinner, and then another easy evening with no activities.  As we have a free morning tomorrow, it will be tomorrow afternoon before we learn what people were up to....I'm sure there will be some good stories!


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