I was attending a student social shortly after starting my first teaching job in China and was amazed at how all of the university-aged students seemed to gravitate easily to the instructors, myself included.
All of the foreign staff was kept very busy by the students accepting their invitations to chat and to dance.
This seemed like “over-the-top” attention that none of us were use to. Nevertheless, it seemed marvelous to seem to be the center of the universe.
The students seemed naively innocent and were quite forward in asking questions like, “How old are you?” “How much money do you make?” “Can I visit you in your apartment?” and so on.
One of the students, Gloria, whom I’d never met, approached and asked right up, “Would you like to come to my house in Beijing and stay with my family?”
“Great”, I said, figuring it would be wonderful to meet some people and have a place to stay when I visited Beijing.
It was arranged that we should catch the train for the four hour ride north on the upcoming Saturday, about two days hence.
Gloria seemed very excited about this arrangement, a joy that was probably unmatched by mine.
Early Saturday morning, she knocked on my door and we left to catch the early morning train. Communication was a little difficult because of her limited English, my complete lack of Chinese, and her imperfect placement of em-pha’-sis on the correct syllables in addition to her heavily accented Chinglish.
These barriers did not stop our attempts at communication which seemed to improve steadily on the adventure.
When we reached Beijing, we caught a bus and ended up in her very traditional Chinese neighborhood. We walked along roadways that seemed to narrow with every subsequent turn in the maze of brick walled roads that we followed.
She finally exclaimed, “We are here,” as she opened a large wooden door in the brick wall lining the road which by this time had become not much more than a mud floored wagon path.
Inside the door, she led me further as we meandered along and around a whole series of what seemed like little brick sheds until we got to her parent’s “house.” We pushed aside a beaded door-curtain and entered her one room brick living space filled with two bunk beds, a sewing machine between the beds, a table holding a black and white shimmering TV with rabbit ears, and a light bulb hanging overhead from an electric wire…and no washroom.
Gloria lived in a traditional Beijing hutong …and wasn’t it nice to finally arrive at her home?
hutongs in China Daily
Pictures of Life in China
Description of hutongs from book, "Behind the wall"
China Daily history of hutongs