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November 2, 2004 —Day 16

Hurrah, blue sky again! Today we explored Beijing and started by traveling to a Hutong area. Hutong means a lane or alley, in fact the passage formed by lines of siheyuan (a compound with houses around a courtyard) where old Beijing residents live. As you can see it would be easy to get lost.

In the urban district of Beijing hutongs still occupy one third of the total area, providing housing for half the population although this is quickly changing. We boarded pedicabs to visit the old quadrangles, and learn about the daily life of ordinary Beijing citizens.

Our guide explained how you can tell the status of the residents by the outside markings. Working our way past homes down narrow passageways we had the opportunity to visit one of the homes and enjoy the garden. Dodging vendors our pedicabs scooted us along where we visited an elementary level school and participated in an English class.

Our next stop was Prince Gong's Mansion. It is one of the few intact aristocratic residences from the Qing Dynasty. One side of the 3-hectare property has 99 rooms that housed the prince's concubines. After enjoying the sculpted grounds of low hills and lily ponds, we wound our way back to the bus.

There were rings of joy from the women aboard with the news we were on our way to the Pearl Market. Eventually, it was time to leave and while we waited for everyone to break away from their shopping addiction we sat on the steps talking of our bargaining skills and watching people cart their stuff away.

But we were not finished yet. Our friend David Paterson's colleague had given Joan the name (in Chinese) of a location where native Chinese buy silk. With determined dedication (and matching symbols) she was able to sleuth out the location after taking a cab to the general area. While I people watched the women enjoyed silk heaven.

After returning, we enjoyed a western dinner at the hotel with all the the trimmings. The steak was a sensation. Some went off to the opera, others took a cab to the food market. We packed our memories to get ready for the next day's sendoff.

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