Hutongs are traditional-style adjoining houses, one story high, with narrow roads between them. They account for a small part of residences these days — most were demolished for skyscrapers. But they can still be found around Beijing.
This particular strip was empty, not at all like we envisioned from photographs — grandmothers chatting while husking corn and watching the toddlers play nearby. There was no sign of life except for our two rickshaws. We went down a long alleyway, turned the corner and were told to get off.
"Done. No more!" was their brief announcement. Um, okay. So, we'll just walk back.
Teri and I both reached into our purses and took out 20 yuan for our drivers. "No! One thousand," was their response to the two 10 yuan notes. What? Impossible. But they held firm, and pulled out a well-worn laminated card that read:
- Trip Around Tiananmen: 300 yuan ($35)
- Forbidden City: 300 yuan ($35)
- Hutong Tour: 300 yuan ($35)
- Rickshaw Drivers: 100 yuan ($12)
- Total: 1,000 yuan ($117)
I couldn't believe it! My heart was racing and I was scared. I only had 1,000 yuan with me. That was all my money until my next paycheck at the end of the month.
I was glad I'd hidden half of my money in my shoe — that would be enough to finish up the weekend in Beijing and get back home to Renqiu. We insisted we each only had 500 yuan with us. Eventually they agreed, so we each handed over five crisp pink 100 yuan notes, and walked as fast as we could out of the hutong.
Fortunately one long road, and a turn later, we were back among people, cars, and noise. Sobbing, and feeling foolish, we made our way towards what looked like a commercial area and spotted a McDonald's.