Although we like to travel independently, when we visited China we wanted to hire a guide. We can figure out the basics when we’re reading street signs in French or a city map in Italian, but we have no point of reference in Mandarin.
We used a different guide in each area we visited: Guilin, Xian and Beijing. They were all terrific in their own way, but Qing, our guide in Beijing, was truly special. She was the modern face of an ancient country, a young woman in her twenties whom our girls adored. She took us to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Night Food Market. But the highlight of our time in Beijing just might have been the visit to her family home.
On the final afternoon of our trip, Qing graciously invited us to her home in one of the hutongs, or tiny alleys running through Beijing. Many of the residences in these areas are built around courtyards. Hutongs are truly unique to this city, and we were honoured to be invited to one.
Qing’s family of five lived in a small four-room residence. Although no one in our family speaks any Mandarin, and Qing was the only English speaker in her family, we couldn’t possibly have been given a warmer welcome. Her mother served us a delicious snack of chocolate cakes, persimmons and flower tea. Her grandmother spent much of the time cheerfully chatting with me in Mandarin, convinced that “Canada” was a northern province of China. And Qing showed us around her home – two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen overlooking the lovely courtyard.
|Attempting to communicate in Mandarin is even
harder with a persimmon in your mouth.