Thursday, October 7, 2010
Magic school bus to Cuandixia
We spent our court yard night in a little town to the West of Beijing called Cuandixia. There's no way I can pronounce that name. I think I know how to say it -- Tsjoewan-die-shiaah in Dutch or Tchouwan-di-shiaah in English -- but somehow no-one ever understands me when I say it. Luckily, our driver -- again the famous Mr. Li -- knew exactly where it was, and despite some Beijing traffic we zipped up there in about two and a half hours.
Magic School Bus, the time-travelling bus that's featured in a popular science book series for kids. I must have been quite believable, because I ended up having to assure the boys we weren't really going to travel through time :-)
Well, Cuandixia clearly has one foot in the 21st century - our courtyard hotel had a TV, the toilet could be flushed (with a garden hose that hung off the side), and you had to buy a ticket for 30 kuai to even enter the town. But, apart from that, you really could imagine you were in old, if not ancient, China. All you can and are supposed to do in the town is just to wonder around the narrow streets, climb up and down the steps, admire tiny tucked-away temples, keep your kids from crashing down the narrow ridges, peek into court yards, and wonder what you will have for dinner because lunch was already so lovely.
Speaking of food, be sure to check out the photo of Thomas on the right, carefully greeting our lunch. I should point out that up until now, our many Chinese lunches really have not included the spread of insects, dogs, or other non-traditional food choices that might come to mind when you think of China. But it is true that dishes here more often than in other places include a head or feet of an animal to show you the food is nice and fresh.
NPR article on footbinding gives a good overview of the history of the practice. I was actually surprised to learn that despite it being illegal since 1912, women continued to do it for a little while longer because of the special status -- a way up the social ladder -- small feet could bring.
In searching for more information about Cuandixia, I also came across this interesting 1996 article in the New York Times, a lovely bit of old China, languishing in the new. Today, fourteen years after this article was published, it looks like the article's predictions have come through. More people have moved away from Cuandixia, but at the same time tourism seems to be saving the village (or at least the buildings in the village, not necessarily the old way of life).
A final interesting tidbit about the town is that all the people in it are descendants of the same Han family who founded the village. I took home the business card of one of the Han's, so one day we can go back and hike a bit more in the mountains around the town. For now, this was our court yard visit. The boys did seem to enjoy their trip through time and the cozy night in our one-bedroom house.
Here are some more pictures of our adventure:
Internet lore means "stove." The entire name Cuandixia refers to it being some sort of "shelter" to protect from cold and war.