Lunch at a local Hutong

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Lunch at a local Hutong

The word Hutong, our Mongolian born guide explained literally means road. And the key to understanding the status of the people who live in the Hutong area is the doorway.

Traditionally doors were black or red. Red. Signified a rich family, black a poor one. The number of beams above the door signified the importance of the persons job. Four beams – a high ranking official, two – a middle ranking official and none – low rank. And finally the stones outside – a book shape signifies a government official while a drum shows the house to belong to a member of the army.

Of course these distinctions have long since disappeared but as the houses are owned and passed from parents to children, we entered the house of a rich former middle ranking government official for lunch!!

The house we entered was small, just 3 rooms and clearly old. But it was clean and we were greeted by a middle aged woman who set us down at a table for lunch. The room in which we sat had little else in it except a two pictures on one wall of a very attractive young Chinese girl and the same girl as part of a family unit with a brother, mother and father. On the other wall was a mirrored unit and a shelf with a female Buddha with incense, fruit and money offerings.

The food arrived quickly and all of our previous concerns about offending our host by not eating the food was put to rest. The food was excellent and the children raved over the various pork dishes with celery, onions and garlic shoots.


As we ate we plied our guide with random questions we’d built up over time. We learned that the one child policy was not as straightforward as we had understood. While Han Chinese people (90% of the population) can only have one child, someone from a minority like our Mongolian guide is not restricted. If the parents are both only children themselves then they can have two children and similarly if they have a girl they can have a second child (presumably to try to have a boy).

The photo showing the family with two children was a good example of another flexibility. If a the family have a second child then there is a fine but if the family have enough money they can pay and that is the end of it. However further children can be more serious and can result in the worker losing their job.

We thanked our host on the way out with a new phrase we’d learned from our guide pronounced ‘HOW-CHER’ which means delicious and offered a few gifts as thanks – some English tea, jams and two sticks of Brighton Rock for here grandchildren (the two young children pictured on the wall).

This was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday so far.