Hot Pot and Hutongs!

It’s been a busy week of cultural adventures both in and out of the classroom!

Our world cultures class took a special field trip to an authentic hot pot restaurant on Wednesday during class to fully experience the true essence of Chinese cuisine. As part of their research, they then took a walk down the street to test out the local MacDonald’s to make comparisons between adaptation and globalization. Here is what our local food expert, Solay had to share about her experience:

“Shortly after sitting down, it felt very odd and unfamiliar as we did not know what to do. There were two long tables that each sat about eight people in the restaurant with two hot pot bowls embedded in each table. The servers were kind as they constantly came to our table to help, pointing food out and offering advice, such as when certain foods were done cooking.

It rapidly became clear to us that this style of dining was considered to be very traditional and standard in China, as their culture values the importance of talking and dining together. Hotpot forces everyone to sit down, share in the cooking and eat together all from one pot at one table.

As we continued to eat and learn more about Chinese culture and food, we discovered that we were not cooking our hot pot meal the traditional way! By mistake, we were putting our food in the pot at separate times. It is much more common to put the sticks of food in the pot in a particular order so that all the food is done at once.”

students eating at a hotpot restaurant

Our first optional excursion kicked off this weekend with our visit to the Temple of Heaven and a tour of Beijing’s oldest hutongs. During China’s Imperial Era, emperors would only visit this sacred temple twice a year to pray for a good harvest among the Chinese peoples. After arriving at the Temple of Heaven, we enjoyed a peaceful walk to some of the main must-sees from the expansive temple gardens. Our first stop was to the Circular Mound Altar which was used by emperors to hail prosperous weather patterns.

students in front of the Circular Mound Altar at the Temple of Heaven

Along the way to the most picturesque achievement, we made our way into the Imperial Vault of Heaven where you could be heard by someone standing at the direct opposite end of the space based on the impressive acoustics. When standing in the middle of the courtyard, you can clap your hands and have your echo heard three times in return. We also came across a series of century-old pine trees… of them, there stood several giant pines anywhere from 300 to 500-years old!

students in front of the Imperial Vault of Heaven

The day was not yet over! We were then taken to Houhai Lake where we jumped on a bunch of rickshaws and were carted around the various hutongs and hidden alleyways. Our guide took us into one of the traditional houses where we learned more about the life of local families who still live in the many hutong districts of Old Beijing.

student riding in a rickshaw

On our last night in Beijing, we took students out to see the historic Olympic grounds where Beijing once played host to the world in 2008 – and soon to be once again in 2022! The grounds were so impressively expansive that there was no way we could see everything in one night alone. Of the many eye-catching monuments, we visited the Bird’s Nest, Aquatics Cube, and stood right under the massive Olympic torch that once held the flame of victory.

Onward to Cambodia!