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The Sound of Old Beijing
An Olympics with Beijing Accent, Literary

29 March 2007

In the time leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics, the authentic Beijing accent becomes thicker than ever in the ancient Chinese capital.

“Ice cream ‘n’ snowing jelly – you get more ‘n’ pay less – have a try, o yeah, please, …” (“冰激凌来雪花的酪,贱卖多盛您就尝口呃,……”) the sound of street vendors peddling (吆喝) along the residential alleyways of Beijing hutongs have echoed back from the past and are once again heard. A few days ago, as part of a series of events marking the 500-day countdown to the Olympics, 72-year-old Wu Rongzhang (武荣璋) made false advertising in a Beijing bookstore, peddling in a time-honoured way to a cheering crowd almost everything except books.

The people of Beijing are known as the most humorous and eloquent among Chinese, and Beijing vendors peddling are reputed as the most appealing and entertaining in China. In fact, it is more of singing than shouting. When advertising candied haws on a stick (冰糖葫芦), for instance, the traditional Beijing vendor would add a few melodic notes to fine tune his promotion campaign: 冰糖儿多呀哎! Candied haws – arh - so many haws – yarh – hie!

A typical Beijing peddling was often accompanied by an audio instrument, and the instruments used by the vendors varied depending on the goods or the service they were selling. A tofu vendor would enlist the aid of a wooden clapper (木梆子) for a measured rhythm, but a grocery seller preferred the rowdy expression of a rattle drum (拨浪鼓). Those advertising pea cakes liked to beat a small gong, while the ones promoting juices or dry fruits would strike on copper bowls (冰盏). And if the sound was produced by a pair of wooden plates hitting each other, it was an announcement of the arrival of a foot therapist; and if you heard somebody knocking a bamboo cane on the ground, you knew a blind fortune teller was approaching.

Traditional Chinese way of living is one of those that are most conscious of the rhythms in the natural environment. To the ancient Chinese, it was important that the food they ate, the activities they took and even the books they read were consistent with the flow of time of the day and season in the year. Thus was the way the goods and service sold by the street vendors. In the old days, many Beijing housewives would use the peddling from the streets to regulate their daily-living routines. The peddling sound in the deep of Beijing hutongs was in a way like the pounding pulse of the city.

The following are some best-known peddling of the street vendors in the old Beijing:

All Season Breakfast:

油炸鬼, 烧饼 Twisted crispy fry sticks and baked pie:
热的来-大油炸鬼! 芝麻酱来-烧饼!
Hot big is frying devil! Sesame sauce for baked pie!

豆汁 Soya-bean milk:
Sweet ‘n’ sour–yeah–soya milk–hmm –hie!

Winter breakfast:

烤白薯 Baked sweet potato:
栗子味, 热乎呃!
Taste like roasted chestnut, warm and hot!

Lunch and Dinner:

肉包子 Meat-stuffed dumplings:
Meat baozi–yeah–hie!

咸螺蛳 Salty spiral shelled water snail:
Cooked with authentic-har- five spices!

黄花鱼 Yellow croaker:
So fresh-leeee!

Seasonal vegetable:

水萝卜 Summer radish:
Taste better than pears! ‘n’ if hot like chilly you just return it to me!

All season drink:

茶 Tea:
The more tea you drink, the more luck you get!

Summer drink:

酸梅汤 Sweet-sour plum juice:
Take a gulp, your mouth will be icy cold!

Seasonal fruit:

西瓜 Watermelon:
This melon, big as a basket!

扁桃 Flat peach:
Sister Three, she stamped flat a peach-hie!

鲜菱角 Fresh water chestnut:
Old water chestnuts, that are what I’m selling-hie!

甜桃 Sweet peach:
Peaches so sweet-yeah!


煮豌豆 Boiled peas:
Hie peas! Lar-heaps!

芸豆饼 Kidney bean pie:
Tender-hie-kindey beans-hie!

嘎嘎枣 Jujubes:
If you buy jujubes-yeah, remember to try 'em first-hie!

老玉米 Old sweet corn:
I’ll give you a tender one!

江米糖糕 Sugar-coated sticky-rice cake:
Sticky rice–yeah sweet cake-hie!

Festival food:

元宵 Lantern Festival dumpling:
The Big bowl – of yuanxiao–har–hie!

太阳糕 Sun Cake:
Offer to Buddh-lee-hie!

Festival goods:

年画 Chinese New Year painting:
Selling-hie, painting-yeah!

年糕坨 Chinese New Year rice cake:
Huge bulks of cakes-lar

江米小枣粽子 Reed-leave wrapped pyramid-shaped rice cake filled with jujube (consumed during the Dragon Boat Festival that has now become quite popular in Korea and other south east Asian counties):
What a huge zongzi-yeah-hie!

Homeware repairing service:

磨剪子,磨刀 Sharpen scissors and knives:
Sharpen knives-hie!

修伞 Repair umbrella:
Umbrellas for raining days – O – for sunny days!

Chinese medicine service:

拔火罐 Service of cupping glass:

Hobby goods:

小金鱼 Small goldfish:
Each bigger than three fishes bundled together-har!

Environmental-friendly trade:

卖破烂 Recycling:
You give me rubbish, I give you cash, yeah!

Pre:Chairman Mao Returns
Next: Traditional Han Chinese Clothing


The Beijing Olympics drum in the workshop of Chen family with two of the five brothers in the background

But surly no Chinese festival can do without drums and gongs, even in the case of an imported festival like Olympics.

So five brothers of Chen family in the ancient capital Luoyang have crafted the 2008 Olympics drum that measures 2008 mm in diameter.

More than a thousand years ago, when the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty prepared for his inauguration ceremony, he ordered the Chen family to design and manufacture the main drum. And it was the thunderous notes of Chen drum that set up the theme for a three hundred-year splendid Song era, highly advanced in science, technologies, arts, culture and economy.

And the main Olympics gong also measuring 2008 mm in diameter has been produced by masters in Suzhou, another cradle and hub of Chinese culture.


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