Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beijing Hutong

Our morning was a rickshaw tour of a Beijing hutong.

Hutongs are the old typical neighborhoods of Beijing. At one time, all of Beijing looked this way but then the developers came in with bulldozers and the hutongs fell one by one. Finally, it was realized that a very important part of old Beijing was being destroyed and the remaining hutongs were protected from development.

A hutong is kind of a city within a city. From the main streets, a hutong is entered through a gateway into one of many alleys. Off of these alleys are gateways to courtyards. And around the courtyards are the rooms and apartments where the residents live.

Our visit included seeing a 'typical' hutong apartment. We certainly enjoyed our visit and the hostess was delightful but the fact is there was nothing typical about this apartment, which is why I have not included any photos.

For one, we entered off of the alley of the apartment instead of coming in through a courtyard. At the opposite end of the apartment we could see the doorway that exited through the courtyard but we did not use that doorway. The reason given was that when the 'lady' decided to open her home to foreign visitors, she didn't want to disturb her neighbors in the courtyard and so opened her apartment to the alleyway. Plus, by current standards, her apartment was very large for one person.

In the past, she had lived there with her mother and brother. Her brother moved on. Her mother died. She now lives there alone, with her poodle, and has taken down the walls which divided the apartment into several small rooms. Our hostess was a retired government worker and there is no doubt that her standard of living was higher than others in the hutong.

That aside, we were able to ask questions which 'the lady' graciously answered in Chinese for our guide to interpret. After enjoying a cup of tea, we reboarded our rickshaws for the rest of our tour.

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