Monday, October 18, 2010

Life in the hutongs

When I lived in Beijing, I spent a lot of time exploring the hutongs on foot and by bicycle. It was a way of life that fascinated me, though I wouldn't want to live like that. While the hutongs are picturesque, most of the homes there don't have indoor toilets, which is why you'll see public toilets on almost every block.

But as Beijing upgrades and modernizes itself, the hutongs are giving way to tree-lined avenues and high-rise office and apartment buildings. There are some hutongs left in central Beijing but just how much longer they'll remain is any one's guess.

One of the things I wanted to do this trip was walk from Dazhalen, south of Tiananmen Square, to Liulichang, a walk through the hutongs I'd taken many times in the past. When we got to Qianman the McDonald's was gone as were all those neat little food stands we used to buy snacks at. They were replaced by a park and a multi-lane boulevard dividing the area. We did not do the planned walk.

With so much going on in Beijing right now, the hutongs remain my lifeline to a bygone era. Two years ago,we stayed at a hotel on Guloudongdajie, not too far from the Drum Tower. The location was great but the hotel was pretty bad. We gave the area another try this time and stayed in the Beijing Hutong Culture Inn which is tucked away in the hutongs around Gulou. It's a budget hotel that was very clean and with friendly staff that spoke good English. At first we weren't particularly fond of it because it was very difficult to find, but after we discovered a good route out of it, we thought it was a great place. I would get up early every morning and spend an hour or so just wandering through the neighborhood, shooting pictures and eating freshly made youtiao -- a greasy, but delicious, fried breakdstick.

If the hutongs are still around the next time we go to Beijing, we'll stay at the Beijing Hutong Culture Inn again. I've reviewed the hotel more in depth here.

Going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please check out my website and feel free to email me with any questions you have. If you're looking for guidebooks that show Beijing from a different perspective, check out Cheryl's Guides.

No comments: