Day By Day

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Return to China -- Part 7, the Hutong

Our next visit was to a "hutong", a kind of neighborhood peculiar to Beijing. The word, hutong, is thought to be of Mongolian origin and referred to a group of houses that grew up around a common well. Today it refers to neighborhoods in which groups of conjoined courtyard residences are separated by long, narrow alleys. At one time these hutong neighborhoods were extremely common, especially in the areas near the Forbidden City, but in recent years many of them have been demolished to make way for public works and high rise apartments. The area we visited is one that has been marked by the government for historic preservation and is in the process of being renovated as a tourist attraction.

Here's a picture of a hutong alley. As you can see there is a lot of construction going on as the area is prettified to serve as a tourist destination. You can also see why it is impractical to bring a tour bus into the neighborhood.

Fortunately these guys were available.

So we climbed into rickshaws for a quick trip through the hutongs.

Eventually we disembarked from our rickshaws and walked a final few blocks to our destination -- one of the courtyard dwellings where we would see how people lived in the hutong. This was a treat for me. After listening to the owner of the building, which consisted of several rooms ranged around a central courtyard, talk about his family, I had plenty of time to just wander around and photograph whatever caught my eye.

Like these gourds hanging in the courtyard,

Or this bird cage hanging nearby,

Or this vine hanging above where I was sitting,

Or these roof tiles,

Or these goldfish -- I suspect that visitors were supposed to take the hint and drop some coins into the jar.

Or this abacus hanging on the wall of one of the family rooms,

Or this delightful young woman. She is a videographer hired by the tour company to travel with us for a while and record our experiences. Later she produced a nice little film and sold DVDs of it to some of the members of our group.

Then it was back onto the rickshaws for a short trip to..., you guessed it -- yet another shopping opportunity.

No comments: