Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hutong Life in Beijing

Beijing is a city that has modernized at an incredible speed, and is mostly covered in huge tall buildings filled with offices, apartments, and shopping. When I did my research about areas to stay while we visited Beijing, I wanted to stay near the hutongs, which are the remnants of old Beijing. Hutongs are narrow alleyways and streets lined by old-school courtyards and little houses. They are cramped and quaint, and I loved them.

See how cute this little doorways and alleyways are? 

Actually, that photo is from a neighborhood that was written about in the New York Times this week. It's called Gulou, and it's centered around these 700 year old massive brick towers, the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. They're north of the Forbidden city and they were used to keep track of the time.  Now, though, the hutong surrounding the towers are slated to be demolished, which is the fate of most of the hutong neighborhoods in the city. Only a few are left.

I love Gulou, which has a few streets of trendy little cafes and restaurants, and then the usual alleyways and homes.

It rained most of the day, and my new travel sandals immediately gave me blisters. We stopped at a little corner store and I bought red plastic Hello Kitty flip flops. Aren't I classy?

Bell Tower... explained in the usual profound English....

These rickshaws had people hiding in them from the rain:

I found more photos of the neighborhood on flikr, so these are not mine - click on them to get to the photographer. These little silver vehicles always evoked the image of the silver street food trucks in Chicago, but in China they're just little taxis.


Gulou from Zhonglou

Zhonglou from Gulou

I was surprised how often I saw people playing mahjohng - in shops, restaurants, on the streets, in meat stalls, on front porches...  I thought it was cliche to think the Chinese play mahjohng all the time, but I was wrong. :)

Beijing, Gulou Area

All the little shops had these little clay cups covered in plastic that people would buy, stick a straw into, drink, and then leave. I guess they were reused?

So, Isaac and I decided to find out what they were. Turns out they're a barely-sweetened yogurt drink that tasted like the homemade yogurt my mom used to make.

We found a cute little cafe and stopped to get out of the rain. Isaac, after two weeks isolated in rural China, was desperate for all things Western. He ordered a macchiato and chocolate cake. I, only the other hand, enjoyed some rose tea.

Well, it may not be overly Chinese, except the the rose tea, but it was such a fun afternoon exploring corners of Beijing together.


Camels & Chocolate said...

Ooh I'm loving all the doorway shots! There's something so iconic Chinese about them. Thanks for the blog comment so I could hear over here and discover your wonderful space!

mamaayanna said...

I have not been around in blogging world much... and when I stopped here on your blog I was so suprised to see these Bejing photos! How lovely. I feel I traveled a little this morning just by looking at them. Thanks!