|Subject: Re: Beijing hutongs|
We visited a Beijing hutong in 1997. We signed up for the tour
through the hotel and it included being driven around in a carriage
attached to a bicycle ridden by a young man. We did some walking.
The hutongs are fascinating artifacts of old Chinese culture but they are fast disappearing as the Chinese government destroys everything in sight to prepare for the Olympic Games. I understand there wlll be a few select ones retained for tourism purposes. The government is embarrassed by them because they house the poor and usually the residents share a communal bathroom. But the Chinese people often view them as integral to their culture of sharing and of neighbourhood responsibility.
Our tour included a visit to a home (a "show" home, I suspect) that was chock-a-block with furniture including bureaux sitting on top of tables and the residents proudly pointed out the television sitting on the very top. We wondered if the television was only a showpiece. Cooking was done in an inner courtyard, where there were cages of rabbits - upcoming dinners no doubt. Cooking outside in the cold Beijing winters can't be fun. The history of the hutongs is fascinating and little tidbits of information, such as the height of the doors and stoops which denote status, provided us with some insight into an old way of life. We saw this distinction repeated in the rooms of the Forbidden City where the highest doors and stoops gave access to the Emperor's quarters.
The residents did not speak English though our tour guide was fluent. The tour included a stop in a tea house, an impromptu visit to a small theatre where the players were rehearsing an opera and a climb to the top of a very old tower. Our guide proudly showed us the new McDonalds that had been built across from the tower and the surrounding highrises which meant progress. I'd highly recommend a hutong tour, but Ziners better hurry before they disappear. Lucy, Toronto