"Beijing Hutongs" Beijing Travelogue by Martialsk
Beijing Travel Guide: 6,598 reviews and 16,752 photos
We took part in a very touristy thing to do: picked up a bicycle rickshaw to take us into the Hutongs and even into someone's home to see how people in the Hutongs live. The rickshaw ride was quite terrifying actually - our driver had a penchant for overtaking when it really wasn't necessary or maybe he thought we might like the risk. Speed-junkie that I am prone to being when I am the one in control, I cannot say I was really appreciating the experience! The potholes were huge, his driving, laborious effort that it was, was just dreadful! We had a tendency to make a little noise during this experience...quite frankly, coming face to face with fast moving cars/ buses whilst trundling along at breakneck speed on the wrong side of the road in a ropey old rickshaw just wasn't doing it for me.
The Hutongs that they took us into were the 'posh' ones that had been tidied up for the 2008 Beijing Olympics - the houses here are worth quite a lot of money and most young people grow up and move into apartment blocks because they can't afford to stay here. Some are lucky enough to inherit property from their parents/ grandparents. Space is such a premium that to own a 'house' as we know it - one floor, maybe 2, even a small outdoor garden with table & chairs is such an extremely rare luxury. Incidentally, these are very small basic homes - maybe 2 bedrooms if you're lucky!
My friend and I, on our numerous walks around the city, had come across the 'real Hutong' - shanty towns and rough living. These are the people who can't afford rental apartments. Also, considering that there was one just near our hotel, we knew what the real one was like.
This was the entrance to the 'posh' hutong - a beautifully kept home that is open for tourists to stay - a bit like a B&B
Hutong is a narrow lane in Beijing that originated during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). "Hutong" is a Mongolian word apparently meaning "water well". Back in the day, people lived as close to water as possible thus creating these sprawling settlements - and judging by the fact that there are thousands of hutongs that surround the Forbidden City, it really was all about location.
In the past, it is said that Beijing was composed of countless courtyards. Hutongs were formed when people left a passageway between two courtyards to make entering & exiting more convenient
The back streets around the Forbidden City are riddled with little winding lanes that come across initially as a spiderweb of confusion. Apparently there is order to the chaos and hutongs, viewed from above, are said to resemble a chess-board - orderly and planned.
I'll believe it when I see it!
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