FInding such hutongs is a real key to discovering traditional lifestyle of Beijing.
Every hutong is a story itself. Every hutong street hides road to another street, to door of another courtyard, hidden temple and to old locals. It is best to enter hutong randomly and continue dwelling around wherever road takes you. For me dwelling through hutongs is really magical and spountaneous thing.
Hutong experience of real hutong June 2013- Between Jingshan and Shichihai
When I walked from Beihai to Jingshan and from Jingshan to Shichihai I passed through real unchanged hutongs. They were not commercialized hutongs like those which I mentioned previously. There were no clothes or souvenir shops, no McDonalds and no bars. They weren’t overcrowded by people, customers or tourists which were taking photos of everything. These streets were calm with only 2 food shops. Old lifestyle was present here. Few bicycle drivers passed next to me. Many of bikes were parked near gates. Gates were red some of them even faded and very old. Some of gates on both sides were decorated with 2 red typical Chinese lanterns. Few gates were open and inside were visible flowers and smaller trees in inner gardens of hutong houses. In one of inner gardens I saw old man who was sitting alone and playing erhu, ancient Chinese traditional instrument.
Through other opened gates were visible people doing some house and garden works. Gardening for Chinese people who live in hutongs is important hobby and way of life. In front of one gate was fixer of bikes in old faded clothes and was repairing wheel of one bicycle, working hard and sweating to earn money for his family. Houses here were grey with a bit dilapidated facades, but it is point. They should look like ordinary, like 100-150 ago. One street seller of fruits when we were buying bananas was friendly towards us. On few corners were groups of neighbors eating noodles and drinking Yanjing beer. I saw very friendly relations among people living in hutongs- eating together on streets, playing Chinese chess and everyone speaking and smiling to everyone. Simply their close relations were reminding me on friendliness and close ties among people living in villages in Serbia. That’s how life in old China looks like, those who will see it here they can conclude same as me. I was happy when I saw that old lifestyle and China which I remember didn’t die. I hope old lifestyle in this area will never die, that this area will never be changed and that these hutongs wont experience commercialization, opening of clothes shops, crowds, big attention of tourists, or in another case that all area will be completely destroyed and replaced by some modern shopping center or skyscrapers. That was destiny to many hutongs. I heard few times from some Chinese friends that this area is protected from any changes by state authorities. Old life style is more rare and rare. It is fading like walls of hutongs but still exists and will exist.
Wandering just around- Lost in hutong June 2015- Between Beihai and Shichihai
It was late afternoon.fter visit of Beihai park I wanted to reach commercialized hutongs at shore of Shichihai lake to buy some souvenirs and have dinner there. I crossed the street towards hutongs knowing direction of Shichihai. I didn’t want to look at map but I have said I will go randomly and let the spirit of hutongs to bring me to lake wherever and whenever. So adventure started. Already street was tight and with a lot of dusty and faded facades. I was passing further. At beginning there were quite a lot of visitors and rickshaw drivers passing every second. Many motorbikes passed too and occasionally some car so I had to pay attention in order not to be hit by car, motorbike or rickshaw. I passed next to tall red wall and gate on which was written Prince Gong Mansion. It is famous palace and garden that dates from end of 18th century. It was closed already since it is open until 5pm. I have never been there but I plan to visit it once. You see how hutongs bring you to unexpected places.
As I was advancing deeper there were less and less people who were also passing through hutongs. There would occasionally pass one or two bicycles or one rickshaw that would beep in order to pass faster since streets were becoming tighter. 3 young Chinese guys were passing in same direction as I did. Occassionally one or two restaurants would appear with not many people in them. In front of one courtyard there were two older ladies speaking and laughing while small children were playing in courtyard. Streets were so tight that you had to stick to walls when bicycle appeared. Smell of garlic, cooked noodles and baked buns was felt intensively from several directions. In common courtyard kitchen I saw few people cooking together and speaking loudly. It seems it was dinner time in hutongs. One old man without t shirt and barefoot was sitting on small chair in front of courtyard and cooling with simple fan. Behind in courtyard was one tree with wooden cage in which thrush was happily singing. Old man seemed patient, kind and happy with simple things. Few children run through street chasing cats. In front of several courtyards there were small wooden tables around which were sitting many neighbors drinking tea or beer, speaking loudly and playing chess. Behind them few were standing and watching game and commenting few times. More and more it started to remind on labyrinth since from every direction were hutong streets appearing. Simply there are too many streets and too little time for each of them. I was randomly choosing streets instinctively hoping to reach lake. As further I was approaching in every street were groups of neighbors, few tables, few cages with birds and of course chess. In one or two courtyards I saw through half opened doors few people doing Tai Chi.
I already started to think whether I am going to right direction. I felt partially lost. 20-30meters in front of me I saw two women standing in pijamas and slippers and eating peaches while their dogs which seemed unpredictable since they barked were running a lot around. At the end of that street were two directions. I turned back and saw policeman passing by motorbike. He continued forward and I started to follow him. When we passed dogs I asked him where is the lake. He pointed to the left. In less then one minute I appeared in crowded commercialized and restored hutong next to the lake. All this happened in about 30min of time. 30 minutes can really enrich you a lot and raise your adrenaline even. I got it hutongs are amazing and real adventure. When it seems you are far from the aim just look behind a corner and you will be there.
Discovering temple- June 2013 next to Shichihai
It was last morning in Beijing in 2013 me and my family headed around old hutongs of Drum and Bell Tower towards Shichihai lake. It was so beautiful and calm. People were sitting on chairs in front of doors, speaking to neighbors… Old group of people were smoking pipes next to lake. They had long white beards and were old as hutongs. We were searching for one temple which we visited once in 2001. After 20minutes of wandering through hutongs which seem similar we noticed the temple. It is Guanghua Temple one of oldest in Beijing. Hutong temples are very interesting, silent and much more mysterious since they are not overcrowded like Yonghe Temple or some other most famous temples. I definitely recommend you to choose your hutong and discover as much as possible of it!!!