Hutong Life in Beijing

Rickshaw drivers pedal tourists through one of the disappearing hutongs of Beijing.

Rickshaw drivers pedal tourists through one of the disappearing hutongs of Beijing.

I explored a few of the hutong neighborhoods in the area bordering the Forbidden City , eschewing the persistent entreaties of the rickshaw drivers that I could have an “Obama friend discount, 3 CNY!” (the cost of a non-Obama friend rickshaw ride is also 3 CNY). I like to walk, or, more accurately, wander. It’s how I get to know a little bit about a place. A bus, or taxi, or bike, or even rickshaw ride blurs the scene and doesn’t permit me to focus on the little things, the details that make a place.

In Shanghai, I have been reluctant to enter the alleys behind the Shikumen  buildings that comprise the traditional Chinese neighborhoods; Perhaps it is the guards that are sitting by the gates, or just my view of myself as a laowai; I’ve skirted them, but not entered them directly. In Beijing, the hutongs are part of the tourist map with rickshaw drivers pedaling their mostly Chinese tourists through these narrow alleys. On foot, I was able to go my own way, turning down this side alley and that side alley, getting lost in the narrow maze ending in dead end siheyuan .

It's almost 3 pm and parents wait outside a grade school for the dismissal bell to ring.

It’s almost 3 pm and parents wait outside a grade school for the dismissal bell to ring.

I was rewarded with the everyday life of a Beijinger: a tailor repairing a garment in a shop no larger than most closets, a cobbler fixing a shoe as he sat with the shoes owner smoking cigarettes together, a worker pushing a cart loaded with sand, an elderly man walking home from market with a couple of sacks of vegetables, a knife sharpener pushing his bike and clanging his bell, shooting his presence to residents in need of his services, men gambling on a street-corner card game, parents waiting for their children to be dismissed by the afternoon school bell.

Women return from market while men smoke and play cards

Women return from market while men smoke and play cards

The houses are different from the places that I have lived, but the people are the  same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s