Saturday, 21 May 2011

Hutong story

The hutongs in Beijing are basically the side streets off main roads (The only think I can compare to is the streets running off Park Road or Smithdown in Liverpool).  They often form mazes of tight little alleys and you can become lost and disorientated pretty quickly. That said, you never feel threatened in them as you would in Western cities, unfamiliar to you. And, before long you will bump into some old fellas in vests sat outside their house, or shop (of a sort), who will point you in the right direction - once they have worked out what on earth you are trying to say.

The hutongs, often built up over centuries, have nurtured communities, and incorporate pretty much every domestic function you can think off. So, often you will have to duck under drying washing, or dodge children playing or someone sat chopping vegetables. In addition, it's not unusual to be engulfed in the smoke of someone barbecuing meat or other foods. My friend recently took me to a hutong he was born in and lived in, until 2006. Since then the authorities have demolished most of the area as part of a redevelopment programme. The area is just off Tiannimen Square, and although derelict now, it will probably soon become land occupied by the Chinese Nouveau Riche. Sad as this is, it is a common phenomena in the life cycle of any city. Take New York (Brooklyn,  Lower East etc) or  London (Notting Hill, now Hackney), etc. You can find examples of this kind of gentrification and juxtaposition pretty much everywhere. For Beijing,  I hope the uniqueness of the hutongs is not lost in the drive for development and modernity. It would be a great loss indeed.

Anyway, here are some pictures of Trevor's disappearing hutong:

This is the street number. Just about hanging on amidst the winds of change...

Behind the facade, there were trees growing in the "once was" cafe. Unlikely to get a beer there now!

An eary stillness prevails. I wonder how many times those steps have been climbed and if they ever will be again...

A typical doorway. I loved the heels hanging on the line in this particular one. To dry maybe?

A bit of coulour always brightens the place up.

Another thing, widespread in the hutongs is the communal toilet. You can see the sign at the bottom of the path directing you to this one. I have to say they are one of my least favourite features of hutong. Some may argue they just add to the sense of the community... 

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