Due to just having arrived back in Beijing from a 3 week holiday back home in Gibraltar, I was a little jet lagged. I hadn't helped matters either by sleeping during the day instead if keeping awake till night time! So as the sun came up somewhere between 430 and 500am this morning and the day looked like it was going to be beautiful, I decided to go for a bike ride to one of my favourite areas in Beijing, Hou Hai. Camera in hand, I was ready!
So the next few tips are more a travelogue of Beijing from 6am to 8pm on July 21st 2006!
They will be in themes, with this one being the ' hustle and bustle of morning breakfast buying!'
I hope you enjoy reading and seeing the photos as much as I did seeing it first hand and experiencing a beautiful Beijing morning!
The photos below are the ones taken during our own exploration in a traditional residential area, which would be demolished soon.
We had the greatest time chatting with local people, knowing their current life and their concerns after their houses to be demolished, to make room for an expanded CBD.
One of the unique features of Beijing is its numerous Hutongs which means small lanes. The life of ordinary people in these lanes contributes greatly to the charm of this ancient capital. In these small lanes, you'll find many siheyuan, or quadrangles which are the living quarters of ordinary Beijingers. No one knows exactly how many lanes there are in Beijing which has been China's capital for five dynasties. But one thing is certain, if we connected all these lanes, their total length would be longer than the famous Great Wall, which is more than 6,000 kilometer' long.
The word "Hutong" is said to originate from the Mongolian language which is one of China's minority language. It means a passage between rows of Siheyuan courtyard house, the traditional residence of Beijingers, each consisting of rectangle courtyard surrounded by one-storeyed tile-roofed houses, usually one to six meters wide, hutongs are where life was going on for the last 700 years since they first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
A day tour through hutongs gives you fresh insight into Beijing's local life.
* Start from the north entrance to Beihai Park by old-fashioned pedicab to the picturesque Shishahai Lake area.
* Visit Gu Lou, the Drum Tower, where visitors will enjoy a bird's eye view of the old city.
* Visit the neighbourhood in the rear Shishahai Lake area and walk in hutongs to drop in one or two courtyard- style homes and, if arranged, meal with a family.
* Visit the mansion and garden of Prince Gong of the Qing Dynasty.
Rickshaw Hutong tour. A chance to see how people lived and the added bonus of getting to meet a family and enter a private hutong. Hutongs consist of four (north, east, south, and west) buildings with a courtyard in the center. The ride is also a great change of pace from all the walking you'll do in Beijing!
If you take the subway from Tiananmen Square and drive 3 Stations to west direction and there you walk south you will find this Muslim Village which I think is very interessting...
The people are very friendly
The following 20 or so photos shows part of the traditional residential area, Hutong area.
The first 14 photos were taken during a guided tour, while the last few, our own 'exploration'.
If you really want to get to know China, get yourself lost in the streets there. Around Beijing wander through the hutongs - they're disappearing fast. You'll see the old men out playing ma jong and chinese chess and maybe with their crickets. You'll see the kids out playing and smell dinners cooking. People are bound to stop and talk to you and will be happy that you wanted to see their lifestyle. My favorite areas are near the Qianmen market (by Tiananmen), next to the Forbidden City, and by the old bell tower.
Around the Forbidden City you can find a very quiet area with nice channels and old buildings, that reminds sometimes to Venice and its channels. It's a nice walk around after the rushing ambiance of the rest of the town.
A hutong is an ancient city alley or lane typical in Beijing, where hutongs run into the several thousand. Surrounding the Forbidden City, many were built during the Yuan (1206-1341), Ming(1368-1628) and Qing(1644-1908) dynasties. In the prime of these dynasties the emperors, in order to establish supreme power for themselves, planned the city and arranged the residential areas according to the etiquette systems of the Zhou Dynasty.
A TOUR OF THE 'HUTONG' (small avenue)
Nowadays, there are organized tours of Beijing hutongs for foreign tourists.
You can make reservation at the Beijing Hutong Culture Development Company, or buy at your own hotel.
You will be taken by pedicab (a tricycle cab),which was very common to the old days to see the Bell and Drum Towers, one or two former palaces of the imperial princes, some interesting hutongs and even to pay a visit to an ordinary Beijing family in the compound houses.
If you are there at a meat time, you may be invited to a family 'banquet' with local dishes.
SI HE YUAN
Traditionally most urban Chinese used to live in quadrangles called siheyuan or 'four-side enclosed courtyards.' These courts, as the name implies, are formed by inward-facing houses on four sides, closed in by enclosure walls.
Not only residences but ancient palaces, government offices, temples and monasteries were built basically on the pattern of the siheyuan, a common feature of traditional Chinese architecture.
We walked around the old back lanes called Futong. Since each house has a wall at the entrance, we could not see the inner situation of the house. They are made of bricks and cement and looked very old. Most of them are decaying gradually, so they are replacing a new building in many areas.
For visitors looking for a fun way to experience Beijing's hutong, you should consider doing a motorcycle sidecar tour. I know someone who recently started a company called Peking-Around (www.peking-around.com) that does small tours and can cater to your needs. Motorcycles can swiftly squeeze into little-seen areas of the city, not to mention race past Beijing's gridlocked traffic. The company does small tours with local ex-pat guides and can cater to your needs! You can read more about it at www.peking-around.com
Great experience... you get to know how the chinese really live in their hutongs...
Highly interesting, but arrange a price before starting.