A couple of weeks ago my classmates and I spent a saturday exploring Beijing hutongs. Hutongs are the remnants of the traditional housing of China. They are alleyways with stone courtyard houses and communal bathrooms. The city of Beijing used to be a city made up of hutongs, but for the sake of urban planning, most have been demolished. The hutongs are very similar to the Korean traditional wooden Buchkon village, except they are made of stone and are not as… well taken care of. On the bus ride to the hutongs Marketus had a conversation with us about how China is notorious for not taking care of their historical sites compared to other Asian countries like Japan and Korea. Walking around the hutongs I was shocked at the amount of garbage and rubble compared to the Korean Buchkon village that was beautiful and pristine. In Korea, Monica told me that you had to be super rich to have a Buchkon house, but it seemed as if everyone living in the hutongs we visited did not have much money.
Our tour started off in Hohai, a nice restaurant/bar area surrounding a large frozen lake. We all decided we definitely wanted to come back when it was warm and maybe rent some tandem bikes (or three person bikes!!!). Once we reached the hutongs we all paired up and hopped on rickshaw bicycles for a tour of the hutongs. After our bike tour we went to a hutong where a woman had prepared lunch for us in her own home. She set up lunch in the bedroom by putting two large folding tables inside. Some of the items in the lunch were very interesting, such as the thousand year old eggs(!!) which are eggs soaked in lime juice for a couple of months. The whites of the egg were brown and the yolk was a weird green color. Nate and I were the only ones at my table that would dare eat any and we both had two! My favorite part of the lunch was the fresh tomatoes which I had been missing!!!! I ate pretty much the whole plate of them. Sorry, I’m not sorry.
It turns out the woman who made us the lunch is retired, and she makes lunch for tourists so she can meet people from all over the world. She had never left China and said that cooking for us is her way of learning about the world. She told us that the government owned her hutong and subsidized her housing so that it was very, very inexpensive.
After lunch the woman taught us how to make jiaozi (dumplings). We all had fun attempting to make our jiaozi look pretty- some were definitely better than others. After our hutong lunch/jiaozi making attempt we ran into a little girl playing soccer with her grandpa. A couple of us joined in and it was one of the cutest, funniest things I’ve ever seen.
After our soccer game we went to see a traditional courtyard. I was expecting something like the courtyard house Monica and I visited in the Korean Buchkon Village and I was very mistaken. The courtyard was full of rubble and trash, mainly because they were renovating one of the buildings. I was absolutely shocked at the difference between the Korean courtyard and the Chinese one. If you go back to my Plumpricotts and Hannah Montana post (http://adventuresaroundasia.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/plumpricots-and-hannah-montana/) you can see the pictures and compare them to the slideshow below.
After our hutong excursion we were walking around the Hohai lake and saw many Chinese people walking around on the frozen lake. We then decided that we would join them! We all climbed down onto the lake and had fun sliding around. It was my first time ever standing on a frozen body of water! We even saw people ice fishing and a dog running around!
After running around on the frozen lake we all went to another hutong that had been developed into a shopping street. After wandering around for an hour or so, we decided to walk back through residential hutongs. It was a very interesting experience seeing a completely non-touristy hutong and smelling the communal bathroom stench. I really could not imagine living there but so many people do!
Overall it was a really enjoyable experience and if you come to Beijing I would definitely recommend a trip to Hohai and the hutongs.