What are Hutongs?
In Beijing, Hutongs are formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences, called siheyuan. Neighbourhoods were formed by joining many hutongs together. These siheyuans are the traditional residences, usually occupied by a single or extended family, signifying wealth, and prosperity.
Over 500 of these still exist. Many of these hutongs have been demolished, but recently they have become protected places as a means of preserving some Chinese cultural history. They were first established in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) Many of these Hutongs had their main buildings and gates built facing south, and lanes connecting them to other hutongs also ran north to south.
Many hutongs, some several hundred years old, in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Drum Tower and Shichahai Lake are preserved and abound with tourists, many of which tour the quarter in pedicabs.
The optional tour also includes a visit to Shichahai, a historic scenic area consisting of three lakes (Qianhai, meaning Front Sea; Houhai, meaning Back Sea and Xihai, meaning West Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty and remnants of old-style local residences, Hutong and Courtyard.
First, we had a short walk through the more modern part of the Hutong area and were given some free time for shopping, but we prefer just to meander by the canal.
There is a lake, and if we had the time, there were boats you could take.
With some time to spare, we take a quick walk down one of the alleyways where on the ground level are small shops, and above, living quarters.
Then we go to the bell and drum towers before walking through some more alleys was to where the rickshaws were waiting.
The Bell tower
And the Drum tower. Both still working today.
The rickshaw ride took us through some more back streets where it was clear renovations were being made so that the area could apply for a world heritage listing. Seeing inside some of the houses shows that they may look dumpy outside but that’s not the case inside.
The rickshaw ride ends outside the house where dinner will be served, and is a not-so-typical house but does have all the elements of how the Chinese live, the boy’s room, the girl’s room, the parent’s room, the living area, and the North-south feng shui.
Shortly after we arrive, the cricket man, apparently someone quite famous in Beijing arrives and tells us all about crickets and then grasshoppers, then about cricket racing. He is animated and clearly enjoys entertaining us, westerners.
I’m sorry but the cricket stuff just didn’t interest me. Or the grasshoppers.
As for dinner, it was finally a treat to eat what the typical Chinese family eats, and everything was delicious, and the endless beer was a nice touch.
And the last surprise, the food was cooked by a man.