Why living in a Hutong in Beijing is the most amazing and fulfilling experience ever!
On July 22nd – a month ago, I moved out from my dorm at BNU. Classes finished so I couldn’t stay there any longer. I needed to find a place to stay during the rest of the summer.
After many days without looking for apartments (sometimes I am a good procastinator) and with only 10 days before having to leave my dorm at uni, I found on thebeijinger.com a rental ad that caught my eye: “Room available in Hutong”.
For those who don’t know what a Hutong is, Hutongs 胡同 are narrow alleys built all around the Forbidden City and the city centre. They were built during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Hutongs have courtyards and, in the past, most of them didn’t have toilets, this is why if we wonder around these areas, it is very common to find public toilets. Nowadays many Hutongs have been demolished, while some of them are protected as Beijing’s Cultural Heritage.
So what could be the best way to enjoy the most real side of Beijing? Moving into a Hutong of course!
The neighbourhood couldn’t be better: between Lama Temple 雍和宫 and Beixinqiao北新桥 metro stations. This location guarantees a lively atmosphere 24/7 –Lama Temple is one of the most touristic temples in Beijing (and one of my favourite so far!). All around the Hutong, restaurants and shops make up 80% of the area, mainly in the streets of Dongzhimenneidajie东直门内大街, where bright red lights decorate the façade of the restaurants and Guloudongdajie鼓楼东大街, where we can find many clothes shops. One of the perpendicular streets to the latter is the touristic Nanluoguxiang南锣鼓巷 Hutong, full of food and beverage and clothes stores.
Finally, on the opposite side of the road of Lama Temple, there is the Wudaoying Hutong 五道营胡同, a “chic” Hutong with many bars, coffee shops and restaurants.
I ended up renting the room and sharing the apartment with 2 girls: Beata from Poland and Sophie, from China. They are very open-minded and easy-going, perfect roommates!
We recently have incorporated 5 new tenants to our building living on the ground floor -although today there is only 1…
Our new neighbours at the ground floor. They tried to fly too early…now there is only 1
Living in the Hutong is awesome and especially is authentic! My apartment is located on one side of the main street, Beixinqiaosantiao北新桥三条. Streets full of outdoor restaurants’ terraces, fruit shops, the butcher shop, the fish market and some greengrocers. All of them have all their products outside for the passersby to see.
Views from my bedroom. It is the backstreet of the Beixinqiaosantiao北新桥三条 Hutong.
Every morning at 8 am when I am heading to the office, I get to see the awakening of the Hutong: restaurants and shops receive their fresh products -special mention to the seafood restaurant of the corner of my house, where workers use a hose to clean oysters and other seafood for the day.
While some people get started with the new day, others are cleaning the mess of the previous night: as far as I know and based on my experience here, I believe many restaurants -at this Hutong 100% of the restaurants, hire an external cleaning service to deal with silverware. What they do is to stock all the dirty silverware of the day in green plastic containers that are placed outside of each restaurant at night. The next morning, the external cleaning service pick them up and replace them with clean ones that are packed in sets. Each set contains a small glass, a bowl, a spoon and a plate.
I keep walking along the street to find the usual people: old ladies talking outside their houses or shops, the Hutong sewing man, who is always sewing seating on the stairs of his shop entrance, the garbage men, the dumpling factory’ delivery man getting ready, people going to work, and all the morning people already bargaining fruit and vegetables.
The fish shop is a complete shock for me, I have never seen something similar -not that I am always walking around fish markets…
They have raw fish (dead and half alive) on containers with some water on them outside of the shop. Next to the fish they also have a green nest full of big and ugly toads, thanks God I have never run into one of them jumping around!!
Fruit and vegetables are always fresh and very appealing, especially the tomatoes that are also very cheap!
The evening after work is my preferred moment of the day to wonder around the Hutong: restaurants are full of local people chatting very animatedly-although there are always some Expats’ groups having dinner as well. Everybody is on the streets and the environment is pure happiness and relax. As I am heading home, I can’t stop staring at people’s food. Everything smells and looks delicious. My favourite restaurant: the one serving the BBQ-style leg of lamb. It is a MUST!
The lights outside of the restaurants, the smell of the food, the noise of people chatting and having enjoyable moments, cars trying to go along the narrow streets, sometimes people at restaurants have to move aside their chairs so cars can fit it, but generally speaking, how humble and relax people are around here, makes me feel like at home, reasons why this Hutong is my favorite place in the city.
And this is how my experience in Beijing ends up. New direction: Shenzhen!