Beijing Stories and Tips

Hutong Exploration

National Day, 1999 Photo, Beijing, China

Away from the huge and overwhelming main streets of Beijing lies the narrow hutongs, or alleyways, where the population has traditionally lived. While many of them are now being demolished to make way for high rise apartment blocks, there are still pockets where you can walk, bike, and soak up the atmosphere.

We wandered through hutongs on our way between Jingshan Park and Beihai Park. Stalls lined the road. At one, which was little more than a freezer placed by the side of the road, we bought icecream blocks. They were mung bean, pale green with a grainy texture and a pleasant not-too-sweet taste. We stopped for lunch at a small family run restaurant, ordering boiled dumplings, or jiaozi (jowser). They were a bargain at Y3 for 100g and quite similar to Italian ravioli or tortellini. We each chose a different filling - pork and egg, pork and spring onion, bean and fruit. They were served all jumbled together in two bowls. We ate them using chopsticks and spoons and doused them liberally with rice vinegar. After lunch Yuan bought us all peaches from another stall. These were quite different to the peaches I was used to (and much nicer!). They were firm and crisp, not too sweet and not so sticky. We ate them as we walked up to the entrance of Beihai Park.

Another time, I wandered through hutongs near the Shisha lakes, just north of Beihai Park. I had come to the area in the hope of visiting Prince Gong’s Palace, residence of the last Qing emperor’s father, and Song Qingling’s (the wife of Sun Yatsen) Residence, but both were closed due to National Day. Instead, I walked around the lake and made my way slowly south towards the city centre through the alleyways. I saw men fishing in the canals and the lake itself. Almost every house had a Chinese flag outside to show their patriotism. As I got closer to the city centre, I began to see more and more people slowly making their way north. I guessed that many of them had been involved in the National Day Parade. There were lots of busses lined up near Beihai Park (presumably for those participants who lived in the outer regions of Beijing) and many of the children I saw were dressed in all manner of costume or uniform.

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