Last week a few friends and I decided that we had not done enough exploring since arriving in Beijing. I think that this may be a common feeling about one month into an abroad semester. You have this sudden realization that time is flying past you way faster than you ever thought possible. Then, you notice that you have just been trying to get into a rhythm and feel comforatable with where you are. This attempt to find some structure has distracted you from that initial adventurous spirit!
In light of our realization (interruption if you will), we decided to hop on the subway with little direction in mind. We knew we wanted to stop near the Lama Temple, but we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do. We left the subway at Andingmen station and walked towards the Lama Temple. After a quick discussion, we decided not to pay the 20 RMB to get in–we wanted to explore a bit more. About 50 feet past the Lama Temple we saw a sign for a hutong, we dove right in. THe hutongs in Beijing are these neighborhoods created by courtyard homes that make alley ways between them. They are mostly very old and are dissapearing quickly as Beijing becomes a modern city.
I couldn’t help but notice how different it was back in the hutongs. The loud noise of busses and cars suddenly stopped. I couldn’t believe I was in Beijing. The homes were completely unique and unlike anything I’ve seen. Pearing into doors gave an interesting look into what a Beijing hutong home is like.
We did get a handful of stares and smiles as we walked. Americans stand out in Beijing as it is, but we really stand out in the hutongs! One thing that certainly didn’t change was the smell. Most hutongs utilize shared public bathrooms. Beijing’s sanitation system has not been perfected yet, thus, every so often certain corners would have a recognizably pungent odor. But it really didn’t bother me. I was fascinated by the difference between the the hutongs and the modern city.
We eventually found a hostel within the hutongs where we met five young men from Scottland on a four month trip around the world. They hadn’t been in Beijing long, so we gave them some tips on places to go. Their number one priority was finding a place to watch some football (soccer).
After leaving the hutongs, we paid a short visit to the Confucious temple down the streat. The temple itself was beautiful, but we found some funny signs as we walked around.
Our day in the hutongs was great. We are now planning all sorts of adventures around the and outside of Beijing. This weekend I think we are headed to Pingyao–a city that is renowned for its ancient architecture.