Life in the Hutong

September 22, 2008

Hutong 2

Central Beijing used to be filled with hutong—single story courtyard homes on narrow lanes. They started in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) but the current structures mostly date from the earlier part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Expansive compounds, where several branches of the same family had multiple courtyards have since been divided and subdivided into small, cramped apartments. The hutong neighborhoods are known for their communities and for their historic architecture.

They’re also known because the Beijing government is using eminent domain and razing large swaths of them in order to build fancy high rises in their quest to become a modern metropolis.

China watchers mourn the loss of Beijing’s old-world charm.

Lonely Planet: China (2008) says:

“Hutong may still be the stamping ground of a quarter of Beijing’s residents, but many are sadly being swept aside in Beijing’s race to manufacture a modern city of white tile high-rises. Marked with white plaques, historic homes are protected, but for many others a way of life hangs precariously in the balance… Old walled courtyards are the building blocks of this delightful world. Many are still lived in and hum with activity. From spring to autumn, men collect outside their gates, drinking beer, playing chess, smoking and chewing the fat. Inside, trees soar aloft, providing shade and a nesting ground for birds.”

It of course, glosses over the extreme (but picturesque!) poverty of the situation: Read the rest of this entry »

As sure as the sun will rise

August 9, 2007

When I moved several months ago, one of the major tasks I had to face was finding a place to live. While personal matters (living close to my significant other) were certainly the primary factor in my choice, I, like most people, considered a wide array of other issues as well. Things like the cost of rent, proximity to my new job and the grocery store, the neighborhood around where I live, and the lack or availability of particular amenities like air conditioning in the dwelling all factored into my decision.

While driving to work today, I realized that there was a hugely important consideration that I had entirely neglected, and which I suspect most other people entirely ignore when looking for a new home. Since I’ve moved, I have found that my commute to and from work has been notably less onerous than it used to be. This is strange to me, because my drive is not really any shorter than it ever was, and if anything, the traffic is worse. In spite of this, my whole experience is improved by the simple fact that I now live East of where I work.

Living to the east of my workplace is great because it means that when I am driving into work in the morning, I am heading West, with the rising sun at my back. In the evening, driving Eastward home, the setting sun is once again at my back. Prior to my move, the opposite was true.

Read the rest of this entry »