Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hou Hai

We returned to Beijing in the morning and rather than waste the day, after a break , we decided to visit the Hou Hai, an area known for its hutongs, traditional houses that people still live in.

So we began this tour of this traditional area with the ancient custom of drinking Starbucks coffee. Yes, right at the start of Lotus Lane is a Starbucks.

Yet even with this slice of US commercialism, this is not an area just for tourists. Thousands of native Beijing-ers come here to ice skate and (something I have not seen before) ice-sled.

In fact, this whole Hou Hai area is an interesting mix of tourist attraction and local living. Visitors from all over take overpriced rickshaw rides to explore the neighborhoods of hutongs which is a labyrinth of ancient alleys and antique housing. At one time, these were the homes and courtyards of the nobles and merchant; now they are lived in by the less wealthy as they do not even have indoor plumbing (residents use public shared bathrooms). It's fascinating to me that people live in these homes at all; that what we photograph and stare at is some one's everyday home. It must be strange to have crowds of strangers gaping at your house all the time.

But I suppose they are used to it, as the area is full of several bars and restaurants. This bridge, the Silver Ingot Bridge, dates back from the 1200's; I bet the builders would never have expected to see the sights that surround it now:

like girls pushing for cotton candy,
or brides having photo shoots,
or an Asian-American tourist watching it all on the frozen water.

1 comment:

Tricia said...

I've been following along, but haven't been commenting. It's been so much fun to visit the places I've been with you. When we finished our tour of the hutongs, that very Starbucks was where I got a hot chocolate (before heading off to get my tattoo).

I'm so glad you're having such a good visit.