Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Taking the heat in the Hutong ...

Welcome to the China - where (unlike the rest of Asia) a massage really does appear to be a massage - yet a good proportion of barber shops seem to be engaging openly in prostitution.

Contemplating a whole new meaning to the expression "cut & blow", but with little personal risk of inadvertedly being drawn into the sex trade, I set off in the 40 degree heat to inspect our new locale for our week in Beijing, the historic Banchang Hutong.

Hutongs are areas of low rise traditional housing, originally established during times of Mongol rule. Each Hutong, or street, is lined with entrances to a maze of alleyways and courtyards containing individual residences. Even today many of these houses have no running water or sanitation, relying instead on a network of public toilet/shower blocks found every 100 metres or so.

In the area around our hotel (thankfully with running water) I found a heady mix of old and new Beijing - locals playing cards and board games in the street, hole in the wall skewer BBQ's - mixed in with a new wave of cool bars and eateries catering to the afterwork crowd and tourists in equal measure.

While they enjoy their rightful place in China's line-up of tourist attractions - the Hutongs are in rapid decline, making way for the faceless tower blocks which accompany Beijing's rush to modernise - before the city becomes the focus of the worlds attention during next years Olympic Games.

With it's rickshaw tours of historic buildings and new ecomony of cool bars and restaurants, perhaps Banchang will stand a better chance of survival than most. One thing's for sure, even for those that escape the bulldozer - things are changing fast.

We found the best way of getting around Beijing was to escape the traffic jams by doing as the locals do. Taking to 2 wheels we explored the city by bike, hitting some of the city's must see sights like the Forbidden City and Tianammen Square. You can catch all the photos by clicking here.

Most remarkable of all was some of the food - but I think I'll leave that for another post ...

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