Big news this week everybody…I have just moved into a Hutong complex in the suburb of Beixinqiao in inner Beijing! This is a huge change from where I was previously living out in West Beijing… I’m still discovering my new suburb of Beixinqiao and the larger district of Dongcheng and I thought I’d write about what my life is like in my new home. So without further adieu, here goes..
What is a Hutong?
A hutong translates as a ‘water well’ and is a type of alley way found in northern Chinese cities, particularly in Beijing. The hutongs in Beijing are formed by lines of siheyuan where houses are built to form squares or rectangles to create a sort of courtyard. They first popped up during the Yuan Dynasty, originating from Mongolia.
The residential areas of Beijing were arranged by different social classes through the Zhou Dynasty lasting from 1046 BCE to 256 BCE. Higher class Beijingers were allowed to live near the center of the circles, and the aristocrats lived in the western and eastern sides of the Imperial Palace. If a citizen was of a higher class, their Hutong was large and well aligned with walled gardens. The laborers, commoners and less wealthy merchants lived much further out in smaller and simpler siheyuan forming narrower hutongs.
Moving to a Hutong in Beijing… with a Maid!
I heard though a friend that an American born Chinese girl, my soon to be friend Emily, was leaving her quaint hutong room to go travelling and I jumped at the opportunity! For 3500 RMB a month I have a nice cosy room right in the heart of Beijing and it’s fantastic! With electricity and water it equates roughly to around 4000RMB a month.
First mention is it is absolutely freezing! Hutong heating isn’t the best, there’s not a lot of insulation like the modern apartments so it can get a little bit chilly. That’s ok though, I have the heaters on full blast when I’m home. I live in a two bedroom joint courtyard complex; to the left of my place is a lovely French lady Orelle, and to the right a Chinese family – the brother of my landlord and his family. I’ll have to watch out for loud music and keep the partying down to a minimum – yes mum, don’t worry!
We have a maid come every Friday and clean the place which is a great help – feels like I’m back in high school again with my clothes folded and the kitchen nice and clean – this is only 80RMB (£8/ $10) a week – an absolute steal, and I split this huge amount with my roommate Viktoria.
My Local Area of Beijing
Now when I step outside my door, walk through the stone corridor leading out into the street and bam, I’m in the real China – authentic Beijing. Five minutes’ walk down the narrow Hutong street is a small grocer who sells meat and vegetables. There’s a nice canteen eatery which serves up ‘blokey’ meals for the local workers – my dad in Australia would love it! If I continue down that street, I hit the main road of Beixinqiao and the Beixinqiao subway station.
At night it’s hustling and bustling with the smell of delicious Chinese food wafting through the air from the countless restaurants lining the street. Further up the road, which is jam packed full of cars and electric scooter riders, you hit the Yonghegong Llama temple which has a gigantic Buddha statue inside. There’s also the Confucius Temple just down another street. I’ll stop waffling on here, but what I want to say is I’m now just a ten minute walk from traditional Beijing, with traditional hutong architecture and countless cultural sites all within a short walk.
Now switching direction, to the right of my new home around about another 10 minute walk is Dongzhimen Subway station – a modern metropolis centre in Beijing. On the way to this hustling bustling business centre is my local gym – a great way to work off those 3am dumplings! If you keep walking east there’s a modern shopping centre with a foreign supermarket; I even found Australian milk!!!
Keep going east for another thirty minutes’ walk (or a 5-10 minute taxi) and you hit Sanlitun – the modern clubbing party centre of Beijing. Last week, after a long day at work I went to an underground groovy jazz bar – walked down some dark steps and boom, there I was in a funky dance club. I love this all being so close by.
I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with my new Beijing Hutong home! I’m right in the centre nestled between fascinating cultural old Beijing and the modern buzzing Beijing. Writing this blog post right now I’m sitting in a funky modern café about fifteen minutes’ walk from my front door – sipping on a delicious coffee that rivals even those from Sydney, a city which arguably has the best coffee in the world!
If you have any questions about life in Beijing or China more widely then don’t hesitate to contact me.
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