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China – Beijing – Hutong vs Sanlitun – 16th/17th November

As we are staying in a Hutong it makes sense document the way of life here. On the surface many of these alleyways look pre-historic and worn, but we know that inside they may be completely the opposite and often you will see a huge 40 inch TV screen through the window. There is always construction occurring throughout the Hutong area and it seems that the community are the one’s who get behind the backbone of the work. Washing is left to dry on the street and many still don’t have wash/toilet facilities so every 50 meters or so there are public toilets. There is a huge element of trust and respect in the Hutong, children safely play in the streets whilst old women chat on the corner selling oranges or dried fruit. The alleys are always busy and where we are staying we’ve noticed a games room of a night time packed with locals playing the local board game. We’re not sure what they’re doing but it sounds and looks like they’re having loads of fun. You can get good street food and since we’ve settled into out area we often get the nod from our service operators for the apartment block. This is certainly an experience we will never forget.

In contrast to this we have The Village in Sanlitun. If you’re ever feeling homesick as a westerner in Beijing this is the place to go, however it’s very easy to forget that you’re in China at all. The Village is a huge shopping, restaurant and apartment complex with stores ranging from Adidas through to Prada. Although parts of the Village are bustling with expats, at the northern end the designer stores seem to be lost in an architectural maze of glass, lights and space. We walked around one of the malls at 6pm and it was completely empty. We’d been to see the Frank Gehry exhibition, which we enjoyed and Helen enjoyed a new hair cut, afterwards we couldn’t stop ourselves from photographing the empty vast spaces that surround us. It all seems a little eery but also as if everyone is waiting for something to happen. The designer retail market hasn’t quite hit off over here yet but we’re sure that in the next few years Gucci will be frequented more and more as the capital grows.

So tradition and culture versus modern urban living? We don’t think we could live in a Hutong area all year round but it certainly has character, charm and atmosphere. The Village offers comfort but you could be anywhere in the world in a sterile shopping mall with lift music ringing in your ears. We would rather have the crude neon BBQ signs and locals riding around on bikes shouting to collect your rubbish. They are protecting the Hutong around the Forbidden City which is a relief to hear as this is where the history lies and where the real Beijing exists.

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f2.0 & Olympus PEN, 17mm f2.8 & 100mm f2.8, processed in Lightroom 3)

Related posts that may be of interest to you:

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  1. Ka Man
    Posted 8 Dec ’10 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Hi Helen/Dave,

    Looks like you’re having a fab time over in China. Good for you for staying in a Hutong! Must have been an experience. Despite having been to Beijing several times with work, I only discovered Sanlitun Village on my last trip. It’s rather impressive, isn’t it? Hope you had a nice birthday. You’re not missing much over in cold and depressing Blighty!

    Ka Man x

  2. Posted 8 Dec ’10 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I want a knitted cover for my bike saddle too! Hope you’re both well. Lots of love x x x

  3. Leigh Riley
    Posted 8 Dec ’10 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Hey guys,

    great photos, very Nostalgic for me as I stayed in Sanlitun myself… China is the most amazing, fascinating place I am sure you will agree.. If you get the chance it’s well worth going to West Lake in Hangzhou, or seeing the giant Buddha in Lejiang (or Leshan, can’t remember but its near Chengdu)… and walking the City walls of Xi’an is pretty incredible…
    But I got the biggest buzz from interacting with the people over there… it’s amazing, some of those people have so little, and will go through their lives in dictatorship, yet they will give more than anyone I have ever met in the western world… just amazing.
    Hope you guys are well – enjoy!

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