Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hiding in the hutongs

Beijing hutongs
Since I arrived in China I've made it my mission to avoid Westerners. Hitting the Beijing historical sites a week before the Games, then traveling by overnight train to Xi'an (three Chinese and me in a tiny cubicle with four bunks -- now that was fun), I've found myself immersed in a sea of Asian faces. An odd feeling, but not as odd as being surrounded by only Chinese voices.

The Chinese are a garrulous people, speaking in monosyllabic singsong nasal tones, downright noisy by my standards. Interestingly, though, the sounds don't bother me. The voices blend with the screeching of the cicadas or the chirping of the birds. I hear them, but since I don't understand, the noise becomes background music to me. Less intrusive than listening to my iPod even because I don't feel compelled to fast forward or sing along. I think it's like being deaf, only with sound.

Avoiding Westerners has become more difficult now that the Games are underway. Yesterday, I found a safe haven in the hutongs of old Beijing.

For several hundred years, the majority of Beijing residents have lived in siheyuan, which are housing compounds with rooms around a central courtyard. The hutongs, or narrow alleyways, run between rows of siheyuan. Hutong has come to refer to neighborhoods set up this way.

With the modernization of Beijing, many residents have moved from the hutong to the high-rise. But I found that a few traditional hutongs can still be found by a girl on a quest to avoid the West.

Beijing hutongs
Beijing hutongs
Beijing hutongsBeijing hutongsBeijing hutongsBeijing hutongsBeijing hutongsBeijing hutongsBeijing hutongsbeijing hutongsBeijing hutongs

No comments: