During the cultural revolution, the city was cleared of many of its old quarters and high rises were built as the “standard” housing. Some old families were allowed to remain in the center of Beijing called the Hutongs. Old, dilapidated one-family residences have been preserved. They are part of the narrow warrens, the crooked uneven, unplanned streets where at one time shacks were built on top of shacks and people rarely wandered more than a few blocks from their home. All business was conducted on the streets where neighbors traded goods with neighbors. Some streets have been widened enough for a small car. At one time only bicycles and rickshaws plied the rough streets of the Hutongs.
We disembark from our rickshaw and push our way through the throngs to a family home where our guide has arranged a home visit.
Just about every family has a bike, still the main mode of transportation.
The area is dark and moving from one place to the other is from memory. No numbers or addresses are seen on these buildings.
We reach our destination and we crowd into two different houses. They are very basic dwellings with a small shared courtyard to grow and gather herbs and some vegetables or flowers in pots. This is middle-class housing, usually one room. A few families have more spacious places with three rooms. They are occupied by working middle class people, not at all what Chinese think of as poor, but to us they seem poor.
These neighborhoods are friendly, and safe. They are a very desired commodity, individual family housing, rare in modern China. The Hutong families have modern amenities like a TV, a refrigerator and a place to cook on a coal or wood stove that is also used for heat. No indoor toilets. The tour company pays them to open their homes to tours. Our hostess’s furniture was matched. Our host family was very proud of their special home.
This is one of the bigger houses with three rooms. Pictures of family members share space with “decorator” pictures as well, showing their affluence. The floor at one time was well trodden dirt with bamboo mats. The floor is now cement tiles.
The third room, a small bedroom with a fancy spread.
Here is a place where buildings have been removed to allow cars to enter.
Our rickshaw driver is “Joe.” He knew some English and told us he has two kids. He was very chatty. He lives in the country and spends only one month per year with his family. Country people are allowed two children per couple. Joe works in the city and bunks in with other drivers and sends a required amount of his earnings home. He scowled and didn’t like his $1 tip. (Our guide warned us not to pay more.)