Beijing is synonymous with many things. For tourists, these include Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and The Summer Palace. For those who live here however, nothing says Lao Beijing than Hutongs. Hutongs are alleys formed by the long walled courtyards of the homes of the wealthy. Here, the vestiges of an older way of life are gathered in small neighborhoods along these low-rise alleys. To wander in to one of these is to get lost in a maze of a different time. Where doors remain unlocked and the elderly gather along the door steps, their whole lives spent in these few square meters. Entire wardrobes hang haphazardly outside to air dry, and there are probably more possessions in the small courtyards than inside the rooms. Hutongs are more than just dwellings, but an entirely different pace and culture. The dialects spoken in them are unlike what you’ll hear on the streets. A garbled, warble-like tongue that ranges from a mumble to a lilt.
This past year however, life in the hutongs has meant more to me than the vestiges of a global city on the rise. It’s been my haven and second home. Followers of The Ricetrail know that for the past year, I’ve been teaching photography at The Hutong, a culinary and arts school that also serves as a community center. I absolutely love it there. Not just because of the novelty, or the amazing students I’ve had, but the amazing people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve formed. One of these is my friend Joel, head chef at The Hutong, a tea guru, and (I’m fairly certain) the modern incarnation of Confucius. The Hutong deserves it’s own entry (which is to come) but I when Joel offered me the chance to poke around his latest project, I couldn’t resist.