Nanluogu Xiang (南锣鼓巷) is among one of the oldest hutongs around and has a history of over 800 years. Formed by lines of traditional courtyards called Siheyuan (四合院), hutongs represent an important cultural element of the city of Beijing with some of them associated with historic events. The easiest way to get to Nanluogu Xiang is by subway. Simply alight at Nanluoguxiang Station on Line 6 and make your way to the hutong. In my opinion, the commercialized hutongs are indicated by the red lanterns hung on the trees and the crowd of tourists. That’s where you can purchase souvenirs and have some light bites.
Once you walk out of the commercialized hutongs, that’s where the adventure begins. As a traveller who enjoys experiencing the lives of the local people and capturing their daily activities, the hutong culture is an amazing experience. Although the buildings are most likely restored, I’m glad that they retained the original Siheyuan designs.
Though the hutongs are built in a grid-like layout and easy to navigate, sometimes I do arrive at dead-ends where the end of the road is someone’s storage facility.
What I love about the life in hutongs are that things are really simple. Kids are not glued to their iPads and mobile phones all the time and they play simple games, interacting with other kids.
The local community is also very cohesive. As I walked through alleys, the doors are rarely shut unless the entire family is out. Neighbours would gather outside the houses for casual chats to pass the day.
When there’s a problem, the neighbours come together to fix it. I came across a road junction where a few locals were trying to unclog a congestion in the sewage system. How a flexible bamboo pole is going to fix that remains questionable.
Gambling laws appear to be fairly loose because I would see stall owners gathering for a game of their favourite card game, Dou Dizhu (斗地主). You would see money exchange hands openly as well. I stayed around for half an hour to see how the game is played. But the locals weren’t too happy to be caught on camera.
Walking around the maze of hutongs, I find the atmosphere very peaceful. A stark difference from the rest of Beijing where the pace is much faster.
If you do have the chance to visit the hutongs in Beijing, I hope you take the opportunity to venture beyond the usual tourist alleys.