Scattered throughout the IES Beijing semester are a number of “Crazy Days,” or days that students wake up for class at 8 only to find that class has been canceled, and an outing or activity has been planned by the teachers and staff. This Tuesday, after our daily 8am 听写, the teachers announced that our classes were canceled and we could choose between trips to 香山 (XiangShan, the“Fragrant Hills”), the hutongs (more on that later) and 后海 ( HouHai, Beijing’s lake district), or one of the city’s prominent Muslim communities. I chose the trip to the hutongs and the lake district, led by our center director Jeremiah Jenne. For those prospective students reading this blog, I highly recommend clearing your schedule to participate in any trips led by Jeremiah. Not only is he a fun and energetic tour guide, his knowledge of Beijing and Chinese history will positively blow your mind.
Beijing’s hutongs, the city’s grid of traditional residential alleyways, have undergone a rapid gentrification process over the past several years. The lanes that were once home to 四合院 (four-roomed courtyards, for four families) now house 8, 16, or even 32 family units anchored by a single courtyard. Historic locales like 南锣鼓巷 now host close to ten thousand visitors in a single day. Like Manhattan’s SoHo at the end of the 20th century, the regeneration of Beijing’s central hutongs was fueled largely by a new consumer demographic and tourist populations seeking an alternative experience—an experience distinctly removed from metallic, shiny east Beijing and crowded central Beijing. The hutongs are filled with microbreweries, boutiques, and on-trend, Western style cafes and coffee shops that retain just enough of their Chinese identity to appeal to domestic tourists and the local crowd. Indeed, Beijing has its own breed of hipsters, and the hutongs are their Portland and Austin.
Below is a video documenting our adventures in HouHai and the hutongs. Enjoy!
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hi! My name is Alexa Penton and I'm an undergrad at the University of Mississippi pursuing degrees in Chinese Language and Culture and Art History. I started photography as a hobby in high school, and have since expanded my collection to 10 film cameras and one digital. Most of my photos and videos document my travels at home and abroad. I am particularly inspired by the qualities of light, memories, natural history, nontraditional developing practices, and nontraditional portraiture. I call Orlando, Florida home, but can't wait to spend a whole semester living and learning in Beijing!</span></p>