A walk on a Beijing street is unlike anything that I have found in the United States. There is so much more activity, so much more commerce, that it simply does not work well to compare. The street is, in many areas, the heart of the local community, a venue to the older generation that enjoys spending the hot summer months playing cards, smacking mahjong tiles and pedaling any variety of services. Between my hostel and the subway station, I can have my bike repaired, get new keys made, pick up any variety of fruit and choose from a galaxy of things barbequed on a stick, all of which are out in the open air.
A simple walk down the road can say quite a bit about the China of today. It is on the street where you can truly get a sense of the Beijing that is slowly being washed away by the tides of new money and broad development. This is felt probably nowhere more so than within the confines of the famous Beijing Hutong communities. While I originally set out to write today’s post on life within the Hutong, I quickly found that there was no way I would be able to capture such a world within a quick post. Hutong have a rich and long history, one that is worthy of an article that may be out of my abilities, both in writing and photography. At some point I will try to capture these groves of culture, but with limited time today, I suspect that I wouldn’t only do such a piece an injustice. I will save that for later date.
The street holds the glowing embers of the old world, a place in which thousands of years of old culture come to battle with the last three decades of modern development. In Beijing, you can see Audi’s and rickshaws cruising in tandem, the elite and the working class sharing one space. Despite the seemingly endless shuffle along these routes, the edges are lined with people who enjoy nothing less than watching it all go by. Card games, older men with their birds in cages, and migrant workers squatting in groups during their break. I have heard so many people return from Beijing and speak of how it really isn’t ‘China’, but when I see these workings of the old and new world side by side, I cannot but think that there is no better place to understand the changes that are taking place. Look closely and you will find that this world on the edges runs very deep.