Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hutong Wandering

The following is an installment from the summer journey.

A while back, my parents mailed a short article to me (they often send news clippings about travel in Asia and events back home). This particular article was about side streets in Beijing--I found it just before moving and traveling to Beijing to meet my parents and brother. I figured it'd provide at least a few hours of something different from the previous year's trip through the capital.

I studied my map and found that the street in the article (Nan Luoguxiang) was not too far from the Drum and Bell Towers--it turned out to be about a 15-minute walk east along the main street. It sounded like there was enough to check out for the afternoon--it was either try this or find a taxi to somewhere else. We were pleasantly surprised.

Nan Luoguxiang is a quiet hutong neighborhood in the process of remodeling that is home to quite a few small bars, restaurants, and arts shops that are difficult to find elsewhere in the city. We discovered a small foot massage parlor (38RMB for one hour) and let my mom and brother take up the two available spots. My father and I walked along the street to find a snack and settled on the Pass By. There are two along the street and we chose the one further from the main road. They actually served spring rolls (anyone who lives in China knows that these are a rarity). There's also a great "hutong pizza," which is cheese covering spicy chunks of barbecued lamb.

The artistic shops have quite a few unique items. There are a couple of really nice T-shirt shops, but the prices are set and they are in the range of what you'd expect to pay in the U.S. My favorite shop was Grifted. They had some amusing shirts and other items. I ended up with a waving Chairman Mao doll and Jia got a shirt with a cartoon of Buddha looking like a tourist. They also had a shirt with a cartoon Chinese guy, shirtless with a beer and yelling "Ni hao!" Next to the shop was a small photo gallery chronicling the progress of reconstructing the neighborhood--the photos were beautiful.

On a few nights we stopped in the bars. These places are mostly small and quiet. We found the newly-opened Catcher in the Rye and we were the only customers. For those seeking a cheap night out, there's always the 10 RMB Bar--and there are others that have similar prices. Most bars have a decent selection of imported beers for travelers who are tired of Tsingtao (it was really nice to have a Newcastle).

At the moment, this narrow hutong street is fairly unknown to tourists, although it is getting more press and will probably be quite crowded by the time the Olympics arrive. So far, there is no Starbucks located there, but you can buy coffee at the restaurants and bars. After two trips through Beijing, I have to say that this is my favorite part of the city.

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1 comment:

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Thanks for this write-up! I'm really really looking forward to going now. Beijing sounds like it has changed so much since I lived there over ten years ago. It will be like being a tourist all over again.