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Published July 25th 2016
A Free Walking Tour in Beijing
I had heard there are three must-do things in Beijing; eat Peking Duck, walk on the wall and visit a hutong. I'd eaten and I'd walked so it was time to contemplate visiting a hutong.
A hutong is a series of alleys linking traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one alley to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to the next.
Sadly, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically in recent years as they have been demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. I was keen to see this treasured part of Chinese cultural history and I'd heard that Beijing Walking offered a three-hour walk for free.
I contacted Beijing Walking by email and received an almost immediate reply from Leo who explained that the free tour happens on Mondays and Fridays, starting at the Nanluoguxiang Subway Station (exit E).
He began by describing traditional society relationships and status within the hutongs, including the indicators of owner status outside each home. My understanding was that a complex series of beams, drums, pillars and other small structures indicated a person's rank, role and relationship potential in more traditional times.
Drums for generals, pillars for scholars
The highlight for me, and, I suspect, most other walkers, was a visit to the home of local character, Mr Liu.
Mr Liu it seems, is a lover of animals and cares for hundreds in his home and garden. He entertained our group with stories of singing grasshoppers and fighting crickets and performed a fascinating 'show and tell' of paraphernalia including a cricket-sized fighting arena and a cricket coffin.
Mr Liu and his cricket coffin
Joe translated the stories between fits of giggling. The fact that Mr Liu is something of a comedian was evident despite the language barrier.