Ancient Districts; The Hutong (胡同)
So you're probably wondering what Hutong are and why this in particular is the ''hidden" side of China. Well.. It is in these old parts of ancient cities in China that you can see true life flourish as it did ages ago. The Hutong in China are the older parts of the city. Like Beijing, every other old city in China has districts which emerge you in an ancient surrounding, filled with authentic houses, decorations and attributes. It's truly like you step inside a different world.
The Hutong, or 胡同 in Chinese, lend their charm from the way these districts are constructed. Build out of a particular kind of grey stone, the houses cluster in traditional fromations, housing Chinese families like they have done ages ago. These formations typically consist of four buildings connected through a wall which shades off the perimeters and simultaneously forms the heart of the formation, the garden.
I have roamed these older districts many times and not once has it failed to mesmerise me. From the paricular type of bricks used for the houses and the lanterns hanging on the corners to the tiles on the roofs; the style of the Chinese Hutong is unique in every way.
Refuge from the city
When I lived in Beijing, it was the Hutong and the parks surounding it that offered me a refuge from the busy city. The contrast to the city and the authentically ancient vibes allowed me to enjoy every alley and corner. The feeling that I got from walking amongst the little restaurants and shops was definitely unfamiliar to me, yet held me longing to explore more of it, exploring how far they strectched and where they ended. By day or by night, the Hutong didn't lose their charm. Whether I had just come back from a busy workday, traversing through an old Hutong or if I would take a day to admire it's beauty, there hasn't been a time when I didn't stop for a moment to enjoy the overwhelming feeling of all the history hidden in these streets.
Often tainted in red, with bright lighted areas to draw wealth and luck according to Chinese bleiefs, the houses in the Hutong don't fail to lose their charm in any season of the year. I have had the luck to admire this beauty in Winter and Spring while I stayed, witnessing Chinese New Year, when the city reaches it's peak in decorations and festivities, and seeing the first green appear on the trees, contrasting the grey stones of the Huton beautifully.
Every time you visit these places you discover something new; details you have missed before. Especially as someone with a weakness for details, the Hutong offered me a place to feast my eyes and photograph every detail I had missed the times before.
It was a true delight to capture these details with my trusted Canon 24-70mm F2.8 as it allowed for great depth-of-field and bright images even in shadowy alleys. The vesatility of this lens with the all-round range offers a great friend in the streets and alleys of the Hutong.
Quantliness of the Hutong
Visiting these places with friends brought me enourmous joy, and seeing residents of the Hutong and occasionally meeting some of them was a true delight. There is almost no end to exploring these virbrant parts of the city. Filled with picturesque coffee places, authentic restaurants that serve traditional and regional food and street food places, these part of the city have an infite offer of new and fun things to do. Visiting shops, admiring the ancient architecture and discovering new places to have coffee or authentic food were amongst my definite favourites! I would recommend anyone to give yourself the time to take in the ambience and discover these unique places.