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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hutongs, Smog and People

While Brianna is in North Korea I decided I would take myself off to explore some of the areas close to our apartment, (thus avoiding the long taxi drives in bad traffic, with the possibility of a driver that wants to make a wee bit more money, taking me on a very long, long drive) Even with these limitations I have found some gorgeous parks, great shopping and stepping off the main roads, a maze of Hutongs.

Shopping . . . .all the Big Brand Names
Beautiful parks and community areas
Cafe on first floor of our apartment complex - very modern

At first glance Beijing appears like a very modern city, however you can still find the city’s alleyways (Hutongs) weaving across most of central Beijing. These were formally the houses of the well to do, officials or prostitutes.

The modernization & increasing population within Beijing has destroyed many traditional Sibeyuan (courtyard houses within the hutongs). With few opportunities for work in the countryside, tens of millions are moving to the cities in search of a better life.
As space became an issue additional buildings have filled in the area traditionally open as a leafy quiet courtyard in the middle of most structures.. Several families may now live within an area once designed for only one family.

Traditional Inner courtyard

Living in poor conditions, dissatisfaction is widespread and increasing with regards to corruption, pollution, environmental degradation, and the expensive rise in the cost of living.

However, if you don’t dwell on the social inadequacies and want an interesting afternoon, wandering around the hutongs looking into the Sibeyuan, is a fascinating way to spend some time.

I was amazed at how often I felt like I was back in Italy . . . .the flecking layered paint, decorative wood paneling and detail to architecture. . . .

As population growth drives a consumer boom, China’s energy needs are fast outstripping its capacity and a major expansion of its network of coal-fired generating stations is planned. When China is already the planet’s biggest polluter – resulting in an atmosphere that is almost furry enough to stroke, you wonder what the end result will be?

Coal blocks used for heating and cooking - continuously polluting the air
I cleaned the air conditioner when we first arrived in our apartment, and only two weeks into our stay, I am amazed at the thick layer of sooty debris that is coating the vents. Yuckkkkkkkkkkkk! It is no wonder that the city has many gorgeous parks that are widely used for social gathering, exercising & gambling. I will post on these soon.

Open green areas are artificially created and well maintained