When we set off for a six-month adventure in South East Asia back in 2009, our first destination was the capital of China, Beijing. It took us a few days to adapt to the rhythm of the city and in particular with just how busy it can be. With a population of over 20 million people, we immediately felt just how crowded the city is. We of course visited well known sites such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, all of which were very impressive. But what really fascinated me in this metropolis were the Hutongs.
Hutongs are a complex network of narrow streets and alleyways that run throughout the city. Away from the busy tourist attractions, the shopping centres and the traffic-filled main roads, these neighbourhoods are where a slice of real Beijing life can be experienced. They are the blood and veins of Beijing. Both commercial and residential buildings line the streets and no matter what time of day you pass through, the Hutongs are thriving places where locals both socialise and do business.
I used to love just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere as locals hustled and bustled. Watching old men playing chess whilst others bought and sold goods. Although sometimes very calm, I always got the feeling that there was so much going on in the Hutongs, no matter what time of day it was. They were also the best places to find cheap, good quality food, as well as housing several quality teahouses.
With such a bustling environment, I couldn’t not record what I heard. The soundscapes were often incredibly rich. I made the following recording as I was on my way to buy some dumplings from a small dumpling shop in the Xicheng District.