The Hutong of Qianmen, located in Beijing downtown, is a Chinese neighbourhood that has a labyrinth of alleys and traditional shops. This Hutong is a living story, it has many years of life and has collected the testimonies of its inhabitants. Noodles is one of them, he has grown up on these streets and now he works as a manager in Leo Courtyard, a popular backpackers hostel located in one of the Hutong narrow streets.
Noodles is very proud of living in the Hutong because everybody knows each other and it has everything he needs. His dream is to be able to open ten more hostels in the next five years with his boss. He says that creating accommodation for foreigners is being incentivized by the government because with the arrival of more foreigners Beijing intends to become an international city . According to Noodles, some lodgings in the Hutong are not allowed to host foreigners because the employees do not know any other languages besides Chinese and therefore they won’t be able to communicate in order to solve possible problems.
“If I were the President of my country, I would encourage people to learn English”
In the wiggly streets of the Hutong we can find Chinese traditional shops, local food restaurants, clothes shops, fruits, mobile phones and McDonalds, these are everywhere in China, although the menu is a bit spicy and adapted to the local palate.
Chopsticks are used to eat all kind of food but soup, which is eaten using a short handle spoon. In general, Chinese slurp noisily the soup and they approach their head to their plate instead of taking the chopsticks to the mouth.
The cuisine in China hasn’t got much to do with what we are used to have in Chinese restaurants in the west; there is here an infinite variety of dishes and the highlights are Beijing Duck and Baozi Balls.
Baozi Balls are steamed bread rolls filled with meat or vegetables. Chinese eat them at any time and they’ve got different sizes; the small ones are for breakfast and the big ones are eaten with soup. Noodles’ favourite meal are the snakes and scorpions prepared in the Hutong.
Chinese are very superstitious and they love gambling. Casinos are forbidden in China, but you can constantly find gambling everywhere; bets are made in Mahjong Saloons which are antique rooms that seem to have been designed not to be found.
Most shops in the Hutong have neon signs and red lanterns and their entrance, these decoration elements are said to attract positive energy, sales and money. Mao images are not missing, Noodles says that he’s like a God to them.
Houses are narrow and they’ve got a square patio that is the nerve centre of the buildings. Because of lack of space, they’ve got the shower inside the house, but toilets are public and there are several spread on the streets.
Chinese in general are heavy smokers like Noodles, but on the other hand you can also see people wearing masks to protect themselves from environmental contamination. There is a large cloud of pollution over Beijing, it is like a permanent fog that doesn’t allow you to see the sky above the city. However in the Hutong the air feels fresher.
Despite the crowd, most people get around Qianmen alleys on bicycle or electrical bikes. The overall sensation is of absolute silence, except for the sound that comes from people clearing their throats or spitting. This habit is deeply routed among Chinese, specially senior citizens, and the government has been trying to eradicate this habit for several years now.
Noodles feels very proud of living in Qiamnen, in the heart of the city away from cars noise. He wouldn’t move to a modern area with skyscrapers, he prefers to stay in this Hutong where he his evolved trying to fulfil his dream of enlarging his business.
“I will be all my life in my Hutong”