Marjolein Katsma

Groningen, Netherlands

I have two passions: travel and photography, often combined. Though as a photographer, even in my own city I often have a camera with me!...

Beijing 2006 - The hutong

(Yes, I’m still ‘jumping about’! But I’m slowing down for a bit… read on!)

                     This post serves as background for the Beijing 2006 – The hutong series.

[UPDATE]: All of this now on the map – please read!

In 2006 I found myself in Beijing for the third time, with a whole week to myself. And for the first time, I had a digital camera, my Fuji Finepix F30, which I was still getting used to then, but it still is quite a capable camera.

The year before, Beijing was a landscape of building cranes – you could not look anywhere without seeing at least one, more likely many, huge cranes on the horizon. Bejing was in full swing already to prepare itself for the coming Olympics, in 2008. In 2006 I found, curiously, fewer cranes. But something else was going on that we hadn’t seen the year before: old hutong that were essentially beyond repair were being torn down, while here and there some that were in a much better state were actually being renovated. In addition, some parts simply had to go to make place for new roads being built to handle the increased traffic. At the same time some parts that no doubt were going to be torn down as well were still intact – it just wasn’t their time yet.

It all looked like willful destruction – certainly a way of life in the city was rapidly disappearing – but in 2005 we’d seen places (like a favorite little restaurant) that were leaking and creaking, and hutong where there was not even sewerage or sanitation except for public bath houses. Areas in the same state in our inner cities usually get the same treatment – unless the architecture is remarkable and the foundation sound or not too hard to make sound. And another thing I noticed: mature trees were being spared where possible. Not everyone took it lightly though, and there were some, especially older people, who protested and did not want to leave their old courtyard house to move to a modern flat. Sometimes it was people being uprooted rather than trees…

                     Note: ‘hutongs’ as a plural form is actually incorrect, though often used. The Chinese word ‘hutong’ is both singular and plural.

So the city was in the middle of all that in 2006 and I took quite a few shots to capture what was going on (apart from following my plan for places to visit as much as possible).

I’ll stop jumping about for a while then, and post two series: the first, showing hutong scenes where they were still intact. And then a series showing the destruction – including the sometimes humorous side of it.

Preparing breakfast An Uyghur in Beijing

Of course there’s more than just my hutong shots, but I’ll keep those for another time. I’ll try to keep up my usual one or two shots a day – but I also still have a lot of things to write that I want to share with you. So, we’ll see. I frequently have writer’s block, so even when I say ‘tomorrow’ that doesn’t always happen. ;)

(And eventually, I’ll return to India, and Istanbul: I’m not done with those either!)

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