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Around Beijing on a sidecar and a visit to the Hutong Museum

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A friend of mine bought an old bike and sidecar whilst living in Beijing and then had it refurbished to bring back to Australia.  But prior to it being refurbished, he was using it to take friends and colleagues around Beijing on private tours. So I decided to do just that…and we took a tour one afternoon around Beijing’s Hutongs (historic alleyway I think best describes a Hutong)

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I have always been a fan of the doors to Beijing’s courtyard homes (siheyuan 四合院 in Chinese) and any chance I get I like to take their photos and this day was not any different…

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The courtyard home is found all around China but is prolific in Beijing.  Families still reside inside courtyard homes and many still do not have modern facilities which means they share the communal toilets; and some of those still are not modernised, unlike the one below which is either new or has been refurbished.  Still not very glamorous though!!

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The electricity lines around the Hutongs, like a lot of Asian countries leave a lot to be desired.  I don’t think they would pass our strict Aussie health & safety inspections!

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We drove through many of the Hutongs and stopped for photo opportunities of grandmothers playing Mahjong and grandfathers playing cards or just enjoying a chat and cup of Chinese tea; all the men smoking like chimneys as usual.

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We did see one fellow, on his daily delivery of what looked like computer paper…clearly saving petrol with an enormous amount of paper stacked in every conceivable area of the bike.

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I love this part of Beijing as it allows you to mix with the locals, buy local food and see how the Chinese really live.

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It is said that there are there are over 500 historic courtyards preserved as important cultural monuments. Many of these are public museums and in 2008 it was estimated that there are still about 400,000 residential courtyards remaining in Beijing…lets hope it remains this way – I love them.

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My friend also showed me a refurbished courtyard home which is on the edge of Lake Houhai.  This is one of the most expensive in Beijing and looked absolutely gorgeous.

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The sale of courtyard homes is increasing. There are usually between 7,000 to 9,000 residential homes that are on the market for sale at one time, and many are generally priced at 7,000 to 10,000 RMB per square metre. (approx $1500 – $2200 AUD).  You certainly can tell the expensive or refurbished courtyard home with their elaborate doorway or upscale entryway.

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(both photos from http://www.flickr.com/photos)

For courtyard homes near the Houhai area, the prices can go up to between 100,000 to 150,000 RMB per square metre. In 2005 a 2,000 square metre courtyard home near Houhai Lake area was sold for 40 million yuan ($8.7 m AUD) – probably the one I saw!

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Then just before I left to return to Australia, in 2014 I found the Hutong Museum and went there for a visit.  The museum is located in Shijia Hutong, a quiet, tree-lined neighbourhood where some of China’s most famous writers, artists and diplomats once lived.  It doesn’t take long to tour the museum; well under an hour but it’s definitely worth it.

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Courtyard number 24 is where you will find the Hutong Museum – a beautiful museum that commemorates Hutong life and traditional architecture.

Courtyard number 24 once belonged to a Chinese painter and writer who was the daughter of a former Beijing mayor.  The courtyard was then renovated and made into a museum at a cost of 5.3 million RMB ($1.65 m AUD) and was a joint project between the local municipal government and the Prince’s Charities Foundation China, a charitable trust owned by Britain’s Prince Charles.  It’s beautifully renovated and really does pay tribute to Beijing’s courtyard homes.

IMG_9382In the first display area there are scale models of Shijia Hutong in 1949, and of number 24.  Near the back of the museum there is a feature called  ‘sounds of the Hutong’ with what looks like a small recording studio where there are sounds of a past age, from birds tweeting, calls of various street pedlars selling traditional snacks, vendors offering work or the sharpening of knives or scissors.  It really does take you back to the old days especially looking out of the beautiful windows into the actual courtyard.  There are also many items on display as reminders of people who used to live in the courtyard home.

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(photo from http://www.redwallgardenhotel.com)

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(photo from http://www.am774.com)

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(photo from http://www.english.visitbeijing.com.cn)

 I do love touring the Hutongs and any opportunity to do so I would, either walking, side car or rickshaw….wonderful!!