The Hutong House in Winter

December 17, 2015 By Tamara Treichel

An American acquaintance of mine who had rented a hutong house in Beijing’s Houhai lake area said hutongs were overrated, and it would get so cold in the winter you wouldn’t need to refrigerate your beer!

This autumn I also overheard a German tourist passing through my hutong neighborhood telling his travel companion that my neighborhood was “romantic,” yet he wouldn’t want to live here; and by way of comparison, the man mentioned the “Fachwerkhaeuser,” or half-timbered houses, in the German city of Tuebingen.

Having lived for several years in a ground-floor apartment of a Baroque building in Heidelberg’s historic district, I can agree that living in “old” buildings, no matter where, is not for everyone. It takes a certain kind of person to weather and appreciate the experience. I consider myself fortunate to still be able to experience the “hutong culture” as hutong houses are being torn down at an alarming rate to make way for modern high-rises. In fifty years, I suspect, there will be less opportunities to live and breathe Beijing history in a hutong house.

Old womanLadder, furniture

But my experience so far has been worth the minor annoyances. It has been like living in a historic B&B every day squat in the heart of Beijing and only meters away from the Imperial Academy, where China’s top scholars studied the classics for centuries, and only several subway stops away from the Forbidden City, secluded home to the Chinese emperors. I have loved (almost) every minute and every second of my stay in my high-maintenance hutong house. Continue reading