Hutong Hospitality


Mrs Wu proudly presented a steaming plate of shoots and egg on the neatly laid, fold up table in the bedroom.

The bed, with its garish Mini Mouse bedspread, was pushed to the corner of the room, and the huge TV dominated the rest of the space.

Next came sweet and sour chicken – not the orange glop of the British High Street Chinese takeaway, but a mix of chicken, fresh red chilies, cucumber and crunchy green peppers. Shredded potato, steamed rice and – because it was Winter Solecist and traditionally good luck – dumplings followed.

Watched by the terrapin in the corner, we toasted our guide, local student Lisa, and tucked in. She told us that Mrs Wu has been welcoming guests into her home in Beijing’s Hutong, narrow alleyways, since the Olympics in 2008.

Hundreds of guests had followed before us. All being picked up by rickshaw, guided round the Hutong and taken to her Siheyuans (or courtyard home) for lunch.

Retired from her job in the city’s transport department, Mrs Wu wanted to meet and chat with people from all over the world, and has since rustled up lunch for families, backpackers, businessmen and even diplomats.

Washing lunch down with a local beer, Lisa explained the history of the Hutong; how it sprung up after Ghinggis Khan’s army reduced the city to rubble; how in the 1950s there were over 6,000 passageways but that The Olympics and other ‘improvement’ building work had destroyed thousands of them.

Tha Hutong is now protected, a sought after place for the older generations, but shunned by the young who prefer to live in the flashy, modern apartment blocks of downtown Beijing.

Learning how the boys were the light of the family and got the sunniest rooms, and answering Mrs Wu’s questions on life in London, food in Scotland and the price of rent in Britain, we polished of our shoots and waved her goodbye. Rumbling back into Beijing’s smog on the back of our rickshaw.


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