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12/09/2013

Just another day in the hutong

Just after 7 in the morning, I embark on a typical routine for the day. My work place, which is a vocational school located along a hutong, (traditional alleyways in Beijing) is a 10-minute leisure ride on my time-tested bicycle from my dormitory in another hutong. The 10-minute journey captures the essence of hutongs (top destination for China travel deals) as Beijingers go about their daily business.

I have to navigate delicately on my bicycle between the parked cars along the hutong and four-wheeled vehicles approaching me from all directions, all aspiring to be the first to get out from the hutong maze. In no time, car drivers and bicycle riders were caught in the congested narrow hutong. Their adrenalin levels are up and running and a shouting match is about to commence. The sleepy kids seated at the rear of their mums' bicycles are obviously oblivious to the commotion as their mothers try to outdo other vehicles to get their kids to preschools on time. High school students and vocational students on their respective bicycles are also competing with other users for premium space in this narrow hutong.

At one corner, a group of high school students jostled for breakfast with one particular mobile snack shop stubbornly refusing to give way to oncoming vehicles. Along the way, it is not unusual to see the trail of damage left on the wheels of parked vehicles as the dogs lift their hind legs in the canine morning ritual, getting tacit approval from their owners. It has been said that the dog population in Beijing (must-see for popular China travel package) has reached astronomical levels. A concerted campaign by all stakeholders to send a strong message to dog owners to be civil-minded would certainly enhance the hutong environment. During the ride, I have to be careful about bumping into people still in their pajamas, carry buckets of water as they make their way to the public lavatory or WC as it is known amongst the locals. Neighbors exchanging pleasantries in their standard Beijing-Chinese accent can be heard as I continue on to my work place. At each hutong junction, I have to slow down in order not to clash with vehicles coming from my blind side. Finally, I reach my destination, Beijing Finance and Economics School in Fensiting Hutong and begin my day teaching work as a business-subject teacher.

In the mid-afternoon after finishing my day work, I embark on my return journey. Unlike the early morning journey, the lazy-afternoon trip seems a bit more peaceful. A dozen of rickshaw riders with tourists in tow is a common sight in this stretch of Baochao Hutong, which is considered a tourist attraction as it seems to be the most comprehensive blend of old residential houses and business stores such as hair salons, grocery stores, small-renovation shops, bicycles repairs shops and restaurants. Taking a quick peek at the windows of the restaurants in my slow moving but trusted bicycle, I can see waiters, waitresses and chefs having their well-deserved afternoon nap. It is not uncommon to see lost tourists asking locals for direction as they try to navigate themselves through the winding alleyways. The improvement to the public lavatories and other facilities along the hutong over the years is a testament to the economic prosperity of China as a whole. I am glad to be here to witness the history in the making.

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