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scteach Jan 2nd, 2009 08:41 AM

Non Touristy Beijing
My friends and I will be in Beijing for a day prior to our organized tour. We are interested in seeing a non-touristy side of Beijing, that which will probably not be included in the typical tour. Can anyone suggest a good itinerary for one full day seeing ancient, historic areas that have been preserved and are not on the usual tourist itinerary. We are a group of four and plan to hire a guide for the day.

PeterN_H Jan 2nd, 2009 10:12 AM

I think it's probably first important to understand that the desire to see 'non-touristy' Beijing and to hire a guide to take you there are inherently self-contradictory. Guides (if licensed) are trained to give you an entirely positive view of China based on a tour around the most impressive sights wrapped up in the hyperbole they provide, and to steer you away from real life. The nearest they will be able to offer is booking on an absurd and absurdly over-priced (kick-back to them) cycle rickshaw tour of a few carefully sanitized hutong (alleys) in the neighbourhood of Hou Hai or the Drum and Bell Towers or Bei Hai Park, using ridiculous Cadillac versions of the vehicles with fringed awning and shiny trim, perhaps stopping to enter a carefully prepared hutong house.

Another point to note is that 'preserved' in the Beijing lexicon, means mostly 'pulled down and rebuilt', and sometime 'quickly covered in plaster and grey paint just to look a bit fresher'.

What you need, perhaps, are details of a walking route or two that take you through samples of un-renovated hutong where ordinary (and usually very vibrant) life is going on, plus examples of the quickly tarted up and completely rebuilt hutong (for an understanding of what's happening to Beijing's heritage), pausing at a few interesting lesser-known back street temples, former residences, guildhalls, or quirky shopping. For this you don't need a guide, and won't be able to find one to help you (except that there are a couple of resident foreigners who sell very highly-priced tours of this kind, perhaps).

I used to offer details of some routes on this site, which were sent out many hundreds of times, and revised twice as areas of the city were pulverised and rebuilt. I've walked them several times since, and added fresh walks, but I haven't had time to finish compiling them, and don't expect to do so for a couple of months at least. If you can hold on, I'll make a posting here when you're ready. If you're desperate I may be able to send you notes before that.

Otherwise, when I have a few more moments than I have now, I'll suggest a few lesser-known but interesting sights rarely visited by foreigners you can easily reach by yourself by taxi or by metro and on foot. There's no shortage of these.

Peter N-H

PeterN_H Jan 2nd, 2009 10:15 AM

Sorry, I'm in great haste today, and I see many errors in the message above, which since this site has no editing function I can't correct. But I hope you can guess at my meaning where I've made it unclear.

scteach Jan 2nd, 2009 10:23 AM

Thank you Peter. I completely do understand your meaning and appreciate your answer. We don't leave for China until mid April and hope that you will find time to post some suggestions by then.

Violet_1125 Jan 5th, 2009 06:23 PM

Non Touristy sights,you can do Cuandixia Village,Tanzhe Temple away from Beijing.
you can let you guide take you to some workers area.
But this is not Beijing people life.It is a kind of poor area.those workers far from Beijing and work hard to earn little money.
one more option is to some living community area,this is locals life.they move to building houses from Hutong.

PeterN_H Jan 5th, 2009 07:57 PM

As I said, you won't find a guide to help you. It's hardly necessary to go out to the dormitory areas of migrant workers to see real Beijing life. Character (and plenty of poverty) are to be found right in the centre of the city.

I'll try to get round to re-writing and expending the walks before April, and post here accordingly, but in the meantime you might like to do a little reading about the southern part of the city. Shortly after the arrival of the Manchus in 1644 (who were to rule the Chinese until the 1912 abdication of the last emperor) they expelled all the Han Chinese who were not already part of their military organisation to the southern part, which effectively became the Chinese quarter of Beijing.

It has remained far less fashionable than the northern part, and so until recently had been slightly less subject to the wrecking ball, although it's now beginning to catch up, unfortunately.

Have a look at:

The Altar of Agriculture (sometimes Temple of Agriculture, also Museum of Ancient Architecture). This is just west of the Temple of Heaven, and was once nearly as large, but is rarely visited by foreigners

The Huguang Guildhall, a Qing era opera theatre where you will sometimes find foreigners in the evening watching performances, but which is open to admire it's architecture (with a decent Hunan restaurant, too) in the daytime

Baoguo Si, a small temple amidst a tangle of hutong that functions as an antique, curio, and collectible market, again almost unknown to visitors

Fayuan Si, with a history of teaching Buddhism, and one of Beijing's oldest temples. A labyrinth of hutong to the east and north still contain several former guildhall, and much life. Wander at will

Niu Jie Mosque, nearby, looks just like a temple from the outside, and the area has a visible Muslim population and restaurants to match

The Museum of Ancient Pottery Civilisation, next to the north gate of the otherwise avoidable Grand View Garden, is a small private museum with an excellent collection of clay seals and other oddities with good English introductions to them and their importance. There's a restaurant nearby specialising in Beijing dishes beyond the inevitable roast duck.

Again, walking routes linking elements like these that take you through the hutong are what you need, but if these places are found on a map it will be obvious that several can be walked between, and others easily hopped between by cab if need be. But even in the northern part of the city and within moments of major sights there are warrens of alleys that never see a foreigner, and where your presence will attract comment. More on these presently, I hope.

Peter N-H

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