|The Jiuwan Hutong corridor funnels into a surprisingly tight squeeze. (CRIENGLISH.com/William Wang)|
Beijing hutongs are a labyrinth of alleys that wind and twist through the capital. Hutongs can be disorienting, and perhaps none more than Jiuwan. Jiuwan Hutong is officially the most convoluted of all of Beijing's hutongs, with 13 turns tightly held in its short length.
A little ways south of Qianmen Street, Jiuwan provides the perfect excuse to get into a really old neighborhood that is entirely lacking in tourist amenities. Travelers curious about how old Beijingers live need look no further. Families occupying this hutong have been here for generations.
Jiuwan translates to "nine curves" but the hutong has apparently grown more since its inauguration. The disorienting route demands the full attention of those who navigate it on two wheels as it haphazardly careens in new directions and presses through some surprisingly tight squeezes.
However Jiuwan isn't a hutong to rush through. The rustic details are where the charm sleeps: patched up doorways and weathered brick walls that catch the shadows of linens drying in the sun. In warmer weather, locals sun themselves on an outdoor couch, happy to chitchat with passers by. Jiuwan is the perfect un-tourist destination.
"It's very famous because hutongs represent a kind of Beijing lifestyle," explained a local resident surnamed Yin. "Foreigners come here not only to see the old buildings but to admire the hutong culture. In apartment buildings, people don't even know their neighbors. Here, some people can let themselves into their neighbors' homes, no problem. So people live here without many barriers between them."
Yin appreciates living in such a quiet neighborhood, but he feels uncertain about its future. "The place is old, ancient even. Right now the real estate prices here are quite high, but with the rate of today's economic development, this place will probably get bought up by real estate developers eventually."
Getting to Jiuwan Hutong: From Ciqikou subway station (line 5), walk 20 minutes west to Qianmen Street. Walk south 500 meters to Yao Er Hutong, and enter right. Immediately to the right is Puchenshi Hutong, and Jiuwan Hutong is the first left.
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