Ask Beijing Today is our weekly attempt to make life in China less confusing. Whether it’s tracking down the papers to apply for a Chinese green card, dealing with KTV-crazy neighbors or finding the best buy on saffron, we are happy to help.
Q. Where is the best Hutong in Beijing?
A. Unfortunately the hutongs are constantly being rebuilt, and the historic fabric of the streets is disappearing even in the conservation zones. The renovated hutongs are often not authentic, while the more historic ones are often dilapidated and overbuilt with later structures.
Despite that, there are several interesting hutongs within the second ring road, in what was once the Imperial City. This is what an experienced Quora user suggests:
Maoer Hutong contains some gardens (unfortunately not open to the public and probably in bad condition) and the house of Empress Wanrong before she married the “last Emperor,” which can be visited if you hang around and ask if anyone has a key.
Other areas include the hutongs around the Drum Tower or Gulou, those around the lakes (particularly Houhai), and Jingshan Park.
Beijing’s most elegant street must be Guozijian, the street of the Confucian Temple and the Imperial Academy, with its magnificent line of scholar trees. This is not a hutong, but there are many interesting alleys in the area, such as Fangjia Hutong, which also contains an ex-palace, now part of a school.
Just to the east of Guozijian is Yonghe Temple, which is also surrounded by interesting hutongs. There is a little-known temple, Bailin Si, in Xilou Hutong, in the middle of this area.
Further downtown in a more commercial area, Dongsi has an interesting series of no fewer than 14 hutongs, each stretching from east to west. Less visited by tourists, these hutongs have many historic buildings. The compounds (originally owned by individual families) can be very large.
Q. Which Beijing district is the best choice for a tech startup? My research thus far indicates that there are many multinational tech companies in Haidian. Can I expect that senior engineers who will make good founders will also have highest concentration in Haidian, or ought I consider other more professional/affluent districts, such as Chaoyang? For any districts, are there commuting concerns of which I ought to be aware?
A. We believe Zhongguancun (in Haidian) is the best Beijing location for a tech start-up. It’s known as China’s Silicon Valley.
Rent and utilities are cheaper than in Chaoyang, and the area has tax benefits for new tech companies. There are good subway connections, universities and major companies close by.
Q. On a 10-day trip, I have a few days in between Beijing and Hong Kong. I’d like to visit some place reasonably accessible from Beijing that will be a nice complement to my experiences in the other two cities.
A. Two of China’s historic capitals, Nanjing and Hangzhou, are within a day’s drive (or train ride) of Beijing, and have very different feels from Beijing.
Nanjing was the Nationalist capital during the Republican period before their withdrawal to Taiwan. Before that, it was the first capital of the Ming dynasty in the 13th century.
Hangzhou was the capital during the Song dynasty and represented the peak of Chinese cultural achievement within the past 1,000 years. Today, it is a very popular resort city in China, as well as home to Alibaba. It has a very vibrant IT sector.
Q. What is the salsa dancing scene like in Beijing?
A. It’s not a huge scene, but it has been growing in the past few years. Here are some salsa clubs worth checking out:
Salsa Carib is the most famous and probably the oldest venue in Beijing. Located in Sanlitun, the most dynamic area for night life, it is now a big and modern salsa club after having been redecorated in 2010. Live bands and performances are available every week.
(010) 6507 7821
Dancing events are available at Latinize every night. It’s a good place for salsa and ballroom dancing.
(010) 5900 2589
Q. My family is visiting in August, and as part of their visit I was looking to take them to the Water Cube for a little chill time in between the visits to the usual tourist attractions. Do you have any advice?
A. The park has some pretty impressive slides and pools. We think the kids will love it. You do need to get there early and make sure you all have swimming caps on too. Get these beforehand as they are expensive inside the pool area. Entry is about 50 yuan for adults, maybe less for children. Also, there are some outdoor pools and parks you can look into. They are just as cool, although the Water Cube seems to be the most modern.