In the wake of Beijing's opening-up to the outside world and its prospering economy, more and more foreigners are choosing to stay in the city permanently and merge with the daily life of its residents, instead making fleeting visits like tourists.
Official statistics show that foreigners living in China's capital now number more than 50,000, and the figure is growing rapidly.
In the past, most foreigners came to Beijing for sightseeing or business activities, usually staying at designated hotels and apartments for a short time, far removed from the lives of regular Beijingers.
Now foreigners are opting to live in hutongs, Beijing-style traditional communities.
Piet Bos, a blue-eyed Dutchman who has the Chinese name of "Senlin", has worked in Beijing as a business agent for two years. He and his Chinese girlfriend now rent a flat at Ju'er Hutong, a long, narrow lane which is home to about 60 foreign families.
"Like many friends of mine, I learned about the hutong from magazines," Senlin says.
Located in downtown Beijing, Ju'er Hutong has a history going back more than 100 years. The street where a provincial governor in China's last dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911), once lived, is blessed with a tranquil atmosphere formed by siheyuans, compounds with houses around a courtyard with old Beijing features.
"Here we have real neighbors and friends," says Adum Lajoie, a 26-year-old hutong dweller from the United States. At the entrance of the Ju'er Hutong there is a covered area where foreigners often drink tea and chat with groceries bosses and bike repairmen.
"We don't consider them (the foreigners) strange, and they are quite easy-going," a grocer at the hutong says, praising the foreigners for their vitality and politeness.
Hessler, a young writer, has been deeply impressed by Beijing's culture. Working on a book about China, he suggests Beijing should preserve its traditional culture.
But the rapid modernization of Beijing also entices foreigners.
"In comparison with my hometown which has remained basically unchanged, Beijing is a city full of changes," Senlin says, looking at a newly-widened avenue that had suffered from traffic jams not long ago. Opposite the avenue, a housing project is well under way.
"There are lots of jobs in Beijing," says Adum Lajoie, who works for an English teaching program at Beijing Television.
Senlin says that he will stay in Beijing till 2008 when the city hosts the Olympic Games. "I want to see how much the city will change then," he adds.
(People's Daily October 11, 2002)