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Hutong businesses give the old alleys a new sheen
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By Wang Zhiyong

Nanluoguxiang, a newly commercialized hutong popular among foreign tourists and expats in Beijing. (from http://qingying.fotoky.com/)

Hutongs are an important element of Beijing's culture and despite all the changes wrought by new developments, these old residential neighborhoods still form the heart of the city.

Hidden in the forest of reinforced concrete, hutongs give us a wrenching sense of the beauty and decline of old Beijing. The grey walls, Chinese-style curved eaves and cornices, elaborate brick designs and wood carvings evoke the strong classical tone of Beijing, the capital of six dynasties. The ancient furniture, fish ponds, wooden doors and windows, and cane chairs are the favorite city sights for foreign visitors.

Mr. Wang has a courtyard house in Dajinsi Hutong in the west of the capital. Having resigned from his job, he now works full-time showing tourists around his home.

"The visitors are really interested in our way of life. The most common question I get asked is, "what do you eat and drink?" Wang said. One tourist from Japan even asked him if he had a television. Wang showed him the five TVs in his house.

Mr. Wang charges a 20 yuan entrance fee for individual tourists. For tour groups he charges one yuan each. In the high season, he gets two or three hundred visitors a day. That is too many for him to handle by himself so he has hired an interpreter and a chef to help. A home-style meal costs 60 yuan. He has also converted some rooms as guest rooms, and at 200 yuan for one night, they are much cheaper than staying in a hotel.

A few days ago, someone offered him 7 million yuan (US$ 1 million) for his 300-sq-meter courtyard. Wang refused because he believes that prices will continue to rise, and also because he does not want to give up the 10,000 yuan (US$ 1,430) monthly income from his tourist business.

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