Hutong life

The hutong roof is more of a floor for the hutong cat, rather than a roof for the hutong human. These cats have have clear territories, the cats are big and really G looking in general. Basically, it is cruel to let a kitten lose outside all on its own. Because that kitten is gonna get eaten. However, the roof of a hutong is beautiful. Old or new, still gorgeous. And these images I shot from my friend Ethans terrace, east of Jing Shan park. He lives in a traditional hutong courtyard, with a big tree in the middle surrounded by houses. The open space is shared and respectfully looked after by all families living there inside of the same red gate.

2 old ladies came back from the market while I was outside shooting a pie. They handed Ethan fresh vegetables that had been pulled out of the soil that very morning. You could smell it. You could see it and feel it. Then they planted some chives by the big tree in the middle and told Ethan, that he can go snatch some whenever he pleases.

Last weekend he gave her the big late of cured salmon we shot last, and I guess that fish made him a friend.

From the very begining of this project, the neigbours 4 year old son took interest in us, and he became our friend. Frank and I spent time a lot of time in the courtyard reading his English book about robots while Ethan was killing a lobster, braising som meat or chopping onions. It was so great to have an enthusiastic boy babbling Chinese to me and wanting me to pay him attention, read for him, teach him English and you know, just, hang out. I loved every bit of it. Such a sweet boy, and full of energy and ideas. Creative one for sure.

Being a Chinese child is not the same as being a Canadian or Swedish child. As a 4 year old in Sweden you go out and play with your buddies until your mom shouts through out the door that it is time for dinner. If you cant hear your own mom, you can hear somebody elses. It kind of works like in the old days when people would light a fire to warn for attacks. That fire lights another fire further away, and eventually the village is told. Just like one mom shouting makes another mom shout. Eventually, the kids are told. In Beijing, your friends are all studying or learning something. Most likely piano or extra curriculum math. And there is no playground. You have yourself, and your parents, and most likely no sibling. So naturally, Frank was drawn to us, because he had nothing to do. Grandma was busy cooking and the other folks around were so worried Frank was bothering us. They kept pulling him away and excusing him. Took a long time before we could convince them to just leave him be, because we are happy to have him around.

Franks mother kindly gave us abottle of rum at the end of the first weekend, as a thank you for being so good to her boy. Franks “popo”, meaning his fathers mother, came out one evening with a plate full of steaming dumplings for us.

The life in the hutongs, is really something. The connections you have with the families around you in a courtyard, is beautiful. The sense of community is really comforting.

If I ever need to live alone, I would love to have a community like that to rely on.

Hutong rooftop by Jingshan Park Hutong rooftop by Jingshan Park Hutong rooftop by Jingshan Park

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