[US to China ’15] Lauren McLean: “In the Hutongs”
I thought I might be alone when hitting the streets at 5 a.m. for a run today. Instead I find them filled with people, children, bikes, scooters and cars. In the Hutongs, people buy and sell dumplings from storefronts and food-bikes, women open their market stalls, and people bike through the narrow alleys on their way to work while others walk in their pajamas, hands filled with wads of toilet paper, to the toilets shared by the many residents of these ancient alleys.
I enter the Hutong, a neighborhood of “short buildings” that were once traditional courtyard homes and the center of Chinese family life for thousands of years, one block south of Tienanmen Square. Arriving at the square around 5:10 a.m, I had already missed the flag ceremony for which hundreds were milling about in this vast public space that can hold 1 million people. People are very proud of the square, happy to be able to visit the hallowed buildings and shrines to China. I cannot, as much as I try, wrap my head around the history that isn’t told here—the people who gave their lives for China but aren’t honored where they died. I want to understand, but just as I am the only runner on the Square, I am the only foreigner, and I know it is that very foreign-ness that makes this something that I can’t grasp.
Meanwhile, back in the Hutong, the locals are talking about the American who runs in her blue dress, takes photos of doors and bikes, and stops to eat some buns with them in an attempt to better know this place before heading home to write about them.
Lauren McLean is a member of the Boise City Council