Full post at Ronebreak here
One day in Beijing, a friend and I were walking through the hutong district, a small section of mostly single-story stone residences in the center of the very modern city. Many of the hutongs have been razed, apparently gone decades ago, but even as we were there more had been demolished. We were walking down the street and noticed a very colorful gate. It looked like either a business or the residence of a very wealthy person; we gambled on it being the former and walked in. A guard ran after us, asking us where we were headed.
We didn’t know, but my companion, who is fluent in Mandarin, explained to him we were tourists looking around. I think he thought we were a couple, perhaps about to be engaged, because he gave us a tour of Contempio, an event complex in the district, complete with sleek offices, a restored Chinese temple, and new bar. It was gorgeous!
Our trip to Contempio brings up new tensions, not the least of which are gentrification and preservation, the old and new. Many of Beijing’s hutongs are quite gentrified. Walking through Luogu Lane, one of Beijing’s oldest streets, tourists can walk through lane after lane filled with chic stores and bars. In return for gentrification,residents get their neighborhoods semi-preserved — “regular people” still live in the hutongs.
Despite these tensions, what became clear after my trip to Beijing — with a stop in Shenzhen — is that preservation and movie magic often compliment each other quite well.
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