Photo: Daniel Goodman / Business Insider
BEIJING – From his pigeon house, Wan Lianxi overlooks a sea of misshapen roofs and walls overgrown with weeds. He recently added a corrugated plastic roof for shade.Wan started raising homing pigeons in downtown Beijing 40 years ago – when he was still a teenager. Today, he has about 100 of them. During races, in fall and spring, his fastest birds are released a couple of hundred kilometers from Beijing. An electronic chip allows judges to measure the birds’ speed and make sure that they make it home safely.
If Wan was living in another neighbourhood of Beijing, far from this hutong (narrow lane), he would either have to be very rich to own a home with a pigeon house on the roof – or have to build one of the illegal aviaries hidden on netted balconies which city officials are waging a war against.
Beijing’s traditional hutong neighborhoods – which have survived several waves of demolitions – have a countryside feel. We are southwest from Qianmen, “the gate of the Zenith Sun,” which once guarded the southern entry into the old Tatar city – where another hutong neighbourhood was recreated. It now hosts many fast food restaurants and souvenir shops. This enclave seems unaffected by time: overgrown trees have made the job of builders and electric post fencers even harder.
The prettiest houses are covered in yellow flowers about to grow into endless cucumber plants. Courtyards are filled with junk, which has also taken over delivery bicycles and windowsills. Bedding, pajamas and underwear dry in the hot August sun. You can tell where the public toilets are by their smell and the comings and goings around them. In the hutong, few houses have their own toilets. These ones, like most public toilets in China, don’t have doors.
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