It was just after midnight when the taxi driver dropped us off in an alleyway surrounded by sacks of concrete and piles of bricks. Hard to believe this is where we would find our hotel- "Sitting on the City Walls'' Courtyard House - in Beijing, but it's fairly typical of what to expect if you decide to forgo a stay in one of the bargain four-star hotels, most nearly empty now that the Olympics is past, and stay in a hutong.
Hutongs are like villages inside the big city - basically communities hidden in and around alleyways surrounding common courtyards. People use like community centers to talk, meet each other, exercise, even use the public restrooms (Not us! Our place has 11 neat rooms, all with modern private baths).
The Chinese government destroyed many of the hutongs to make way for new development for the Oympics, but preservationists stepped in and many, like ours were saved.
Our little inn is run by Rich and Rachel, a young Chinese couple, who take care of their guests as if we were personal friends or family. Breakfast - Chinese or American- is served in a beautiful courtyard decorated with red lanterns and wooden tables.
The neighbors are friendly and talkative. We watched them playing ping pong this morning in the community recreation area that's like an adult playground where people gather to exercise and play games.
I often weigh the "inconveniences'' of staying in small place like this against the feeling that I have an immediate circle of friends within minutes of arriving in a big city like Beijing at midnight. . For instance, a heat lamp in the bathroom doubles as the only light. Conclusion: Still a great choice, and at $54 a night, a Beijing bargain!