To be found nowhere else in the world, the narrow alleyways called hutong are a true Beijing sight to be seen, on a par with the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven. It probably does not inspire the fantasy of travel guide writers as much because you can find them all over the city center and not as a single site in a certain spot. Also, they are free to enjoy, so tourists and locals may not hold them as dear as they deserve to be held.
I bet you are looking for this...
Where Beijing comes alive
The truth is that outside the hutongs Beijing is just like any other metropolis of the world, say New York, London, Seoul or Hong Kong. You have ridiculously high skyscrapers, business people running around busily sipping on Starbucks macchiatos, shopping malls and five star hotels and countless numbers of restaurants serving every dish imaginable. No matter how, you do not necessarily have to come to Beijing to witness modern life in its above mentioned form. Where Beijing is different and unique, however, is in the hutongs.
...and not this
Modern life is rubbish
Imagine a narrow alleyway bordered by gray walls left and right. Every once in a while there will be a food vendor or a small mom and pop eatery that look like they have been there for decades. People will sit in the street, enjoying a game of chess, the latest gossip and a cup of tea. A good move on the chessboard will be applauded by the bystanders just as much as a neighborhood story noone has yet heard. A bicycle with a gas container rolls by, the pilot greeting the chess players with a cigarette stained grin and a couth 吃饭了吗? Observing the scene you get the feeling that these people have not a care in the world beyond their chessboards and the gossip. You start feeling that time moves a little bit slower here. Welcome to the hutongs and welcome to Beijing.
老百姓 enjoying a game of chess