Hb and I roamed the Hutong alleyways during our visit to Beijing year 2006. Hutong is an interesting older neighborhood that is completely different from the urban district of Beijing. "Hutong" means a small street or a lane between two courtyards. According to historical records, Hutongs first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) after the original city was destroyed during a war. Most of the hutongs still existence today date from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, but many of the old hutongs have been pulled down and replaced by the high rises and wide boulevards of the city.
An ordinary people's quadrangles were simply built with small gates and low houses and a compound occupied by many households.
Walking through the narrow lanes of Hutong, we have discovered something interesting about the daily life of an ordinary Beijing citizen. The communal Hutong toilet scene is far different from what most of us are used to. (Ahh... by merely remembering the visual image brings quivers to my whole body now, phew!). Both male and female toilets emit an unbearable stench of bodily waste that wafts up our nostrils. The open squat toilet has only a four-foot wall divider where you can get an "up-close" view of the people "doing their business" without any show of awkwardness at all. Privacy is practically nonexistent here. However, this is only a typical scene in Hutong's public latrine.
At present, I don't know if the old Hutongs neighborhood we have visited still exist today. It was said before the start of Beijing Olympics, majority of these narrow alleys and lanes, houses and shops have been bulldozed to make way for shopping centers and high-rise apartments.
But I'm certain that the well-known and especially well-preserved Hutong areas where Bell Tower and Shichahai Lake are found still present today, because these two Beijing scenic tourist attractions draws attention to plethora of tourists.