Having got in so late last night we didn’t have to leave our hotel complex until midday today (and it is a complex. The turning off the ring road is gated and the four towers doted around the roundabout look like they are from a by-gone 1980s era, when I guess Westerners were kept separate from the population a bit more. Even now, if you’re a foreigner in China and you’re not staying in a hotel you have to check into a police station to register yourself whenever you change location).
This afternoon we were filming in the hutongs, a part of the city that has completely changed my perception of Beijing. Up until now I’ve found it an imposing, vast, soul less and congested place. But if you visit 3 of the areas where the old streets are preserved you have a completely different experience.
A hutong is a street less than 9 metres wide, and they are generally lined with old shop fronts which used to have residential accommodation at the back. They’ve now been pretty much transformed into hipster areas, with artisan coffee shops and bars, bric a brac stores and souvenir shops. The main area we filmed around opens out onto a large lake surrounded by trees and places to eat and drink. There’s lots to explore, and we had lunch at a great little place with a rickety staircase leading up to a rooftop balcony.
Naomi and I were pretending to be vloggers doing a travel vlog for our ‘Face Tube’ channels, with a selfie stick stuck on the bottom of our cameraman G’s camera to make it look like we were shooting it on our phones. The beauty of this is that it’s supposed to look a bit rubbish, so instead of having to do lots of retakes for interruptions from the general public getting in front of the camera or making noise, we could instead plough through the streets at quite a pace. It was a lovely sunny day, Beijing was looking great, and we had such a laugh and managed to get pretty much everything in the bag before a thunderstorm rolled in. A great last day to what has been a pretty exhausting and hectic schedule.
We’d enjoyed the place so much that we came back in the evening for dinner, and our fixer Jasmine took us to her favourite lakeside restaurant where we sat on a balcony along the shore flanked by giant lillies and watched the pedalos and other pleasure boats pootling around, all lit up in pretty white lights. The nightlife was more vibrant and bustling than what’s going on in Shoreditch these days and if you ever find yourself in Beijing on a Saturday night, get yourself down to the hutongs would be my advice.
Flicking through my phone I see I’ve taken more photos than any other filming block of ‘All Over The Place’ I’ve done, and I can see why. What we’ve seen of China has been stunning. I had no idea it would impress me in quite the way it has. I thought Japan had it all, but I now realise that the Chinese were ahead of them centuries before, and for most of human history have been the most advanced culture on earth. What a place. If we’ve managed to capture half the majesty of what we’ve seen then we’ll have some very good TV on our hands! Not going to miss the toilets though.