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A new pastime -- roaming through Beijing's old, narrow streets, hutongs, by old-fashioned pedicab to visit siheyuan, the old quadrangles, and learn about the daily life of ordinary Beijing citizens-- has attracted more and more overseas visitors.
Existed as early as hundreds of years ago, narrow lanes, or hutongs were common in ancient Beijing. In the past, several thousand lanes, alleys and quadrangles formed residential areas for ordinary people living in the capital. Today,as the city develops into an international metropolis, its lanes and alleyways, occupying one third of the city proper, still serve as dwellings for half the total urban population.
If sightseeing at the Imperial Palace, Ming Tombs and the Summer Palace is helpful in learning about the lives of China's emperors, the hutongs of Beijing reflect in turn the history of Beijing as a whole.
A day tour through hutongs gives you fresh insight into Beijing's local life.
* Start from the north entrance to Beihai Park by old-fashioned pedicab to the picturesque Shishahai Lake area.
* Visit Gu Lou, the Drum Tower, where visitors will enjoy a bird's eye view of the old city.
* Visit the neighbourhood in the rear Shishahai Lake area and walk in hutongs to drop in one or two courtyard- style homes and, if arranged, meal with a family.
* Visit the mansion and garden of Prince Gong of the Qing Dynasty.
To the north is the Bell Tower, first constructed in 1420 and rebuilt of bricks in 1747 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The original iron bell was replaced by a great bronze bell, which was rung at seven o'clock evening until 1924.
The mansion consists of two parts: living quarters and the garden, covering 56,000 square meters. The living quarters run along three axes - central, eastern and western, altogether having 1,000 rooms. People can imagine the grandeur from its green glazed- tile roofs.
The garden of Prince Gong's Mansion covers 25,000 square meters, with artificial rockeries, covered corridors and pavilions. It is said the Grand View Garden described in the novel "A Dream of Red Mansions" was modelled after this garden.