Gulou Dajie LIVES!!!鼓楼大街不会死了！
This makes my
day month year. I was in the early stages of writing a lament about how one of my most beloved places in Beijing, Gulou Dajie 鼓楼大街, was soon to be no more. Gulou Dajie is one of the oldest of the remaining traditional hutong 胡同 neighborhoods that made up imperial Beijing. It is named after the Drum Tower (pictured above), that along with the Bell Tower 100 meters north, looms over the neighborhood, due north of the Imperial City 故宫. The two buildings were originally used as instruments, and later to tell time in the city. Here’s a link to learn more about the Drum Tower and Bell Tower’s history. Gulou Dajie used to be the home of ministers and nobles in Beijing, though now it is home to both poor and very wealthy, the former who have no money to move out of their generation-old homes, and the latter who want to hold live in a chic, fashionably traditional space (with all of the modern 21st Century accoutrement, of course).
Gulou is also the home of some of my favorite bars and restaurants. Many of my most treasured memories in Beijing played out against the backdrop of those dirty Gulou Dajie hutongs. This was the first time I went to what is one of my favorite bars in Gulou, right next to the Drum Tower, and next to the 炒肝儿店, a place which will forever be etched in to my mind as well, but for completely different reasons. If you know why, then you also know you will never ever forget that place. Thanks Kate, Bob, Scott, Chew, and Benny and Lee, even though the latter two hated the Mongolian throat-singing so much that they left early.
Last year, it was announced the Gulou Dajie was slated by the Beijing government to be razed 拆掉 and a shopping mall dedicated to high end name boutique watches built in its place. Needless to say, this was a heartbreaking announcement for me and all of my laowai 老外 friends who had bonded so well in the hutongs that we strolled through and soiled with various bodily fluids on various occasions (I was privileged enough to bear witness to Robert’s first time puking from alcohol ever, to name one example, the other has to do with the roof and the color yellow.) There are also quite a few cool little shops in the area, a lot of them selling tourist crap, but some are true gems.
Much more pertinent, however, was the uproar that the announcement caused with some Beijingers, who fretted over the fact that the Gulou hutongs, which had stood for generations upon generations, were slated to be wantonly knocked down after their residents made a hasty and compulsory retreat to other, ‘safer and more sanitary’ housing–two of the reasons that the government cited for the planned construction. I have passed the time on more than a few taxi rides complaining with the 老北京 taxi drivers over this blatant lack of respect for Beijing’s history by the government. In fact, on the whole it is the most critically I have heard Beijingers speak of the government, condemning their decision to build a tribute to ROLEX on the rubble of one of the last bastions of old Beijing. In fairness, the residents of the Gulou area are much more mixed on their opinions of the planned construction. Many, in fact, were looking forward to it, sick and tired of their old decrepit homes with no running water, eager to be moved to relatively more modern housing elsewhere in the city.
Nevertheless, it was announced yesterday that the plans to raze Gulou Dajie have been shelved, as reported in this article about an hour ago by China’s GlobalTimes. I’m not going to lie, I yelped like a little girl when I read this. Despite the certain despair for some of those Gulou residents looking forward to the construction, I, as a white boy who can enjoy the history of the location and then go home to my hot shower and television, absolutely adores this section of Beijing, and I am more than a little bit excited that it will more than likely be here by the time I am back in the city.
(In a completely unrelated note, these pictures, with the exception of the bar photo, were taken exactly one year and one day ago, when Scott and I went to Gulou Dajie for the first time with these two random girls, one of whom we met while creeping on her in the Chengdu airport as described in brief here.