In Praise of Hutong.

Nicholas Quirke was not best placed to honour the traditions for New Year preparations on 7 February 2021 which, is the day when ‘Pig Slaughtering’ needed to be completed. As a vegan this was not something he could participate in and for the majority of Chinese citizens possessing let alone terminating a hog to have the meat ready for the new year meal was not a commodity that could easily be arranged and instead, the tradition had turned naturally to consumerism. There were though tasks to be completed before he could even think of abiding to the lunar calendars 26th of December demands, the first of which involved dressing up and videoing himself speaking some stilted mandarin. In the spirit of food preparation he made his own devised marinade for Tempeh. He had a smoothie for lunch as he was feeling a little unsettled by his greed of the previous day before he set off on a journey to Chongwongmen and he was determined to make a time lapse video of his ride. He made and error and did not capture the full ride to the cinema where he had booked to see an Chinese documentary film ‘A Reunion’. This was originally a short film which the director filmed reunion of a family reunion at Chinese New Year. The story was of a father with brain damage who had been left by his wife a daughter to live with his elderly mother and brother and sister in law whose live’s had been suffocated by the unwanted 20 year ministry. The brothers and sisters gather at the matriarchs home for new year and even the daughter of the cognitively challenged protagonist finally came too. This amazingly happened to coincide with the Mother’s demise and against painful words of the son saying each day that he will ‘go and find MaMa’ the siblings argue about who should now take care of truly pitiful hero who no one wants responsibility for. The film segued into the filmmakers recording of the making of the film which is actually being played out as the real events and story revealed are the directors own family. As a filmmaker he had come home to film the reunion and the story he ended up with was beyond any expectation. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. Nicholas had arranged to meet Peng in a cafe after the movie and found the route to the venue through a Hutong inspiring as ever. What he liked about these streets was that they were the homes of ordinary people that were originally formed in the Yuan Dynasty 1271 -1368 and those that survived into the 21st centuries were still lived in he couldn’t think of city in England where homes reached back that far. The homes were all interconnected, making it easy for the locals to keep in touch with their neighbors. Once he had entered any of the lanes, he could sense the deep and warm relationships among its residents which, is rarely found in this modern world. In the twisted lanes the life of the locals is out on the pavements, belongings, laundry, public bathrooms and toilets can be espied. quirky shops and stalls treat sell all kinds of goods to satisfy the local people’s daily needs. Walking through them filled him with fascination and a sense of the history and development of the city which, the lanes have witnessed. The teahouse had a surprisingly boho western feel to it and he happily wiled away the afternoon relaxing and working and he was invited to join and signed up for the ‘Invite Only’ new social media app ‘Clubhouse’ . A brisk cycle home to a much needed face time chat with his mother; who he was pleased to find in good spirits and health if not utterly bored by the Covid lockdown, and ‘Saint Maud’ the dark and twisted film for the evening. A parcel of cakes to mark the special day arrived and came in one of the most ostentatious and gorgeous presentation boxes he had seen. A day well spent bringing him another day closer to the celebrations of the oncoming Spring Festival which would be marked by year another sleep.

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