Beijing - Hutong School

Where: Beijing Liuyinjie Elementary School, just southwest of Houhai Lake in the Changqiao Residential District, about 2 kilometers northwest of the Forbidden City in central Beijing.

When: June 2007

During our adoption trip, we first stopped in Beijing for several days to get used to the time zone and meet up with the other families in our cohort. We had the opportunity to take a pedicab tour of the hutongs on the north side of downtown. The neighborhood is a living museum of the city – not just families live and work there but also offices, shops, restaurants, parks, and government functions are interspersed.

Our tour guides were able to take us to the Liuyinjie Elementary School to walk around the grounds and observe classes in session – this school has cultivated relationships with American teaching institutions and regularly participates in cross-cultural exchanges, so no one, least of all the children, was surprised to see Westerners on site.

Our visit also coincided with the pre-2008 Olympics preparations, so the school had recently had a facelift with fresh paint and signage ready to be shown to outsiders.

My wife is a middle-school teacher, and I’ve worked in the education market from the publishing side for decades, so this stop was of particular interest to us. We knew this was a “model school” and intentionally staged in the best light to present to foreigners, so during class time we hung back and kept a low profile (unlike most of our fellow travelers) so that we could be unobtrusive and watch the students’ and teachers’ behavior as discreetly as we could, given the circumstances and our menial understanding of Mandarin.

And what did we notice?

Kids being kids: some were engaged with the lesson, and others goofing off or lost in their own thoughts. The students in red scarves, being marked as future Party elites.  Teachers making do with the materials they had: expensive projection systems hanging unused from the ceiling and the latest version of Windows on their computer, but still delivering lessons with chalkboards, worksheets, and lectures. Peeling paint and uninsulated concrete walls inside the classroom, but adorned with bulletin board set cutouts and cheerful messages.

Halfway around the world, not being able to speak the language or even find our way back to the hotel, and knowing that in just a few days we would become parents, our minds were on the brink of panic. Yet standing in this remarkably familiar place and experiencing our common humanity helped us tremendously.

Click above to open in Google Maps

Click above to open in Google Maps

How to get there

The Shichahai station off Subway Line 8 serves the heart of the Drum and Bell Tower / Qianhai Lake / Houhai Lake area. It’s one stop south of the Gulou Street station off Line 2, and one stop north of the South Luogu Alley station on Line 6. Line 8 also connects farther north with Line 10 at Beitucheng, and Line 15 at Olympic Park.

Nearby accommodation and activities

Of course, the school itself isn’t open for casual tourism, but the parkland around the lakes is quite pleasant for a family outing, with playgrounds and exercise equipment sprinkled throughout, pedal boats to rent, and numerous shops and cafes to visit during the day. The Drum and Bell Tower is also open to climb, and gives a good view of the northern side of the inner-ring of the city. At night, this is Beijing’s nightlife capital… and maybe not so much a place to take the kids…

Image by  sama093  via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by sama093 via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Just south of the Hutong district, and walkable on a clear warm day, is the dramatic hilltop Jinghsan Park, overlooking the Forbidden City.

Just west of the Second Ring Road are the Beijing Zoo and Beijing Aquarium.

Image by  Edward and Caroline  via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Image by Edward and Caroline via Flickr; CC 2.0 license

Subway Line 8 was built to connect downtown to the 2008 Olympics campus, and today the former Olympic Village encompasses extensive parkland and the China Science and Technology Museum, and the Olympic Park subway station is next to the InterContinental Beijing Beichen.

Line 2 follows the Second Ring Road, and international-standard hotels ready for family travelers along that line would include:

Crowne Plaza Beijing Chaoyang U-Town, by the Chaoyangmen station (this station also serves Line 6)

Swissotel Beijing Hong Kong Macau Center, next to the Dongsishitiao station

New Otani Chang Fu Gong, and Beijing Marriott City Wall Hotel, next to the Jianguomen station

Other links

Our Beijing folder on Pinterest