As the construction crews rolled in, Morgan O’Hara began to worry that yet another alleyway mainstay would meet its end. This time it wasn’t so much a hutong venue at risk by Beijing’s seemingly endless street-level renovations, but instead an event. The annual Winter Fayre, to be precise, which has helped Beijingers ring in the holiday season with its mulled wine and numerous stalls where seasonal wares were slung.
Coordinated by The Hutong cultural exchange center, located deep in the twisty Jiudaowan Zhongxiang alleyway, this Christmas bazaar was on the verge of being canceled when laborers set to work in the neighborhood earlier this week, sweeping in and demolishing anything that didn’t adhere to original building blueprints, including portions of The Hutong’s terrace.
Morgan O’Hara, managing partner at The Hutong, says “There’s been so much demolition going on around Beijing, so we were expecting something,” in reference to what’s been colloquially referred to as “the Great Brickening” of 2017, an ongoing effort by the authorities to brick up and tear down street-side businesses they deem to not be up to code.
And while O’Hara was bracing himself for bad news, he admits “when the inspectors come around out of the blue and give you a week’s notice, it’s a shock. It was stressful knowing that the Fayre and some upcoming events were in jeopardy, but more than anything, we’ve got so many great memories on our terrace, and were upset at the prospect of losing such an amazing space. We also felt terrible for our neighbors, some of whom had their homes destroyed.”
Without the terrace, O’Hara and his colleagues wouldn’t have a space to host the bazaar. He’s now was quick to praise staff members for bringing the Fayre back from the brink, saying: “We’ve got two amazing Hutongers, Phoebe Han and Daisy Zhan, who were able to go back and forth with the authorities and salvage a good bit of our terrace. The rule is that all the courtyards need to adhere to their original certificates. In our case, we needed to tear down our beautiful wooden exterior and some of the support poles and shading tarp… We’ve got to come up with a sturdy temporary solution to make sure it’s safe to be up on the terrace during the Fayre. We’re looking at options and will figure something out.”
Although those details are still being finalized, O’Hara says the event is back on track and will be held at The Hutong on Dec 10. It’s a welcome bit of good news for a part of Beijing that has endured closure after closure throughout the year. Having the Fayre return this year will offer a bit of solace for both alleyway regulars and prior vendors at the bazaar, like Liuba Vladimirova who sold her Liuba Draws artworks at the Fayre in recent years, and says “It’s probably one of the oldest expat-oriented Christmas markets in Beijing … They choose Beijing-oriented, Beijing-designed goods from local artists and it’s a great event for the community to get together, they have great food vendors.” She also enjoyed how The Hutong staff treated her and the other vendors, saying they “provide cabbage pancakes and drinks for vendors, because they know it might get crazy and vendors don’t have a minute to run upstairs to grab a bite. So it shows that they care, I think for the visitors it’s the same experience.”
Giuseppe Epifanio, who sold his Italian Cartoccio street eats at the Fayre in the past, concurs with Vladimirova saying: “The Fayre represented, in the first place, an opportunity to welcome Christmas for us expats by gathering interesting F&B projects in one place and letting people enjoy it all at the same time. And from a business owner’s point of view, it has been a great chance to get to know other vendors and entrepreneurs.”
O’Hara echoed those sentiments by saying, “The Fayre is a special community event, and we feel fortunate we’ll be able to host it again this Christmas season. With so much change happening in the hutongs, it’s a reminder we can’t take things for granted, and so in some ways, it will feel a bit more poignant. Certainly, a gathering for us to cherish and enjoy!”
Photos: Courtesy of the Hutong