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北青网:Long-term Beijing Expats Involved in Hutong Protection NGO

来源:北青网    作者:Annie Wei     2007-11-06

Hutong is considered as one of the most important heritage cultures in Beijing, also one of the key factors attract more and more foreigners decide to put Beijing as their second home-towns.

But when you stay in Beijing long enough and witness these cultural rights and values were sacrificed to short-term economic gain, you wonder how to help.

Helja L, 31, Finish, used to work in IT sector and her husband Yann B, 31, French, a former Nokia employee are an expat couple who met each other in Beijing eight years ago, fell in love and got married. Like many other Beijing expats, they both like cycling around, enjoying the old Beijing and taking pictures.

“But without real actions at that time (to help preserve the old Beijing),” Helja L said, before they joined in the volunteer project of The Beijing cultural heritage protection center (CHP) last year.

Registered in 2003, CHP’s mission is to support communities to protect their cultural heritage. They use cultural heritage protection laws, regulations, and plans as their guidelines to carry out research and raise public awareness. Their major project is called Friends of Old Beijing. During this project they depend on a large number of volunteers to do surveys in the hutongs in the old town and at the end of the survey they will submit a report to relevant government bodies.

The project has been providing a platform for both expats and locals who want to do something to enhance old Beijing’s culture protection.

CHP has a small group of professional staff members, a large body of volunteers, and talented interns from some top universities around the world.

Helja L and Yann B heard about the hutong protection activity in Bookworm last year, where CHP was looking for volunteers. Quite a few people in the scene, including Helja L and Yann B were motivated by the speech. The presentation was given by Michael Crook, a British citizen who was born and grew up in Beijing.

Helja L and Yann B were actively involved in the first phase of Friends of Old Beijing. They also attended trainings for new volunteers for the second phase in October and shared their experience. During the first phase 35 foreigners joined the project as volunteers, making up half of the total volunteer body. During the second phase there are 7 foreign volunteers among the total 110 volunteers.

During the first phase, Helja L and Yann B chose the Guozijian and Yonghegong, Lama temple area and got a team with another three foreigners and two Chinese.

In fact, the major sites of this area are well-protected, but there are many small areas around needing attention, Yann B said.

The team got together once every two weeks, and they carried out surveys of the physical condition of the hutongs, courtyards and other structures. They also talked with local residents to learn how they think of their environment.

“The way to protect the hutong is to generate the awareness among the public, to have people realize the value of the historical environment,” Yann B said about being a volunteer.

“It’s a good way to learn more about Beijing’s history and cultural heritage protection regulations,” Helja L said. She said that hutong residents were very friendly and nice to chat to. “Maybe because we are foreigners who speak Chinese.”

During their interviews with local hutong residents, they found some residents did not even realize they were living in one of the protected historic cultural areas in Beijing; some residents demolished the old buildings and re-built a new one. According to Yann this was due to the fact that local residents lack of awareness of the value of a historic neighborhood.

As a French person, Yann B had a lot to compare between Beijing and Paris. Yann B thought that Paris did a very good design to protect their historical sites and Beijing hasn’t been on its way yet. “If people know they live in a protected area, they might invest money to renovate their houses and improve their environment conditions,” he said.

“Through this project, we got to know people from different backgrounds. I think we received a lot by participating in this project,” Yann B said during a gathering of Friends of Old Beijing on a recent weekend, also one of the CHP projects.

For people who have interests in this project, please log on to bjchp.org for more information.

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