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August 20th, 2003

Beijing, China

I'm not sure I've ever been in a city that is so well designed for cyclists and so poorly designed for pedestrians. Beijing is huge and not easy to navigate due to the limitations of the metro, but even the busiest thoroughfares contain wide, comfortable, safe bicycle lanes. This was one reason why I wanted to spend the day seeing Beijing from a bicycle, but equally important was the degree to which bicycles have permeated the Chinese psyche: I wanted to join the meandering masses and take in the city as the average Chinese person might do.

Ryan and Claudia, discouraged by the early curfew at the youth hostel and eager for a bit of privacy, had switched to my hotel the night before. Thembi met us in the lobby in the morning, and the four of us rented a quartet of Chinese bicycles for the day's excursion. My wheels were less than satisfactory: the seat was too low, the brakes constantly chafed against the wheel, the front tire was reluctant to be steered. But the bike looked no different than any other among the thousands that we passed throughout the day.

For the next few hours we cycled from temple to tower, lake to park, with Ryan giddily taking GPS readings at every landmark and writing them down in a notebook, purportedly so that he could publish them on the internet later. The highlight of the day was Beihan Park, where an anomalous white pagoda crowned a hill on a small island in a tranquil, paddle-boat-infested lake.

We took lunch at a back street restaurant which had no English on their menu -- they probably had never had a foreigner inside. Our strategy was to point at an item on the inscrutable menu and hope that it was palatable. Ryan had learned the Chinese phrase for "I am a vegetarian" , and the tastiest dishes proved to be those with no meat. He and Claudia left in the early afternoon to visit the Forbidden City, while Thembi and I sought refuge from the heat and humidity in an air-conditioned internet cafe.

We were all exhausted by the end of the day, and not in the mood for an extended evening. I took dinner at the same restaurant as the first night - their sizzling beef was decent but not as good as the stir-fry chicken. After a regenerative shower and some light reading, I retired.



Photos:
Beijing roundabout
Lama Temple entrance
Feeding the flames
Multi-tiered temple
Me and Confucius
Drum Tower
Old neighborhood from above
Bell Tower
Forbidden City from above
Beihan Park
Buddhist rocker
Temple in Beihan Park
Temple in Beihan Park, again
Lake in Beihan Park


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