Sunday, July 29, 2007

In Beijing

On the bicycle in Beijing.

I decide that it would be a great idea to rent a bicycle and drive through the inner city of Beijing. When searching the web, I come across the web site of the "Bicycle Kingdom". If I had found out about it earlier, I could even have reserved a bicycle per web form on that site.

On Sunday morning, 8am, I call the store to find out about the rental possibilities. Yes, they have bikes available. But they would not be able to bring them to the hotel, as they only do this for hotels within the 2nd ring road. Our hotel is just outside of the 4th ring road. Ok, I could go directly to the rental location and pick it up. The person to whom I talk speaks English very well. He recommends to print out the directions from the web page. Since I do not have a printer with me (mote to myself: next time bring also a portable printer.), I just take a picture screenshot of the address in Chinese Characters, which I would show to the taxi driver.

So I take a taxi to the Oriental Plaza, a large Western-style shopping mall near one of the main shopping streets. The Bicycle Kingdom is a bit hidden and can only be found by someone specifically knowing it: The entrance is through the lobby of the North Garden Hotel. Down with an elevator into the 4th basement floor. There along a dark corridor, a sign on the wall indicates "Bicycle Kingdom". The owner welcomes me, remembering that I called. The bicycle is ready: a nice city bike with a basket in the front. Costs 100 RMB for the day, and I leave my ID card as a deposit. A lock is also included, so I could park the bike when I would want to walk.

As I want to turn north into the pedestrian zone of the Wangfujing Dong street, a policeman waves that I cannot go there. No bicycles, not even pushing. Ok, then I will go south. Visit the Temple of Heavens. Then ride further along those wide alleys with their wide bike lanes. As I finally want to go to the Tian an Men Square, where a lot of people seemed to gather, policemen again wave me away: no bicycles are allowed. Ok, then not.

A Gate in the park of the Temple of Heavens.

South of the Tien an Men Square.

Later I return the bicycle and walk along the Wangfujing Dong Street. There are large shopping malls, but also markets. I decide to buy a few souvenirs and try to haggle. This works quite interestingly: the seller types the price into a calculator and shows it to me. I take the calculator, erase the amount, and type in my own amount that I offer. Then it is the sellers turn to type again their amount, now reduced by 10 RMB. And then I type my amount, going up slightly. In the end, when we both arrive at the same number, the sale is done.
Somehow I still feel that I have been ripped off, when I carry my purchases away...

In the Wangfujing Dong Street - contemporary shopping.

On a side street there is a large food market, with freshly prepared food items. I am not hungry, and also I am quite sceptical, after all the warnings and scandals regarding food in China. But many things look quite appetising, and many people buy and eat them - so it may not be that bad as recently frequently reported in the news. I see a stand with very interesting items: Scorpions and a variety of strange bugs, grilled on skewers. Maybe I try one of those when I am in Beijing next time...

Only for the very courageous: traditional snacks.

As I walk through the tree-shaded allees, I feel getting tired. One of those motorized Rikshas passes by, the driver waving friendly at me. I friendly refuse. But then I think that it might now be a bad idea to get a little rest and go with one of those. So as the next one passes by, I make eye contact and indicate that I would like to go with him. As he slows down looking at me and waving, he gives a demonstration of his driving skills: while slowing down, his motor ricksha bumps into a parked moped which he had overlooked. Not any damage seemed to have been done, but the woman driver of the moped starts argueing with him, and the engage in a lenghty and loud dispute about this incident. I keep on walking... Another riksha comes up, and after a brief negotiation ("five", and he shows five fingers on his hand) I get in the back. That is nice, although the enclosed cabin feels a bit too tight in this sweltering humid heat. As we arrive at the destination after a few minutes, I get out my 5 RMB note, but he angrily shakes his head and shows the five fingers of his hand. I confirm, "five", show also 5 fingers on my hand, point to the 5 RMB note. He keeps waving his hand, and I guess that he meant 50 RMB. Well, I cannot much argue here, 5 RMB would have been quite cheap indeed. 50 seems a bit high... I guess these details should be negotiated at the beginning of the ride, with a clear understanding of both parties. Maybe it would be better if I had paid directly in the beginning?

From the back fo a motorized ricksha.

In the evening, I get slightly hungry. Should finally try the famous Beijing Duck, but when I go to the hotel restaurant, they do not have it on their menu. What a pity! I am too lazy to go out, and rather prepare for the departure in the next morning.

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