Monday, August 18, 2008

Beijing – Day 3

Since we didn't get back to the hotel until 12:30 am this morning, we decided to take it easy this morning. The only things on the agenda were a hutong bike tour and a soccer match tonight.

We woke up and showered about 6:30 am and then hit the buffet. Then we just hung around the hotel taking care of stuff. Scott worked on downloading the photos and I went back to sleep.

Around 11:30 we went out and got some food. The Beijing Olympic Committee printed up several restaurant guides and a shopping guide. We selected a restaurant that wasn't too far from our hotel. It was really nice. The server offered to help us pick out food and we took her up on her offer. Scott got Kung Pao chicken. I got a Spicy Chicken dish which was more or less chicken skin deep fried with lots of sesame seeds. Doesn't sound that appetizing, but it was actually pretty good. The server also added a tofu dish and some vegetables. It turned out to be way more than we could eat, but we did our best to eat enough to show we enjoyed the food.

The funniest part was after watching us eat for a few minutes, the server offered to bring us forks. We thought we were doing pretty good with the chopsticks but apparently no so much. We toughed it out for a while longer, but then Scott accepted a fork. They also brought us a purple ice cream for dessert. I have no idea what flavor it was, but it was tasty enough.

Then with very fully stomachs, we headed over for our bike tour. Our group turned out to be fairly large, 18 people, I think. There were people from Germany (but now living in Belgium and Shanghai), an American family that was currently living in Tokyo, a family from Holland and a couple from Hawaii. It was set to be a 3 hour tour through the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, through several hutongs, past the canal and the Bell and Drum Towers and then back to Jingshan Park where we started.

Beijing Bike Tour

First off, it's freakin' crazy trying to ride a bike here. Yes, there are bike lanes, but they are used by bikes, motor scooters, pedestrians and occassionally cars and in the hutongs, the streets are so narrow that sometimes it is hard to pass two abreast. There is no clear right of way except on really busy streets and everyone just goes when they want and tries not to hit anyone. There is no 3 foot rule like it Seattle. It was a bit nerve-wracking. I was nearly creamed several times and I just missed hitting pedestrians and other bikes multiple times. You really couldn't sightsee while riding too much or you'd hit someone. Because the group was so large, it was often hard to hear the tour guide sometimes.

The hutongs are fascinating looks into the old way of life for the Chinese. Many of the houses don't have bathrooms, so they share a public restroom. Lots of shops and people hanging out in the street. We were closely watched, but many people said hello or waved. There were even so dogs. Mostly small pug like dogs. One thought about chasing the bikes but was called back by its owner.

We had to stop in one of the hutongs because Scott ended up with a flat tire. Our guide took us to a road side shop where the man replaced the tube and tire in about 10 minutes and then we were back on our way.

There was at least one fascinating area we will probably go back and visit on our own. It was called Antiques Street and was full of shops selling handcrafted items, paper products, art supplies and I suppose some antiques but I wouldn't bank on it. It looked like an interesting place to do some shopping.

We also biked on a street next to a canal that runs through the city. It was very pleasant, but very busy. It was interesting to note that it mostly had cafes and restaurants alone the street with couches and tables for sitting out and enjoying the evening. Since it was the afternoon, they were mostly empty. One of our fellow tourist said that up until about 3 years ago it had been a "bar" street that people loved to come to and sit out in the evening. Now, it's been turned into mostly an overpiced tourist trap. Go figure.

At the end of our tour, we caught a taxi back to the hotel so we could freshen up and pick up Wendy before heading to the soccer game. More later.

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