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Peter in Tian'anmen Square



Peter Snow

Beijing to Chengde Seven-Day Tour Notes

Part 2

Copyright © Peter Snow Cao 2002.






It was dark by the time we got situated, but we went cycling anyway. People cycle day and night (without lights) in China. We headed up to the south gate of the Forbidden City and Don got his first of many photo ops. Cruising around Beijing at night on a bike is fun experience. There are still many cyclists out and about, and the sense of the unknown heightens one’s perceptions.

We had our first meal at a Muslim restaurant in the Dongzhimen area, where I first came into the city the night before. Don is easy to please; he tells me he will eat whatever is put in front of him. He also is a big fan of taking food pictures.

Dinner at the Muslim restaurant

The next day we visit a number of Beijing’s tourist attractions. Don said he wanted to follow the Blockbuster Bicycle Tour" described in Lonely Planet’s Beijing. It lists about 20 places to visit and suggests an early start. That is no problem with Don. He tells me he generally wakes up a 4:30 a.m. I groan, inwardly, and suggest maybe sometime around 6 a.m. would be better. Don groans outwardly, but concedes. We agree on an itinerary that basically follows the suggested route.

The first item on the agenda is Tiantan Park (Temple of Heaven Park) in the south part of town. A 6 a.m. opening is listed so we shoot for that. At dawn, the streets are subdued with few vehicles and cyclists. We cruise down to the park and put our bikes next to some vendors at the west gate. It strikes me as odd there is not an organized bike parking area or attendant. I hope the proximity of the bikes to the vendors discourages any of the infamous bike thieves.

Tricycle parking lot

We enter the park, and head to the Altar of Heaven. Another set of gates, entrance tickets and an 8 a.m. opening time! Don reaches for his camera to take a picture of some sexagenarians stretching their legs. They start to talk about us and I surprise them when I correct their impressions of us. They are delighted to hear me speak their language and start asking a never-ending stream of questions: that is until Don interrupts with a sad look on his face; he forgot his camera. We cut the interview short and head back to the hotel to get the camera. We have time to spare, as the best parts of the park don’t open until 8.

Don loves the novelty and is fascinated by it all. He brought 12 rolls of 36-exposure film with him, and at the rate he is going, it may not be enough.

Next we go to the Natural History Museum, overall a disappointment for Don. I have seen plenty of these types of museums in China, so I don’t set me hopes to high. Rather than being in the capital of the largest country on earth, it seems to be more like some small county museum in Midwestern U.S. The biology section on human reproduction has some of the typically grotesque pictures of sex organs infected with advanced stages of various forms of venereal disease seen around Chinese clinics and hospitals. It is surprising to me that the pictures of naked men, woman and children are Caucasian rather than Asian.

Next we cruise past Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City, opting to do that another day, and head for Beihai Park (North Lake Park). This park has at least four opportunities to buy additional tickets, but proves well worth it. We have lunch near the gate and then head across the street to Jingshan Park for an aerial view of the Forbidden City and Beihai Park. Don amazes me with his high energy level. I keep expecting jet lag to set in, but it never does.

Don at the Drum Tower

We head north to the Black Lakes area and cruise by Prince Gong’s Mansion. It is almost 2 P.M. and we have not even completed half of the items on the list, so we decide to make a short list of must sees, just passing by others to see if they warrant entering. Don was set on seeing the Old Observatory with the ancient instruments so we set the rest of the day toward making it there an hour before closing time. That gives us time to view the Bamboo Garden Hotel grounds, and the Bell Tower before making the trek to the Observatory on the southeast side of the city. Cycling to these places certainly makes the trip more interesting as we can get a feel for the city and are freed from the hassles of taxi and pedicab drivers.

Ancient Observatory Instruments

All the sights were just that, and despite my role as tour guide, it is an unfamiliar role for me. My usual tours are to out of the way places with few "attractions" per se.

We returned to the hotel as it started to raining lightly. I left Don at the hotel while I went to get the tickets to the Beijing Opera. We went to the Huguang Guild Hall nearby our hotel.

Getting there early allowed us some time to peruse the small museum with some old pictures of the building before it was refurbished. The ticket prices were 100-280 yuan and included some snacks and tea. The interior was colorfully decorated and the stage brightly lit with two screens one for translations, and one for Chinese characters. The hall was about 20% full with only foreigners. I wondered where the locals go for the non-sanitized performances. Three acts of different types were performed over the course of an hour or so. It was raining quite hard when we left the theater.

The following day, Don and I rose early at 5:30 a.m. We had to wake the service staff to place some luggage in storage. We also had to wake the night guard to let us out the front door. Don says he prefers to work up an appetite before having breakfast so we ride first. The morning was just breaking and the air was cool and clean. The few vehicles roaming the streets were mostly taxis. We rode due north out of town, taking the local roads to the Ming Tombs. Just a few kilometers north of Forbidden City, Beijing becomes quite rural with farms and roadside shacks. We cycled on a bad road for about five kilometers. It is hard to imagine that this is a city of 10 million people.

Continuing north and joining a major northbound highway, we passed several suburbs with shining new residential and commercial high-rises. Attractive prices lure the newly rich out of the city, and the number of vehicles on the roads increase dramatically. Don told me he was ready for breakfast and we found a small roadside restaurant in a village. The locals looked genuinely astonished to see us.

We cycled north on the busy highway until we crossed a river and then took the first road heading west. This road was the perfect cycling road. Tree-lined smooth low-traffic road.

Next: Part 3

Beijing to Chengde Seven-Day Tour Notes: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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