Hello from Beijing.
We arrived this morning and we are very happy to report that all our bags and our bicycles also arrived. Unlike when we landed in Rome both our bikes showed up at the oversized luggage collection area!
We were able to easily unwrap them, put our pedals back on, turn the handlebars back, lift the seats, and pump the tires all in the quiet of the arrivals hall. It was the quietest, emptiest airport we’ve ever seen.
We had an audience of one security guard who was clearly assigned to keep an eye on the weird Westerners while we assembled our bikes. Or else he was just bored and we were the most interesting thing to happen all month.
About two hours after landing, we were ready to ride out into the city.
Our First Ride In China
Fortunately, there is a small access road next to the main freeway that runs from Beijing to the airport. Once we finally found it, it meant riding into Beijing wasn’t as scary as it could have been – the freeway was jam packed with vehicles of all sizes. Our fairly small access road had very little traffic, and a bike lane along many parts of it.
A typhoon swept into Shanghai earlier in the week and we suspect the crazy wind today was part of the same storm system. That made the ride a bit more exciting. Sometimes the wind would whip a dirt cloud into our faces, and there were branches all over the roads we had to avoid.
It was blowing so hard one of the trees (we think they were Chinese Poplars) along our route was downed right in our path, and a group of people had gathered around it to pick its fruit from the now easily accessible branches.
We are once again very thankful for PocketEarth as it guided us right into town, and to our hostel, without any hiccups. It even took us on incredible diversions through a couple of hutongs once we got into the city. It was hard to believe that the tiny grey alleyways we headed down were correct, but we’ve learned to trust PocketEarth (most of the time).
The main roads all had bike lanes as wide as a car lane, and they are usually separated from the traffic by a small fence. Scooters and other small motorised vehicles (of which there are endless varieties) can use the bike lane, so it’s not just pedal power, but it always felt safe. Sometimes we did have to make our way out into the middle of an intersection and wait, with vehicles coming at us from every direction, just to make it to the other side, but we followed the lead of the locals and it all went amazingly well.
People in cars actually seem to acknowledge pedestrians and cyclists as valid human beings here, so they do their best not to run into anyone.
I didn’t get to do much looking around on our ride because I had to keep an eye on the map, but what I did see was incredible. Buddhist temples, the Drum Tower, people carrying trays of freshly made tofu, scooters piled high with charcoal, skyscrapers with Chinese lettering on them.
And so many Chinese people. I saw four Caucasians on the entire ride from the airport (30 km), which makes quite a change. It surprised me that we didn’t see more people who were obviously foreigners.
The Great Firewall
We were not able to get onto Twitter or Facebook when we arrived at our hostel, and it turns out these sites are still blocked China-wide by The Great Firewall. We have a VPN service but it too is blocked, so we had to find a different VPN provider before we would be able to post blogs, update friends, and find out more about Ai Weiwei, who I would love to meet while we are here.
We barely slept on the plane, so after a quick dinner around the corner from the hostel we climbed into bed, hoping we wouldn’t wake up too early tomorrow.
There is one time zone for all of China, so the sun set very early today which means tomorrow it will get up very early. Hopefully we will be so tired we won’t notice.
We have a lot to do and see in Beijing and I don’t want jet lag to get in the way. ♥