There are 9 million bicycles in Beijing

3 Jun

Apparently. According to Katie Melua, although I have it on good authority that she didn’t count them. There are 17 million people here, or around 12 million permanent residents.. so I guess it’s plausible at one bicycle for every two people… Certainly there are lots of cycle lanes….


So, what shall we say about Beijing?  Well, I became a tourist when I arrived here. First stop, Tianamen Square. Which is, I have to say, a large area of open space in the middle of a city. It’s the biggest public square in the world, and the site of the democratic protests that produced ‘that picture’ of a student and a tank. It’s interesting, though, that the police aren’t interested in the tourists.. my bag makes it through without a search, but the Chinese have to submit theirs to an inspection. Everyone has to sling their bags through Xray on the tube though.

Tianamen Square (2)

Tianamen Square (6)Tianamen Square (11)

(Now, here’s something… many of the subway trains have a clear view through the drivers cab… which means you get to see what it’s like driving a subway train. I travelled on the metro a little more than I really needed to, simply because it was such fun to see the view the driver sees. Another cool concept that I haven’t seen anywhere else is a video screen on the tube wall that keeps pace with the movement of the train – so rather than posters that flash past, the posters stay with you. There’s quite a frisson of excitement though – apparently the Chinese authorities have stolen excerpts from ‘Top Gun’ and passed them off as Chinese military manoeuvres.)

But Tianamen Square is interesting, if only to watch the Chinese tourists wandering around – which is pretty much all you can do in a square. The Square is surrounded by museums and monuments, including Mao’s memorial hall (containing his mummmified remains – what is it with communists and mummification?) – and the old city gate.

Tianamen Square (7)Tianamen Square (14)Tianamen Square (21)

Now, one of the irritations of Tianamen Square is being approached by either young women or students wanting to go for a drink or a coffee. The hostel is full of warnings, but it didn’t stop one of the hostel residents falling for the ploy and spending 300 euros on a bottle of wine. I’ve learned to be polite but disinterested – it seems rude and unfriendly… but it’s safest.

I’m staying in a youth hostel (company at last!) in a hutong (a traditional street) that’s a little way out of town. The metro costs around 2yuan or around 25cents, so it’s not an issue. The hutong run east-west to satisfy feng shui rules.. they make for interesting little local societies – I’ve watched community tree felling and a community punch up while I have been here.

9 Dragons & Hutong (1)

Not sure what to do with the fire instructions though. I THINK they may have perfected teleportation.

9 Dragons (1)

And at the end of my hutong is the best cake shop in the world. Not only are the cakes good, but the coffee is excellent, and if you sit upstairs you either get the local ladies who lunch, or you get to watch the DIY cake decoration. The cake decorations, I have to say, are the best I have ever seen – a little bit ‘manga’ maybe – but very cute. Downside – a never ending torrent of C&W music with the occasional respite of Bon Jovi and the Goo Goo Dolls on a 60 minute loop.

Coffee Shop (6)Coffee Shop (5)

(this is a cake that looks like the cake shop)


I’ve spent a while walking round Wangujing Daije… which has ridiculously cheap food in amongst the designer shops and the McDonalds. I think I ate for around $1.  I gave the scorpions a miss, though – especially since they were still wriggling. And I went through 4 floors of a Chinese bookstore – which is quite surreal – so many books and I can’t read any of it.

Wangujung Daije (2)Wangujung Daije (3)

Again, Beijing feels like any other city. Sure, the writing is Chinese, and it’s a very young population – but it’s full of couples, of friends having fun… I’m not sure what I was expecting from a communist country, but apart from the red armbands on the volunteer security, the red neckerchiefs on the school kids, and the copies of The Little Red Book and pictures of Chairman Mao on sale – you could be in any other city in the world.


I was beginning to worry that I had no recollection of what I did on Monday… and then I realised that I had spent it running round Beijing like a lunatic trying (and failing) to sort my visa out. And I was worried I might have lost it in some alcohol or drug befuddled haze….


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