Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Biking Beijing

The three of us have had this goal of renting bikes and pedaling around the city for the day. More specifically, we have been searching for a place locally, near our apartment, that caters to Beijing residents. This is as opposed to going to the tourist, expat sections of town and paying a fairly significant amount of money to bike through the hutongs for an hour.

But we were having a tough time of it. I thought I had remembered identical bikes stacked next to each other in the ubiquitous parking lots that exist for bikes up and down Zhongguancun Lu. Every time we asked, however, we were faced with quizzical looks that told us there we no bikes for rent.

And so, when we accidentally happened upon an ordinary bike parking lot not far from our apartment, and noticed a bunch of identical green-colored bikes, my thought was that this was just another false alarm.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Z came back from his query, informing us that, yep, they rent bikes. It would have been easy to miss, that's for sure. Look at the first picture very carefully. There, on a tattered sheet of white paper, on the window behind Julie and Z, are the words 出租自行车..."rent bikes." That's it, that's the extent of their advertising.

It turns out there is a woman who lives in that little shed. Her job is to watch over the bike parking lot, collecting fees and so forth. She was washing her clothes in a little plastic basin when we arrived.

We got the impression that these bikes are not rented very often. The woman had a hard time finding the key and unlocking the chain that bound all of the rental bikes together. Then there was the issue of putting air in the tires. The pump that the woman had was pretty basic, rather old, and required two people to operate. But we got it done.

The woman told us we could keep the bikes for a half day for RMB10 or a full day for RMB20. It didn't matter what time we came back, as she has a bed and everything inside the shed.

The woman then asked me for 900 kuai as a security deposit. This is how things go in China. I give the equivalent of $150 to a woman in a shed at the side of the road. She gives us three bikes. There is no receipt or any other kind of paperwork whatsoever. We didn't even shake hands.

And so off we went. Biking toward the center of town, we passed by the grave site of the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. We biked through hutongs. We biked on main roads, along side buses, electric scooters, cars, you name it. We saw a pane of glass coming crashing down from in front of a building right in front of us, narrowing avoiding disaster. (It was pretty unnerving, and prompted a yelling exchange between the store proprietors and other passing cyclists.) We had lunch at Yabao Lu, enjoying Xinjiang food all the way over on the other side of town from where we live. We biked on Chang'an Jie, the famed wide street that crosses in front of Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. We found the West Cathedral (see the preceding post).

And when we made it back, the woman was there waiting with our 900 kuai...

~Steve

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