Challenges of traveling in Beijing

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After last nights thunderstorm we awoke today to a view of the nearby mountains and the glimmer of a little sunshine.  We had no idea that there were mountains a few miles away.  Later in the morning the sky clouded over, and the mountains were once again invisible.  The afternoon produced a few drops of rain.  The temperature has cooled to the mid 80s but the humidity remains oppressive.

As my wife, Twila, and I wandered around the Hou Hai area and enjoyed “old Beijing” with its array of restaurants, bars and cafes lining the lakeside hutongs (old lanes), we encountered a few sights that could not be explained.  

Several times we observed elderly people parading very large frogs, tethered to a leash, on the cobblestone walkways.  No one with whom we spoke could explain to us the purpose of keeping a frog on a leash.  

The other major activity, for those individuals who weren’t busy catching frogs, was swimming in the lake.  

Dozens of men (no women) were swimming in the adjacent Qianhai Lake.  Although we were assured that the water in the lake and canals was “clean,” we have been warned by hotel staff not to drink the water that pours from faucets in the community or even in our “5-Star” hotel.


 
Traversing the streets of Beijing has become a challenging experience, especially during this first workday after the start of the Summer Games.

Options for travel include the very efficient subway system, taxis, bicycles, mopeds or rickshaws in the tourist areas.  

Walking, of course, is also an option.  However, you take your life in your hands if you try to cross a street without waiting for long breaks in the traffic.  Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way!  

We anticipated that the massive amount of motorized and pedestrian traffic would result in numerous entanglements. Amazingly, we have not observed any accidents.  We’re still trying to figure out the rules of the road, but to no avail.  Although traffic appears to be whizzing by in many directions at once, obviously, the Beijingers have learned how to maneuver such encounters efficiently.

When we opened the local newspaper Sunday, we were surprised to see an entire page dedicated to a listing of the local churches (Christian and Catholic), with complete descriptions, worship times and locations.  The local TV station informed us that President Bush attended a “registered church” on Sunday.  We wondered what constitutes a “registered church?”  We understand that attendance at unregistered churches is frowned upon and may result in some unknown degree of harassment for the locals.

We are becoming accustomed to the locals staring at us.  We are constantly being watched.  After all, we are foreigners and China remains a suspicious society.  We are different in our dress, actions and language  The locals are curious, and we get the feeling that until now, Beijigners have not had an opportunity to interact with a variety of people from different countries and cultures.  The Chinese have very strict rules for behavior.  

In an effort to alert the foreigners to appropriate behavior and to ensure compliance, signs have been placed around the city in English, instructing foreigners to “Please behave in good manner” (sic).

As we plan our activities for tomorrow, we understand that the weather will be cooler.  The local media tell us that the air will be “cleaner” – by their definition.


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