My first visit to Beijing was by bicycle. Back in 1994 I took a ferry to Tianjin and biked all the way to Beijing from the coast. Much of the countryside is corn farms. So in a way it felt a lot like the American midwest with smaller roads!
Beijing is one of the largest cities I’ve ever ridden a bike to, or through. It took several hours of gradual evolution from the small roads of the farmland to the massive boulevards of the downtown. The sense of perspective through this shift was dramatic. The closer you get to the city, the smaller you feel. Journeying from relative silence and grandeur of the spread-out corn fields to the throngs of the capital’s pulse among millions of people made me feel absolutely insignificant. And of course, on two wheels, one feels very vulnerable in a chaotic thrum of traffic. Fortunately, when I got into the center of town, bicycles were still a dominant means of getting around, at that time.
I found a hostel where I could stay for a week as I explored the city. It was right on the edge of a large park, near the Temple of Heaven, a vast round tiered pagoda.
Each morning I would walk through the park in the early hours to watch people gathering to dance, play mahjong, practice Tai Chi, Qigong and Kung Fu. Men would stroll carrying bird cages that they would swing rhythmically to delight the birds which would respond with song to the rocking experience.
I set out on expeditions each day to experience different landmarks around the capital. The massive castle referred to as the “Forbidden City”, which was previously closed to the public in pre-communist era, is open to the public for all to tour.
Many centuries ago the territories of China were contested with the Mongol Empire, the largest empire the world has ever seen. Over a long history of trade and conflict, the dynasties of China have built a massive wall castle/fortification that has lasted to this day. There are many places to visit the Great Wall. I opted to visit a less popular portion of it that has not been restored in centuries.
After my visit to Beijing I headed south to Guangzhou to see the famous mountains of the Li River.
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