Beijing survival: Bike on!

Beijing also has a public bicycle rental system.

Beijing also has a public bicycle rental system.

The best way to get around Beijing? Bicycle. For trips up to 30 minutes I prefer cycling. It saves me a walk to the metro or being stuck in a Beijing traffic jam in a taxi. It has also helped me connect to the city, understanding where I am in this vast place, and allows me to get off the beaten path and take short cuts through what’s left of old Beijing. And sometimes it is faster than a taxi.

Nevertheless, it was daunting in the beginning. Here’s my survival strategies for arriving in one piece:

  • Pay attention. Yes, good old fashioned, living in the moment, paying attention to your surroundings. No phone calls or WeChatting, no day dreaming. Keep looking left, right and center. It’s the best way to avoid colliding with cars, tricycles, pedestrians who step on the street without looking, trash collectors or balloon sellers.
  • Wait behind the bus. I don’t like cycling along the Third Ring road, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The fast moving buses can scare the hell out of me. I used to squeeze between buses and the sidewalk, or whirl around the bus squeezing between it and taxis. No more. I wait with one foot on the side walk behind the bus until all passengers have stepped in or out. Safest for me and others.
  • Don’t Expect Courtesy. Nobody will give way to you. So be very careful, but also sometimes it is needed to cross as you never get through. Try to make use of numbers, e.g. go together with a group of jaywalkers.
  • Watch out for potholes, especially in the rain. You won’t see them when they are filled with water (and it may ruin your tyre or worse).
  • Off the beaten track? It’s not always necessary to use the bicycle path. Of course, it is preferable and safer. But often the paths are blocked by cars, pedestrians or unidentified objects. In that case, use the road (but be careful).
  • Toot you too. Don’t be offended by honking horns. Where I come from, cars honk horns out of impatience, or because the cyclist does something very dangerous. Not so in China. I have come to the conclusion that it is often more of a “careful, I’m behind you.” The driver wants you to know he’s there, so that you don’t make unexpected movements toward the middle of the road.

Happy cycling! And use a helmet if you are not (yet) confident. For a decent bike or a seat for your kid, try the Giant stores all over the city.

Not convinced yet? These two companies can arrange guided tours:

Beijing Grey Sky Days: 5 Fun (or useful) Things to do

Buying a good mask is also a useful thing to do on a grey sky day... Try Torana, April Gourmet or

Buying a good mask is also a useful thing to do on a grey sky day… Try Torana, April Gourmet or

Winter is not coming. Apparently it is in Beijing already. After three consecutive days of “grey skies,” and an Air Quality index around 400 (Hazardous), I am already trying to find indoor things to do, both for myself and my toddler. So, instead of being gloomy, I am trying to approach it as an opportunity to have indoor fun :) Or to finally tick some things of my to do list. Like writing a new blog post.

  1. (Themed) Play Date: Organise an impromptu play date: your toddler’s little friends will probably be bored out of their brains too, as are their Mums. So invite some folks over  to your home for an extra dose of entertainment. Even if your regular play date is on a Monday and its now a Friday. Perhaps set a theme like music (sing songs together), art (bring out the stickers), or cookie making with older toddlers.
  2. Dance around: Have an indoor dance party (can be combined with number 1 obviously). Put on the sunniest music in your collection and teach your baby the mambo.
  3. Summer time! Pretend its summer: put balls in your baby’s swimming pool, blow up all his rubber swim toys, stick little umbrella’s in his fruit and switch on all the lights- perhaps even coloured ones if you can find one. If your kid is old enough, you can even bring out the Kinetic sand (I saw it for sale at Counting Sheep Boutique in Indigo Mall)
  4. Set up a Taobao Account. You’ve heard many people about it but never got round to it? It will save you from going out when it is really freezing cold. City Weekend recently published a tutorial, though do check whether the Lakela way of paying is possible again before setting it up, it seemed to be discontinued a while back. Also see my previous post here. You can buy toys and craft supplies there for upcoming grey sky days. Warning: Taobao is addictive :)
  5. OrganiseSpend one hour to do little chores: I finally polished all my shoes and my husband’s (the shoe shop in our expat compound is ridiculously expensive). I tidied one messy cupboard (ayi does not know which things can be thrown away), but also think of sorting out the summer baby gear, exchanging that gift you did not like that much… My toddler was amazingly attentive of shoe polishing when I have her a piece of cloth and an empty pot (she is obsessed with opening and closing bottles, boxes and doors these days). If you limit yourself to one hour, cutting up bigger projects if needed, it is easier to start and finish.
  6. Bonus tip: Swap Toys! organise a toy swap with friends. Swap your digger for their baby walker, exchange the farm for a doggie etc. Borrow it for a few days and give it back. Apparently there are companies on Taobao that allow you to rent toys, but I am yet to find out the details about it.