World ? Asia ? China ? Beijing

Beijing: Walking Tours

Taking a stroll in Beijing can be hard work. The main boulevard, Chang'an Dajie, is a soulless and windswept thoroughfare, and the rest of town seems to be a huge construction site choking on dust and car fumes. These strolls will show you a gentler Beijing, where older Beijingers push cane shopping carts through even more ancient tree-lined hutong, where young lovers clasp hands nervously as they gaze across the Back Lakes, and where pot-bellied cab drivers quaff beer while enjoying boisterous games of poker or chess in the middle of the sidewalk.

You'll need to keep your wits about you. No one in Beijing seems capable of walking in a straight line. Pedestrian crossings are decorative, and newly installed crossings with traffic lights are often ignored by motorists. The car, particularly the four-wheel-drive, dominates both the road and the sidewalk. Cars are the main source of the air pollution that blankets the capital. Beijing already boasts the highest rate of car ownership in China, and more than a thousand new cars hit the road every day; a suicidal path, akin to turning New York into Los Angeles.

Renting or purchasing a bike moves you one rung up the traffic food chain and is a less tiring way to get around. Youth hostels rent out bikes for around ť30 ($4/ţ2) per day, while bike parking stations next to metro stops are cheaper yet at ť10 ($1.35/65p) per day, but you'll need a native speaker to assist you. You can purchase a second-hand bike from a street-side repair stall for less than ť100 ($13/ţ6.65); new bikes start from ť140 ($19/ţ9.35). Bike traffic is orderly, and unlike Guangzhou and Shanghai, the capital has yet to block off large numbers of streets to cyclists. Whether you walk or ride a bike, avoid sudden changes of direction, and go with the substantial flow around you.

Loving Life Massage Center -- Chinese believe that the blind make superior masseuses because, with the loss of one sense, they are supposed to have a heightened sense of touch. The Lesheng Mangren Baojian Anmo Zhongxin (Loving Life Massage Center), 32 Dengshikou Xi Jie (tel. 010/6525-7531, ext. 3201;) offers one-hour full-body and foot massages for ť88 ($12/ţ5.85) each. You can also try cupping, in which hot glass jars are used to suck out bad energy from your back, leaving funny-looking red welts. The massage center is on the second floor of the Donghua Hotel. Hours are daily 11am to midnight.

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