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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Problems with Internet in China
Firstly many websites/services are banned in China, including both Facebook and Twitter. As my blog is linked to both, I’m having some difficulty but will attempt to keep the updates coming. Facebook may well not work for me until I can find a host with a VPN (virtual private network that gets around the restrictions), if I get it working it’s a bonus. Because it is also so slow photo’s take ages to load, so I will just batch load them (leaving the laptop ticking away) making my blog very image heavy. Normal service will be resumed ASAP, but probably not until I leave China.
Route finding is the biggest headache as I have no paper map. I’ve tried to load routes using bikeroutetoaster/googlemaps and it just will not load the maps as the speed is insufficient. So riding across China is going to challenge me in more ways than one!

My first night with my Warmshowers hosts Ira & Rachel involved a trip to their local eating house, where I was introduced to a wide selection of food from the menu. I was certainly ready for a good meal and tucked in with gusto, washing it down with a local beer. The food (and beer) is so cheap here it’s hardly worth cooking and apparently it will get even cheaper as I travel outside of Beijing and into the countryside.
Ira and Rachel are saving for their own cycling tour to Italy, working far too many hours (those who say they can’t afford a trip should take a leaf out of their book!) and I was so grateful they took time out with me, as well as letting me have the run of their small apartment. Thanks for helping me out guys.

A narrow Hutong close to my accommodation

I spent the first two days familiarizing myself with the local area, wandering round the Hutongs (the name for the narrow streets/alleys) and then went into the main town looking for maps and other bits I needed. It was a fruitless and frustrating exercise as I found Google maps pretty inaccurate when it came to locating the stores. Me and Luke know all about this – we had the same problems in Kyrgyzstan and so it’s just as well I also took time out to find some of the sites I would later visit, including Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City.

A local hutong, Beijing

Rachel did give me the tube directions to a Decathlon store, where I was able to pick up the remaning bike parts broken in the accident (bottle cages etc.) and I also treated myself to a new fleece for the cold winter here.

The Forbidden City
I chose a clear and chilly day to visit the forbidden city, the wind blowing just enough to work it’s way into my bones as I made my way through the tunnels of Tiananamen Tower and towards the Forbidden City. I had to keep moving just to keep myself from becoming another of the many statues and taking my gloves off to take photographs was a pretty painful experience. But it was stunning and worth all the effort, as I hope you’ll agree. I’ve loaded all the pictures together, apologies for the lack of dialog but I didn’t collect all the information as I normally would, due to the cold.

Chairman Mao’s portrait hangs on the Tiananamen Tower


The Gate of Blending Harmony


Inside the Forbidden City, The Gate of Supreme Harmony

A pair of lions guard important buildings. The male lion has one paw placed on a globe, representing the emperor’s power over the world. The female has her paw on a baby lion, representing the emperor’s fertility.

A female guardian lion


The Hall of Supreme Harmony

On the terrace, a bronze crane and a bronze tortoise can be seen. They were placed there to expect everlasting rule and longevity. The crane lives 1,000 years and the tortoise 10,000, says a proverb. Both animals are symbols of longevity and the connection between a tortoise and a crane also dates back to early Chinese history. The crane is a symbol of Long Life and also the symbol of the relationship of Father and Son according to the Confucian philosophy. Furthermore the crane is a symbol of wisdom. When a high-ranking Taoist priest died, it was said he was “turning into a crane.”

Bronze Crane, The Forbidden City


Bronze Turtle, The Forbidden City


The Hall of Preserved Harmony

The roof guardians are led by a figure riding a phoenix, followed by a number of mythical beasts (the more beasts, the more important the building) and at the tail of the procession is the imperial dragon.

The Roof Guardians


The Palace of Heavenly Purity

More than 300 copper and brass water vats can be found in the Forbidden City. They were used for fighting fires and in winter were prevented from freezing over by wrapping them in thick quilts.

Water Vat


Inside The Forbidden City


Female Guardian Lion outside the Gate of Heavenly Purity


Inside The Forbidden City

The tour of The Forbidden City ends with a wander round the Imperial Garden. At the northern entrance are two bronze kneeling elephants, which symbolise the power of the emperor, showing even these strong creatures kowtowed before him.

Kneeling elephant, the Imperial Garden


Inside the Imperial Garden


Inside the Imperial Garden


Tiananamen Square

The third largest public square in the world, Tiananamen Square is more recently famous for the 1989 massacre of several hundred students following the Chinese governments crackdown on demonstrations. Police presence was very noticeable on my visit (including the many secret police I spotted) and I’m told that anyone attempting to display a “free Tibet” T-shirt would not even get their coat off. The square gets it’s name from the Tiananamen Gate located to the north.

Tiananamen Square, overlooked by Tiananamen Gate


Tiananamen Square, Beijing


Tiananamen Square, Beijing


Tiananamen Square, Beijing


Tiananamen Square, Beijing

There’s so much to see (and photograph) here in Beijing that it’s difficult deciding what to include in the blog, as I’ve taken dozens of pictures and I haven’t even edited the Great Wall photo’s yet. I’ll save those for my next blog.
I move on in the morning and it’s back to wild camping (which should be very interesting – some people have said it’s illegal here, others that it’s OK), then coping with the intense cold. But I’m just happy to be cycling again. Next major town will be Pingyao, China’s best ancient walled city, so stay tuned!  More soon, if I can get internet…


Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

The best photos and explanations I’ve seen of the Forbidden City. Good luck with the cold, it doesn’t help that you don’t have much meat on your bones!

    Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Wow, thanks Tim – I thought it was pretty sparten! I’m trying to put on weight (honestly) but no matter how much I eat it’s just not working. I’ll just have to wear extra layers. 🙂

Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Hey Derek,
I hope you’re still passing my way, Hanoi that is. It’d be great to see you and try to have half as much fun as we had in Georgia. I’ll be away during Tet from Jan 26 to Feb 8. Let me know you’re schedule
when you know it. David O

    Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    That’s the plan David, just not sure when I’ll get there! Keep an eye on the blog and you’ll know when I’m close. 😉

Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 7:34 am

Try a proxy site or server Derek. a frequent visitor to china informs me thus. Good luck! L

Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 11:59 am

Hi Derek! Nice pics! I think Lel is right. I saw people doing this in a hostel in Chengdu. Seemed to be pretty easy.. Good luck!

Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Excellent stuff. Good to follow your progress and wonderful photographs. Stay warm!

Monday, December 16, 2013 at 11:32 am

Dear Derek, ~ you may want to link up with TIEME HERMANS, a Dutch cyclist who has just crossed China (in Indo-China now). Who knows, he may be able to advise you on maps, roads and routes as well as alternative internet options. Check out his website: or his FB page

Good luck, Peter

    Monday, December 23, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Hi Peter,

    Just got back on the internet after a week, I’ll catch up and then check him out, thanks for the link.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Hi Derek,

Nice post, I visited these sites when in Beijing a few years ago on business and learnt more about them from your blog post!

I picked up your blog from a forum entry on lonely planet regarding cycling through Iran. I’m in a similar position myself at present: in turkey exploring ways to cycle through Iran on a world tour!

It’s not looking good, most likely I will be cycling through the stans, as it appears you have done. Might see you in Hanoi!

Good luck and ride safe,


    Monday, December 23, 2013 at 1:33 am

    Hi Fraser,

    Good to have you checking in, if I can help in any way with your trip through ‘the stans’ please give me a shout.


Friday, December 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Google Maps strikes again! I’m really looking forward to seeing Beijing and The Great Wall. As far as VPN goes, I used Psiphon when I was in Iran to great effect. It’s free to download and can be used to tunnel the whole device, so it felt quite unobtrusive. I’m unsure whether they make a Mac version, but it might be worth a look.

    Monday, December 23, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Hi Luke, sorted it, but these clever Chinese keep on blocking me and I have to constantly do a work-around. Will have a look at Psiphon a little later when I’ve caught up after a week without internet!

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