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Nabeel Farah


Beijing, China

The Hutongs of
Beijing are a sight to behold. These narrow alleyways
range anywhere from 3 feet to 10 feet in width are home to some of
's most fascinating dwellings. Tin roofed shacks, assorted eateries,
produce stands, and animated markets lend the Hutongs their charming
flavor. At length, it was down one of these Hutongs that my hopes for
locating a bike finally came to fruition after searching for several hours.
The old man covered with oil and sweat spoke no English but it was
assumed that the bikes in front of his shack were for rent. After
demonstrating the international sign for "rent bike" (this oft forgotten
maneuver is executed by first balancing on the left foot then extending the
arms while simultaneously flexing the right hip up and down in a
peddle-like fashion while bobbing the head up and down). This was the very
picture of a utilitarian Chinese workhorse bike, rusting and weighing
probably more than its rider it served its purpose and the brakes did work.
After negotiating the not so unreasonable sum of $1 a day, it was off
to cycle through
Beijing starting in Tiananmen Square

The massive portrait of Chairman Mao glares stoically at
through the thick haze annually blown in from the Gobi
desert. It was
in 1989 that the Chinese were said to have mowed down thousands of
pro-democracy protests. Today, however, this largest square in the world is
lively and bustling. Hordes and hordes of Chinese tourists make the
pilgrimage to the square and queue up to visit the "Maosoleum". Here the
chairman's preserved body lies in all its splendor for the patriotic to
revere. Kites swoop high and low through the air above the square,
just don't get clotheslined.
Tiananmen Square
is a relaxing place but big brother is still watch from the numerous cameras peering down from corners of buildings and light poles. Then there is the peculiar and omnipresent Chinese soldier. Hundreds of Mao's
finest cadets eye you suspiciously wherever you go, especially since
westerners here are few and far between. These soldiers are a curious breed,
alternatively standing at attention for hours on end and marching
briskly to apparent destination for no apparent reason.

Just north of
Tiananmen square lies the Forbidden City
. Quite the city
within a city, not a bad place for a humble emperor and throngs of
concubines and administrative eunuchs to hang out. Hundreds and hundreds of
splendorously decorated palace halls overlook expansive courtyards and
imposing gates. As if this weren't enough, the summer palace just
outside the city offered the emperor a magnificent retreat. The summer
palace is replete with grand
trees and spreads over rolling hills
overlooking the tranquil Kumming  lake.


is crowded and virtually no one speaks English. Buses are
filled to the brim. It is not at all uncommon for middle aged ladies or
anyone for that matter to spit up huge wads of phlegm or pass flatus with
orchestral brazenness all while standing right next to you. The Chinese
make no apologies for their curtness. Elbows fly and crowds push, just
another day in the life of
. The cuisine also deserves special
mention. Tasty and cheap…pop into an eatery and order. The menus are
all in Chinese so lunch is very much a lottery of pointing at Chinese
characters. Sometimes the exact nature of what has the delicious if a bit
mysterious meal is best left to the imagination lest you know you've
just eaten ox entrails, pigs blood, eyes, tendons etc.

The Wall from Jingsaling to Simatie

The Great Wall needs little introduction. Construction was begun nearly
2,000 years ago. Only after hiking five miles up and down the
prodigious mountains of the Chinese countryside can one really come to
appreciate the magnitude of the wall. The wall is rugged terrain, slopes that
were once steps are now pebbles having been weathered over the centuries.
The wall connects a series of sizable turrets every few hundred

On to a random city in the countryside

The flatter areas of the Chinese countryside glisten with acres and
acres of peach trees, flowers in full bloom as pink petals cascade to the
ground. The tiny provincial
village of Guanjiayu
is not a tourist
, rather a completely random place for the westerner to observe country
life.  The old men wear Mao style caps and dark blue sweaters and
pants. The people are very hospitable and gladly invite the anomaly that is
the western  backpacker into their huts for a meal.  Of course no
English is spoken but communication somehow occurs with a series of laughs
and gesticulations.

has been amazing wish I had more than a week to explore but
gotta move on.