Unless you are strolling down the Houhai Hutongs with the love of your life by your side, a perfect Beijing summer night always involves riding a bicycle. Let’s also get the scenario straight: We are not talking about going to the club or getting wasted in 三里屯. Neither are we talking about eating a fancy meal (perhaps, God forbid, even western) and watching a movie. This is about enjoying the real Beijing, perhaps as real as it will ever get for someone who was not born here.
Old school but timeless, the Beijing hutong
The bike is your best friend
Your starting point is anywhere close to the second ring road. Saddle up and make your way to one of the hutong areas. Go slowly as you never know who may be darting out of one of the narrow alleyways on his tricycle with several gas containers on it. Also, going slowly will let you take in the atmosphere better, from the small mom and pop convenience stores to the perhaps dodgy barber shops. Be brave and take some of the roads less traveled. Chinese are not all that fuzzed about trespassing and you never know what kind of gem you will unearth next. You can stop at your convenience to chat to some of the old Beijing people sitting on the street escaping the heat at home. Even if your Chinese is virtually non-existent, if you keep smiling nothing bad will happen. Just say 你好 and perhaps ask where you can get some lamb kebabs 哪里有烧烤? They will be happy to help.
Only genuine if the master of BBQ wears that type of hat
You have to have a snack!
If the kebab place is to your liking you might as well sit down there and have some. If you are properly hungry you may want to go for some of the 面条 which the menu will likely offer. Add a 北冰洋 and a 凉菜 and I assure you will not be hungry again – for today. Next head in the direction of the Legation Quarter and cycle the roads so very laden with history. If you have read “Midnight in Peking” you may get even more out of it – and a bit of a shudder, too. Make sure to work your way past 天安门 as at night there are next to no people there and only the guards will give you a glimpse of what China aspires to be. For some reason riding past it is much cooler than walking or driving. Lastly, I would suggest a trip to the Houhai hutongs, if you want to take in the bar street at night you are free to do so, of course. The beauty however lies in the areas off the bar street where you have some calm and can really take in the atmosphere. It will almost remind you of some sort of Chinese seaside resort. Tell me know that you do not love Beijing.
The best fizzy drink in China