China 2: City lakes and lights
It was our first afternoon in Beijing and I trotted along after Mike, who seemed to know where he was going, and we duly arrived at another renovated hutong with nice shops and whatnot. At the other end were three lakes collectively known as Shichahai and an area known for its nightlife.
We crossed the humped bridge over a pinch point on the lakes and meandered along, looking for somewhere to rest and rehydrate a while.
If you look on the map, the three lakes (along with three more to the south) are elongated and follow a curved path so it’s not hard to imagine them as the northern end of the 1800km-long Grand Canal a few hundred years ago. This made Shichahai a commercially very important area. It still is, though the grain transported here in historical times is more likely to be found today in fancy distilled formats.
We found some of the latter and a place with a breeze to sit. Mike started yawning about once a minute.
The bottom of the three lakes can be reached by following the road lakeside, or by taking a ‘short cut’ through the hutongs. Though, given the haphazard layout, it hardly got us there any quicker. Not that that was the point: these alleys are fascinating places. Even with those damn bikes sneaking up on you.
We popped out on the shore of Qianhai Lake and proceeded to make our way slowly back to the humped bridge from whence we started, past more restaurants eager for our custom, past places renting pedal boats – available in several varieties including camo, and my personal favourite, yellow duck. I do regret not taking one of them out (I’m sure I could’ve eventually convinced Mike?), even given concerns that our fatigue could have seen us stranded and cast adrift forever.
This would be a great place to see in winter. Apparently the lakes freeze over and you can come here to ice skate. That is probably also the surest time of year that the no fishing, no swimming signs would be obeyed. Lord knows what’s in the water but many of the locals were loving it.
At a square we sat down for a bit. It was the perfect place to people watch and to be asked about six times by about six roving vendors if we wanted a massage.
We were taking our time because we wanted to see this place after dark. In our deteriorating states this wasn’t so much about the nightlife but the night lights.
Topped up with meaty sustenance, we backtracked around the lake a bit before Mike led us back into the hutongs. Dark though it was and often poorly lit, we felt perfectly safe as we negotiated the concrete maze – the map application on Mike’s phone was a godsend. I was relieved to finally make it back to the hotel, whereupon we flopped.