Xian in China – cycling the city wallThursday, 18 May 2017
◄ It may not be totally original, like the Pingyao City Walls, but the City Walls of Xian stretch for 14km and you can rent bicycles and ride a circuit. They cost 200 RMB (about US$30) refundable deposit and 45 RMB (about US$6.50) for two hours
◄ The walls are very impressive, but apart from the corner towers and ramparts there’s a lot to see below the city walls whether it’s temples, historic buildings or simply the Xian city life. I even spotted a couple of apartments which I thought might be interesting places to live and there are lots of restaurants, cafes and bars to spy on.
I started my ride from the South Gate and right at the end of the ride, just before arriving back at the South Gate, in one of the ramparts there’s a nice little display of classic Chinese bicycles of the 1960 to 1980s, when owning a bicycle was a very big thing for the Chinese. Now owning a BMW would probably be the aspirational transport. The display mentions a well-known ballad of the bicycle era: ‘Flying Pigeon bicycles are fast; Forever bicycles are solid and durable, Hongoi bicycles are heavier and reliable.’
▲ Of course my favourite is the Flying Pigeon and on earlier visits to China I often thought of getting one to take home. Rather like I’ve mused about buying a Hero bicycle in India. You can still find classic rod-brake Hero bicycles in India, it would be difficult to find a Flying Pigeon in China today.
Of course I shouldn’t have been riding at all. On my first visits to China, over 20 years ago, it seemed that every tourist attraction had one price for locals and another 10 times higher for foreign visitors, although I remember an enraged Chinese-American in Beijing complaining that it had nothing to do with your nationality and everything to do with whether you looked like a Han Chinese or not. Today the prices for locals or foreigners is precisely the same, but they haven’t reduced the foreigners’ entry prices, they’ve just jacked up the local prices by a factor of 10. Lots of galleries, museums, temples, botanic gardens, buildings, you name it, are eye-wateringly expensive to visit. Entry fees of US$20 or more are not unusual. For elderly visitors (usually that means over 60 years old), local or foreign, however, there’s often half price entry. And really really old visitors, and after a recent birthday that includes me, often get in free. You can imagine this has caused a lot of amusement (surely not resentment?) from my fellow elderly (but not quite as elderly as I am) MGB Silk Road companions.
▲ On the Xian City Wall, however, I hit an entirely opposite problem, riders over 60 years of age were not permitted. As the sign said ‘the old man ban riding.’ Fortunately in China rules are often designed to be broken, no one enquired about my age.