Icy Fun in Beijing

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It's March 1 and spring is in the air (or is that just coal smoke?). One of the surprises for me about Beijing was how cold it really gets, especially since Beijing and San Francisco are roughly at the same latitude. Unlike in SF (or even Seattle), in Beijing, the lakes and rivers freeze over, and Beijingers head out onto the ice.

One popular place to play is Houhai, the lakes behind the Forbidden City. In addition to ice skating, the locals have other ways to enjoy the ice. One popular older form is to sit on ice chairs and propel themselves with sharp poles. According to our driver, they did this originally because many people couldn't afford skates.

Couple enjoying an ice chair on Houhai.

A newer toy is the ice bike. I think the back wheel must have studs on it.

Kid riding an ice bike on Houhai.

Nearby, vendors sold animals (usually ones from the Chinese zodiac) blown from blobs of sugary dough. (The art is called nie1 mian4 捏面 in Chinese, meaning "knead or pinch dough".) These were super cool, but they kind of sagged and melted when brought into the warm house. I've seen some people eat these, but I don't think that's advisable since the dude worked the dough with his hands and then blew into it the blob.

Niemian vendor near Houhai.

It was definitely a popular place and, like all fun things in Beijing, crowded. (The big tower in behind the lake is the Gulou or Drum Tower.)

Houhai ice scene with Gulou in the background.

We weren't dressed to play that day at Houhai, so I took the boys skating at a rink near our house. Well, Andrew (11) skated and Michael (8) ran around on the ice.

Andrew chasing Michael on the ice.

Eventually, Andrew dropped his skates and started ice bowling (with himself as the ball).

Andrew hurling himself toward a pile of traffic cones on the ice.

I can't remember the last time I skated or even walked on a frozen lake. It's definitely been 25-30 years (crap, I hate the way that sounds). Skating on the bumpy, grooved ice is definitely a different experience than smooth arena ice (go, Zamboni!) but we all had a great time.

While I'm looking forward to spring, I'm sad we didn't enjoy the ice more while we had it. We'll have to play more next winter.

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