January 30, 2010
Last year, I wrote about the icy fun Beijingers enjoy on the frozen lakes here. This year, we decided to try it out ourselves. We had a rare combination of a warm (for a Beijing winter anyway) sunny day with clear skies (read: little pollution) -- perfect for day of riding ice chairs at Houhai (a lake near the Forbidden City). It's a picturesque area surrounded by old Chinese buildings including the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower (see in the pix below.)
Our driver gave us a great tip -- avoid the first two skating areas (first one is too small/crowded, the second is primarily for ice skaters) -- so we headed straight for the third and last skating area. We bought three tickets for 10RMB (about USD$1.50) to get on the ice and another 40RMB for unlimited use of two ice chairs (plus a deposit of 80RMB each to make sure we returned the chairs.)
As you can see from the photos below, the chairs are pretty rudimentary -- just a welded steel frame with two seats covered with a little scrap of carpet.
After you pick out your chair, you choose the poles you'll use to propel yourself on the ice. These are literally just screwdrivers welded to sharpened steel shafts. It's something of a miracle that none of us came back with new holes in our body.
As it turns out, you can really get going on the ice on one of these chairs. Obviously, this is super fun. Our driver explained that they all used to do this because they didn't have money to buy skates before.
Andrew (12) quickly figured out how to do spins on his chair and started doing 720s. Invariably, Michael (9) decided that ramming Andrew was more fun.
There was really quite a scene on the ice. There were vendors right out on ice selling drinks, cotton candy, kebabs (chua'r), and such plus midway-style games even including the electronic free throw basketball games.
Trains of ice chair riders were pretty popular. Somehow, it seemed pretty nuts to have so many with sharp sticks in such close proximity.
There were other ways of getting around on the ice. Ice bikes were a popular rental. These looked pretty fun and got moving pretty fast too, although sometimes the wheel would just spin.
There was also a guy with a sleigh pulled by some animal (alpaca?). I didn't see anyone riding the sleigh.
You could even rent an electric powered cart. These were clearly repurposed bumper cars. I only saw fat, smug boys riding these.
I have to say, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. There were families, couples, old folks, young folks, and piles of friends all having a great time. People were all smiling, pretty polite (even apologizing if they crashed into you), and clearly having fun. Even the vendors were nice (the cotton candy guy even offered me a cigarette). This was pretty different from our usual experience in Beijing and was evidence that at it's best, Beijing is an awesome place. We'll undoubtedly go back to Houhai for more ice play again.