For our final day in Beijing, we met up with friends in the Shougang district. Shougang is an old steel district. Many of the factories have been converted to offices or retail spaces. The district underwent significant regeneration ahead of the Winter Olympics. Many of the old steelworks buildings are now home to offices and retail outlets.
Today was a day of contrasts. We ended up in Shougang because we wanted to go ice skating. In winter, Beijing gets cold enough that the lakes freeze over. No need for artificial ice-rinks here. We arrived at the lake (kids go free) and I was confused, there were no skates. Instead a variety of sledges littered the ice. There were single seaters, double seaters, bikes, trikes, everything. Everything except ice-skates.
As someone who can’t skate, this was a dream. We grabbed a two-seater and a set of poles each and set off across the lake at breakneck speed. These things things can reach quite a pace. The bikes had their front wheels replaced with a thin blade, much like a single ice skate. These were terrible for turning and the breaks did nothing on the ice but it was a great laugh.
We left the frozen lake and jumped straight into a driverless taxi. These things roam the streets of Shougang. You can hear them coming as jets of compressed air periodcally hiss from each corner of the vehicle. I can only this might be to keep the sensors clean on the dusty streets of Beijing.
The drive was thankfully uneventful, but it did feel novel. People have asked if we felt frightened or nervous and the only honest answer was no. In my mind, we let a plane fly us here so why not let a car drive us around the block. Things of note during the ride include.
- The vehicle set-off without waiting for us to put seatbelts on. It arrived with seatbelts done up so I can only assume that most people don’t wear them.
- At one point, the car pulls up behind a slower moving vehicle. We weren’t expecting it to decide to pull out and overtake.
- If I’d had to describe the driver I’d say it felt cautious but confident.
I’ve included a video of our taxi journey at the end of this post.
Douyin (抖音), the mainland counterpart to Tiktok is everywhere. Here people queued up to write their wishes for the new year on tiny slips of paper. They’d roll them up, and throw them into a giant Douyin branded bottle.
Next to wishing bottle there was presence by Youku (优酷) a popular Chinese video platform. In contrast to the queues at the Douyin stand, this large pair of shoes went largely unnoticed. It was similar at the Ikea Christmas installation (see Day 7). Interactivity is key to securing brand attention at brand events.
We have a couple of days left in Beijing before returning home. Our eldest starts at a new school in the new year and I need to return to work after some extended time off. I’ve been fortunate, not only to spend the time with family, but to spend a significant part of it here in Beijing.
We’ll be back in China the Summer. Perhaps next time we’ll venture further afield and visit friends in other cities. It has been too long.
This video shows our our first ride in a driverless taxi. I’ve edited to remove shots of my son’s face and points where we were sat in traffic without moving.