Friday, September 29, 2006

Riding to work: Part 4 (Camera's Last Stand)

So the herd moves out across the final few lanes of the road. Here I am cutting around the left to get by all the slow pokes.
If you very closely look to the right hand part of the screen here you can just see the bike lane that is cordoned off. The problem is, that sometimes the entrance to the bike lane is blocked by bicycle riders crossing traffic, so other riders are forced to either walk their bikes through the crowd (which is really annoying) or use the car lanes until the you get past the fence area.
Now this picture was suppose to be of the road work being done in the middle lane of traffic which is forcing the cars into the bike lane, but there was a slight problem. Apparently when a camera is dropped from the height of a handlebar onto pavement, well, let's just say the camera is not particularly happy about the whole thing.

So thank you for participating in our 4-part series. We hope to run a sequel some day. We are thinking of calling it "Cameras and their wonderful wrist straps which prevent them from being dropped" Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Riding to work: Part 3

What you are looking at here is a 4+ lane road with the 2 near lanes going from left to right and the 2 far lanes going from right to left (just like in north America). Due to the traffic patterns, the nearside traffic, coming from the left, has mostly stopped, while the far side of traffic is still coming from the right. Because of the large break in the nearside traffic, many of the bike riders have crossed to the center of the road and are waiting there for the lights to finally change. There are still occasional cars cross the near side lanes, but because so many of the bicyclists are trailing into the car lanes, these cars, which still have a green light, must now swerve and slow down in order to go straight through the intersection.

This picture was taken from the edge of the intersection, where one would think the bikes should wait for the light to change. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Riding to work: Part 2

When we last left off, our bicycling adventure had just taken us past a bus that was pulling away from the curb. Here you can see another use for the bike lanes - cab hailing areas.

This brings the popular use of bike lanes options up to 4.
1) Riding some form of a bicycle
2) Getting on and off buses
3) Getting into and out of cabs
4) Parking

But getting back to the subject at hand...
While cabbies sometimes use their turn signals, watching the faces of their passengers is a very useful prediction tool. When the passenger in the cab driving next to you starts looking frantic and apparently pointing directly at you, it is a good bet that the vehicle will probably be lurching towards the curb relatively soon.
One nice thing is that most backseat doors in a cab are not able to open on the driver side, so bicycle riders only need to worry about the cabbie jumping out and not the passengers themselves.
This is only true if you are passing on the left side of the cab of course. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Riding to work: Part 1

Cara decided that it might be interesting to show you some of her bicycle ride to work. (This was actually the morning before that small misadventure and completely unrelated - really.)

There are actually a few different paths Cara takes to work. These shots are from the most direct which, of course, are also along the busiest route, the 3rd ring road. This is pretty much a 3 mile ride north on the one road.

Here we are near the begining of the ride. Notice the man at the right hand side of the picture. He is riding his bike along the curb and against traffic. As mentioned in previous posts, this is not at all unusual.

Having now passed the gentleman in the yellow shirt (you can see his arm in the bottom right corner of this shot) we are continuing on to the next intersection. These small intersections can be tricky because cars sometimes want to turn onto these side streets which causes the bikes and cars to navigate through the same space. The easiest way to deal with this is for the bikes to actually manuver ourselves leftward, across the right hand car lane and then ride between the two car lanes and therefore not interfereing with right turning cars. The only difficulty arises when the cars do not turn right and then you have to work your way back across the right hand lane of traffic.

Having made it through the interesction, we are now in an area of high bus traffic. You can see one of the buses up ahead. You may also notice how the bus, as well as this other car right in front of us, is completely in the bike lane. This is a commonly occuring occurance and the accepted responce is to take over the right hand car lane so as to be able to go around such obstructions. One of the nice things about this particular location is that the bike lane is so large, there is sometimes enough room for the bikes and the buses - who hoo!
The bus has now pulled away from the curb. It is very important watch buses's turn signals as this will let riders know wheather we should swerve to the inside or outside of said bus. Making the wrong decision will either force you into the middle of many lanes of cars or force you to come to a sudden halt as your way becomes blocked by many pedestrians entering and exiting the bus. One fun thing that sometimes happens, is that the bus signals it is about to pull away just to fake you out. Then, as you slide your bicycle between the bus and the sidewalk, its doors suddenly open and someone jumps from the bus right in front of you. It is a very tricky pattern and clearly designed as a fear tactic by those sneaky bus drivers.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rosh Hashanah

Last year Cara arrived in Beijing on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. Tonight is the second time we will celebrate this holiday together in Beijing. And what a wonderful year it has been.

We wish everyone a sweet and happy new year. May your upcoming year be filled with joy and gladness and peace.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bicycling Excitement

We'll start by saying that Cara's just fine, so there is no need to worry.

Now for the details: Cara enjoyed her first bike accident today. It was bound to happen eventually and the good news is that it was not serious. While Cara was swerving to go around a turning car, a young woman stepped in front of Cara's bike. The good news is that the bike brakes work very well though they are perhaps a bit touchy since stopping so suddenly also managed to launch Cara over the handlebars... and into a perfect somersault from which she stood up with only a light scratch on the ankle to show for the incident. Also impressive was the ability of the other bikes to swerve around the downed bike and rider.

Really the whole thing turned out rather well and since the statistics indicate that eventually every bicycle rider will have an accident in this city, Cara feels better knowing she has gotten it out of the way with such ease.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What we learned today

1) We missed international Talk Like A Pirate Day - Arrrrrr
Apparently not many people follow this holiday in Beijing. Although, Cara did have a discussion at work the other day regarding the origin of the phrase "shiver me timbers". Surprisingly there were 2 members of the discussion who had never heard the phrase before and were accusing all other members of the discussion of making it up. These are sad times we live in.

2) Our kitties are a lot more interesting than we are to our viewers. We are basing this on the 7 posted comments yesterday's blog has already received. Arrrr

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Psycho Kitties

Well, as you can see, we have managed to get our Ragdoll kittens! However, we'd like to ask our readers to suggest a good caption for this first photo. For reference, the bipedal kitten is Roxanne, and the bewildered onlooker is Cyrano.
Here you can see them guarding the entrance to the Shapiro kitchen in Pennsylvania. Let it not be said that these cats are indifferent about food. We have seen them devour frightening quantities of kitten food. While it appears as though this food gets multiplied in their digestive tracts and roughly double in volume by the time it is left in the litter, at least some of it is clearly staying inside the cats as well. Cyrano has visibly grown since we got them out here to Beijing.

Here you can see the big guy all stretched out and looking a little skinny (he doesn't look that thin any more!)...
Posted by Picasa
...and we close with this photo, taken tonight, of Roxy curled up in our rocking chair.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Its nice to be back because...

It was wonderful to be back in the States with all of the English speakers and fresh air, but now that we are back in China, what are the things we are most happy to have back?

Bicycle room would be the big thing for Cara. Everywhere you go here cars and pedestrians make room for bicycle riders. Well, they make room for bike riders in as much as they make room for anybody, which is to say pretty much not at all. But by the same token, everyone just accepts being cut off by a car, bicycle, or pedestrian with an equal amount of acceptance. When we were driving in Pennsylvania, there was a bicycle who wanted to share the road with the cars because there was no bike lane for him. It was somewhat disruptive to traffic as the cars behind him had to slow down. And while no one actually honked during the 50 seconds the horrible disruption lasted, it was easy to tell how out of place the bicycle rider was.

Now we are back to where bike riders don't slow traffic down because they are quietly riding on the side of the road. Here they completely take over car lanes when there is no bike lane - or if the bike lane simply feels inadequate due to construction, general crowdedness. or whim - and cause massive slow downs. And if there is a break in the cross traffic when a gaggle of bike riders wants to cross the intersection? Well, if those on-coming cars have a destination so non-critical that they are willing to allow a 20 second gap in the traffic, then clearly they also have enough time to wait for the entire peloton of bikers to (ever so slowly) race across the intersection, usually drafting any waiting pedestrians along in their wake. It has been my non-biased assessment that the pedestrians actually cause more intersection slow downs because they take a much longer time to cross than us speedy bicyclists.

Ahhh... its good to be home.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Proving us wrong

Back in the States, one of the things we commonly mentioned concerning Beijing was the pollution level. Well, since we have been back there have been blue skies everyday - and they even look blue! And the temperatures has been perfect for brisk fall days with a nice breeze to round it all out.
This may be the nicest stretch of weather we have ever enjoyed in Beijing and we are trying to ensure that we are appreciating it to our maximum capacity!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This roller coaster neither rolls nor coasts; discuss...

Cedar Point Amusement Park, the "roller coast" of Lake Erie, has a relatively new ride called the Sky Hawk. And of all the rides at Cedar Point, we thought this one was the most thrilling. It has a ridiculously simple design: two pendula (at the bottom of each are twenty seats) that swing in opposition until the seated sections rise beyond horizontal. At its zenith, the rows of seats are 125 feet above the ground, dangling from an 84-foot pendulum arm. Although this ride has no loops or hairpin curves or zany track, it also has no rude bumps, side-to-side thrashing, or tooth-jangling climbs to the top of the track. It is a smooth, gargantuan swing.

The best part? It had only a 15-minute wait.

We drove up to Sandusky, Ohio, a few days before the Labor Day weekend to catch some good ol' American fun, and boy did we find it! Sadly, we never got to ride the Top Thrill Dragster. It was at the top of our list of rides to try simply because it looked intimidating in action. Unfortunately for us, everyone else at the park wanted to ride it, too. It had a 90-minute wait. We didn't come all that way to spend all day in lines; we wanted to RIDE! We figured we'd have a better shot at it towards evening, as the clouds were looking uninviting and a few sprinkles of rain suggested that the park would soon become less than amusing. Of course, sitting on the edge of Lake Erie, the winds were pretty fierce. The shut down the Top Thrill Dragster because the sensors at the top were registering winds in excess of its 35mph safety limit.

Let's get real. What's the point of calling it "Top Thrill" if they won't let park-goers take the risk of having half the structure torn away by gale-force winds in mid-ride? Seriously, if you know you're gonna make it back alive, where's the thrill?

Our Cedar Point adventure had one other unwelcome discovery: we're getting older. By the end of the day, a mild feeling of nausea had crept into our bellies, and it wasn't from all the cotton candy we were eating. Roller coasters can get a little rough on the digestion after 6 or 7 hours.....

Monday, September 11, 2006

We're baaacccckkk

That's right folks, Michael and Cara are back in Beijing and have commenced posting! Now you no longer need to worry about how to fill that 2.6 second void in your morning routine that is normally taken up by reading our enthralling daily comments because we are once again ready to regale you with all sort of stories - as long as they have something to do with food, signs, or weather that is.