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db - Beijing: Yeah, its accessible

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posted 9/21/08 - 9:33 pm

Beijing did a very credible job trying to make the major tourist destinations accessible. I'm sure this was a requirement of hosting the Paralympics. Making things accessible involved throwing up a ramp; the slope of the ramp was a decision left to the builders.

At the Lama Temple, a large Buddhist structure, I could get to the first set of buildings, but not the more impressive ones at the back. So I sent my mom to take photos and report back what I couldn't reach. Stairs seem to bring good luck, as all temples have them as do most businesses. At temples, a large timber at the door protects against ghosts. Especially effective against ghosts in wheelchairs.

The nearby Temple of Confucius was the most accessible temple we visited. First, disabled visitors were free. Second, they had a temple I could actually get into with ramps. The quiet hutong street the Temple of Confucius was located on, there was a home for the disabled. It was closed when we went by, but I suspect this may have influenced access. After leaving the temple, we were hungry but couldn't seem to find any nearby restaurants. The only one we passed had lots of steps. Rolling around the back of the Temple of Confucius we could smell something really good. We found the restaurant, but again there were a few steps. The staff tried to carry me up, but my mom had the back and couldn't lift me. I said I'd try to walk in, assuming there were just two steps at the door. With a person at each arm, I crested the steps to find I wasn't done. I had to negotiate across a stone bridge over a fish pond.

Inside the chef/owner Johnny gave us the English fixed price menu. It was boring with spaghetti with salmon. We said we wanted Chinese food and an all Chinese menu arrived, without photos. With a mixture of pointing, English and Chinese we managed to order a hot pot meal. Not the most quad friendly, but really yummy food. Leaving, we had three staff who picked me and my chair up and levitated me over the bridge and steps.

John from Seattle had told me about taking the subway around Beijing, so I figured we should give it a try. We had checked the subway stops near our hotel but they weren't accessible. The one by the Lama temple had a ramp out front, so we gave it a shot. Inside were the usual long flight of stairs, but against the wall was a track for a stair glider. To ride stair glider, you summon help by pressing a button. A wheelchair height camera let them verify who was asking. I pressed the button, "Nihou". Um, "English?". More Chinese. "Yingwen?" (English). More Chinese and the speaker goes out. We waited a few minutes and four staff arrive. The stair glider comes up the railing moving slowly, beeping the entire time. It gets deployed, I roll on and they can't get it to go down. I roll off, they fiddle, eventually figuring out they have to close the back gate. I roll back on and down we go. Lots of people are watching this production.

After the first set of stairs I'm pushed through the subway. (Asking them to let me push myself was pointless). Another set of stairs, another stair glider. On the platform level, we roll over to the designated loading spot with a wheelchair logo painted on the floor. Another staff has a folding ramp at the ready. Unlike in the states, the subway stops precisely in the same exact spot every time. The manager directs people away from our door. The doors glide open, the ramp is deployed and I'm rolled onto a very clean subway. To help lost round-eyes, a diagram lights up indicating which stop you're coming to, labeled in Chinese and English. The subway was busy, but not super crowded as it was early afternoon. I'm sure rush hour is completely packed. Pulling into Quenaman station, four staffers meet us. I'm lifted up and off the train, onto the station. At the first set of stairs, there isn't a stair glider. Far faster, I'm lifted by the four staffers and whisked up the stairs. The next set has an escalator, on I go. I envisioned a YouTube incident at the end, but the person pushing me was well trained and popped a wheelie at the right moment.

Photo Op
Across from Tiananmen Square is a huge public square with large topiaries representing the Paralympic game and the 19 sports. As I was rolling through taking pictures, I kept getting asked to have my photo taken. As soon as one asked, I'd have a stream of people posing with me. Unlikely to happen when I get home...

More Accessibility Fun
Pedestrians are third class citizens on the street, after cars, then bicycles. At major intersections pedestrians are send on long detours or forced down steps to cross the street. Tiananmen square had a large wheelchair symbol, so we headed over. A long ramp led down to the crossing. Ramps in Beijing are rarely smooth like at home. They're fascinated with making them have built in speed bumps. Going down was bumpy, but passable. In the underpass, we meet two friendly English speaking students. Rolling through, we found my wheelchair keep stopping on the bumps. Our two friends lifted the front end of my chair and pulled me up the long ramp. Their kindness was a front for dragging us to a "student" art show at Tiananmen Square. We wiggled free without incident, but noticed they liked Paralympians as a delegation from Spain was there as well.

We had tickets to an acrobatic show that night and after going to the wrong theatre, we got finally arrived at the right place. Just two stairs out front, maybe this will be accessible... Two staffers lift me over the first two steps and into the lobby. They point the way and I follow. At a full flight of stairs, I'm whisked up by the theatre staff. At the end of the show, the process reversed itself. All told today, I think I was carried at least a half a dozen times. Accessible can take on different meanings.

The Great Wall
I couldn't come to Beijing and not see the Great Wall of China. My teammate Jason and our families rented a van for the day to go to Badaling, one of the closest sections of the wall. We didn't have the best weather, as it was clouded in and misty. As get close, you see just how incredibly steep the Great Wall is. At Badaling, we could see wheelchair ramps and signs indicating "barrier free access". Most of the ramps would have meet ADA standards.

Within minutes of disembarking from the van, Jason has his photo snapped (Jason was wearing a Team USA t-shirt). Jason challenges me to see who will get their picture taken the most that day. At the first platform, we meet three other wheelchair athletes. The athlete from Denmark lives most of the year in Winter Park to train for the winter Paralympics, what a small world! In the final 50m, the ADA ramps give way to historic sections of the wall. Wow, hey were steep, I couldn't remotely push up the 25 degree slope. We reached the first tower and rolled onto the wall. We made it! Jason and I would have loved to have gone further, but it was starting to drizzle, and the steep stones would have been really slick on the steep descents. Jason's brother and mom went and hiked up to one of the ridges, while we headed indoors to the movie theatre and museum. By the time we loaded back into our van for the ride home, I'd had my photo snapped 7 times. Jason had been sure his Team USA garb would get him the edge, but apparently blonds have more fun in China.

Back in Beijing we enjoyed another must see item -- Peking Duck. As I've mentioned before, fat is a delicacy here. When the roast duck arrives, the first pieces carved are sections of the fatty skin. It is rolled in sugar and eaten. One piece of the skin was enough for me. The duck was an amazing dish; not to be missed for sure!

We were just a few minutes from the famous night market. I'd been thwarted in my quest for fried scorpions the day my wheelchair broke. My mom was not going to be my partner in crime for this, but Jeff, Jason's brother was game. I found the night market amazing, with lots of familiar and strange foods being served. Everything here is served on a stick. Jason's stomach couldn't handle the smells (which I though were manageable) and bailed early. After taking in the scene, we ordered a stick of small fried scorpions. One, two, bite... hmm, just crunch. Feeling bold, we asked the vendor what his favorite was. Luckily it wasn't sheep penis (seriously), I couldn't have done that. He said sea snake. After ordering it we realized it was the most expensive item at 50 rmb (~7 USD). It was so fried you couldn't taste much more than a vague fish taste. We each had one and pitched the rest. I started looking to see what the locals were eating. Various cooked meats and candied fruits were popular. I only found one local eating silk worm grubs. We tried to communicate asking if they were yummy. Got a mixed message. I noticed he spat our some part of the grub and didn't finish the stick. If the locals don't eat them, I'll pass as well.

Major sections of historical areas have been beautifully restored. But at the Temple of Heaven and the Botanical Gardens we found lots of challenging cobblestones and flagstones. They've about done in the wounded front caster. I tried to negotiate the smoothest sections, but the rough stones made for tough going. Where we went was determine by where the smooth rolling was.

We'd heard the Beijing Zoo was depressing, unless you like Pandas.My mom really wanted to see the pandas, and it was worth going. They're pretty cute and hugely popular. The rest of the zoo is definitely second class. The big cats hall reeked of urine and was depressingly dark. I felt bad for the magnificent cats.

So far we've been very lucky and managed to avoid any rain. (It rained during two nights of the Paralympics, but we were already indoors during the shower). Rolling through then zoo it started tom sprinkle, so we headed into the aquarium. The aquarium is much better maintained than the zoo, but also more expensive (but half price to the disabled). The seal and dolphin show was awesome. Exiting the show it was pouring outside, so we did like many others and hung out. Not sure when the rain would end we bough two cheap rain coats for 10 rmb each (~ USD 1.40). When we finally left in the rain, this was the best 10rmb we spent the entire trip.

Overall, we had an amazing trip. The few minor blemishes have been surpassed by the fun we had and the friendliness of the locals. We'll see everyone in London for the 2012 Paralympic games.