Dog encounter makes me howl in fear and ratchet up bike gears

Updated: 2011-11-03 07:59

By Nick Compton (China Daily)

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I recently pedaled my bike on the long, straight boulevard from Tsinghua University's northeast gate toward Wudaokou subway station.

I turned past a set of railroad tracks and headed straight on another flat stretch of highway.

Dog encounter makes me howl in fear and ratchet up bike gears

It is a route I took every day in August 2008 to get to the Olympic wrestling venue, where I was an Olympic News Service flash quote reporter.

I knew the area well from long afternoons and early evenings exploring the small stores and open-air fruit markets. I often stopped to talk to locals lounging in the sun and became a regular at a fantastic la mian (hand-pulled noodles) restaurant owned by a family from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

It was a welcome relief from the shiny lights and pricey bars of the Wudaokou area near the subway station.

Adjacent to the pocket I knew so well was a small village, also full of life.

Biking through it at sundown was one of my favorite memories from the Olympics. A whole community, from newborns to the elderly, would emerge in the cool evening air, exercising, playing mahjong, eating, sharing and laughing.

But biking toward the village, I saw a gleaming new Holiday Inn, complete with valet parking and a big, gaudy fountain.

My stomach sunk as I kept pedaling. The storefronts were gone. So was the restaurant.

The entire village was rubble being converted into a pentagon-sized construction zone hidden from sight by ugly aluminum obstruction walls.

Dog encounter makes me howl in fear and ratchet up bike gears

My curiosity forced me to bike under the village's old gate and into the construction zone, marked off on each side by battered walls.

Temporary housing structures were set up for the workers. Brilliant marketing images of the area's future high-rises were plastered along one wall.

A little farther down the road, some of the area's residents were outside, huddled around a small, spotty canvas.

Projected onto it was an old Chinese war flick. They were fascinated, and didn't bother to look up as I cruised by. A few teenagers further down the road were quietly playing pool and smoking cigarettes. The vitality I had felt three years ago was missing.

Then, convinced of my infallible memory of the area's geography, I made a nearly disastrous decision.

I remembered a small tunnel connecting the former village - now a construction zone - to Tsinghua, and wanted to take it.

But a gate now blocked the dirt path that, I figured, surely led out of the construction zone and to the tunnel. The gate's small bike entrance was open, so I breezed through.

Soon, the road became rugged. There were no people in sight and no walls protecting me from the construction site rubble.

It was very dark. Still, I thought the tunnel must be just around the corner.

I pressed on.

Eventually, I came to the end - an abrupt "T".

On the left was the driveway of a deserted warehouse. On the right was another gate that looked much like the one I had just passed through.

But, as I pedaled closer, I could see that there was no way through. Both the vehicle and bicycle gates were dead-bolted shut.

That's when the dogs came.

I first heard the barking. Then came the unmistakable growl of an animal that wanted to rip my throat out.

From the bushes near the closed gate bounded a barking yellow mongrel.

My shoulders hunched as I froze in panic.

I looked around.

There were plenty of rocks to scoop up and miscellaneous rubble from the village that had been demolished. In the split second I was using to think of how to respond, another barking canine appeared.

Instinctually, I yelled as loud as I could and kicked rocks up from under my bicycle.

Then, I whipped my bike around toward the path I'd come on and pedaled like hell - never looking back. The dogs continued to bark but didn't give chase.

My heart still thumping with adrenalin, I was soon back at the Holiday Inn, pondering how quickly the area had changed and appraising the price of progress.