Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Beijing Bicycle

Well, that was an adrenaline rush! I just returned home from my first-ever bicycle ride here in China. I started out from my office and made it back in about 15 minutes. Here's how it all came about...

For some time now, I've been asking local bike repair guys (you can find them on seemingly every other corner) if they would sell me a lao che (an old bicycle). You see, I was not initially inclined to buy a new bike. It is legendary in these parts that good bikes are stolen as soon as they are left unguarded (even locked). Plus, pretty much everyone has a dusty, greasy bike...new ones are few and far between, at least to my eyes. So why not join the throngs in that regard?

The only problem was that, every time I asked, I was given the old mei you response. Essentially, the guys were telling me that they don't sell used bikes. "Well, where can I get an old che?" Same response...mei you. Apparently, there are no used bikes for sale anywhere in Beijing. I guess the only way to get a used one is to do what the bad guys do and grab one for yourself.

That not being an option for me, I was happy to stumble upon an area of campus where new bikes were being sold. The students are returning, and this means many news kids coming to Beida in need of a set of wheels. I decided to splurge (about 50 bucks) and get a new one, preferably black, so as to better fit in with the old bike set.

Trust me, it's nothing fancy. No gears. (Luckily, Beijing is as flat as a pancake.) The real funny part? I'm just a bit taller than the average Beijingren. Implication? There is no standard bike that is really big enough for me. I basically took the biggest one I could find, and had them hike the seat up as far as it went. (Not very far.) I guess I'll spend the next year "low riding."

And so it was out onto the streets I went, wearing my helmet. (Thanks for the encouragement, Bill!) At first, I was wondering why everyone was staring at me. Then I realized it had nothing to do with the whole waiguoren thing. It was all about the maozi. (That's the word for "hat." What the word for "helmet" is I have no clue.) I may ride all year and not come across another biker wearing a helmet. Unless, that is, Desi at some point gets up the nerve and joins me in the mad rush of bikes, scooters, cars, and buses...

~Steve

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