Back to the Bicycles…in China Again
September, 18 2011
Welcome back dear bloggy subscribers! (Subscriber? Who, me? This term unfamiliar?? Wait… you mean you haven’t subscribed yet?! Well, get on it! Over to the right you’ll see a place to enter your email and experience the wonder of receiving an email every time I post…but it’s actually better if you come to the site to read the entries because I often update them with more awesomeness and new pictures!). So, I last left you all with a bit of a downer in China…I was consumed with smog, consumed with sickness and perhaps generally seeming mildly unhappy about the whole situation, but really that wasn’t and isn’t the case! Yup…I’m happy as ever back in the “Middle Kingdom”. You heard right…I’m back in China and soaking it all in…chicken feat, kung fu, steamed buns, white skies and all. Yes, it’s still as smoggy as a functioning chimney, and I’ll no doubt come down with some mystery sickness at one point or another during this next year (1-2 days max and/or I’m determined my immune system has an eager battalion ready and up for any fight…my other 4 months in china had to prepare my body for something right?) but I am truly happy to be back and still giddy with excitement for all the new and old adventures that await.
Now, let’s get to it: I’ve rambled about smog, strange foods and celebrity status, but what I haven’t rambled about too much…no, not nearly enough(!), is one of my greatest loves: Bicycles! And in China there are a plenty, right?! Well, there are and there aren’t. In a tiny town of 4 million there are still quite a few people moving round by two pedals and 2 wheels (and a few more complicated bicycle bits in between) , but it’s not anything like it used to be. Nearly everyone used to cruise and haul by bike, but now the choice transport is the motorcycle and car of course. I just heard that 30% of the world’s motorcycles come from Jiangmen…the factories are all here…no wonder! Explains a bit! In other cities in China motorcycles are actually banned…due to their excessive noise and general smoginess. Wowsers. Not the case here! But anyway we’re not here to talk about gasoline motors oh no…it’s bike time! Cycles away!
Just like at home, I am a bit bike obsessed here, but China provides such a massively large and interesting landscape of leg-powered bicycley machinery I can’t take my curious eyes away! I LOVE IT! Whenever I see a bike, I smile with hope that more shall return! Sure, some of them will have electric motors but hey, that’s a start! My favorite is seeing children riding with their parents, obviously having been picked up from school or on their way home from the market. It just makes sense. And it’s so dang cute. Vegetables and legs a floppin.
Other happy moments come from other cyclists taking notice of each other. Just like in L.A. I think there’s a sense of commrarie here…of course it’s entirely different but there’s still something there…or at least I like to imagine it as thus. When I’m ridin round town, usually people gawk at me, do a complete head-spin double-take or if we’re stopped at a light together, they’ll give me the full up-and-down check. Who is this girl?! And she’s on a bicycle! I just arrived last week and on my first day of classes, I rode past a woman coming the other way (yes…people often drive the wrong side of the street on their bikes and motorcycles…and sometimes on the sidewalks too haha…which I must admit is pretty convenient at times). This lady had a massive smile on her face and when she saw me, directed it my way with a nod like we had a sense of belonging, both being on our bikes…not caught up in the trafficked hoards. For all I know maybe she was just excessively happy cause she got laid last night or the sight of me made her laugh (I was garbed in my awesome “tourist” hat) but hey, she was smiling and I was smiling and I felt a sense of two-wheeled, no gas connection. I’ve also had people nearly get in accidents and one woman did infact massively eat-it while staring at me on my blue bicycle.
Whenever I tell people at school I ride my bike they always react the same: utter shock and then they proclaim that I must really love sports…and then they compliment me on my healthful ways haha. And indeed I shall pedal onward, still smiling and happy to have a bicycle between my legs…what a wondrous machine it is! The most efficient for input to output ratio to date! Gimme a no-hands on da handlebar hooray for that one!
And here I get to check out all kinds of crazy contraptions. Some obviously hand-welded…tied with rope, tape, wire…anything to get the job done. Some equipped with hand-made child seats, sometimes on the back, sometimes on the top-tub and sometimes as a front basket. I guess as the child gets older they progress to the back seat haha. Fantastic. People fasten bamboo across their racks in order to hang massive bags containing whatever needs shifting across town…I’ve seen some unbelievable loads hanging on those handmade panniers, shocked the bike wasn’t tipping backwards…the driver sitting upright, slowly pushing the pedals on their sandaled heels, legs bent outwards…chugging along. Those old bikes are sturdy! I’m also a fan of the 3-wheeler that has one wheel in the front and two wheels at the back supporting the bicycle “flat bed” or “bike-trunk” as it were. And with all the space the towing possibilities are endless! Sofa’s, headboards, children…well, I should let the pictures speak for themselves.
After all the things I’ve seen towed around here (and in Africa) by bicycle, I can never quite justify saying “oh, but I need a car to haul this stuff…it’s too heavy, I don’t have room…”. Not true! You can pretty much do it all with a bike! I mean, I think I knew that before, but here I see it confirmed everyday! When I was in Guangzhou one of the craziest things I saw being towed were the huuuge 20-gallon water-cooler containers. He had two slotted on each side, and two on the back rack. HOW, HOW, HOW? That is so much weight it’s insane. In Jiangmen people mostly use motorcycles but I have seen the guys delivering the massive gas-tanks for cooking gas (they are about 4 ft tall) in the same manner. Damn. Given you’ve got the right kind of bike and creative engineering know-how, you can peddle-push your daily items (people included) and then some. And if you don’t know how, well, around here…someone will or at least be able to show you their crazy contraption or at least give ya a lift ha.
And I love the bike mechanics here too. They sit at their corners with all of their tools, consisting of everything that can be tossed into a canvas bag (hmm…I’d say about a hammer, an adjustable wrench, a screwdriver and a few other bits), a handful of tires and tubes, and their other supplies, i.e. a bunch of bits and pieces thrown into a tin box that they will sort through to find the right thing. This pretty minimal set-up (don’t forget the little wooden stool and lunch tiffin) will get the job done…it’s amazing.
It may not always be a perfectly soft and smooth fix, but the bikes will be well-greased for sure and up and running! Scrub your hands with some soap and sawdust and we’re away. I really need to sit and watch these guys…learn some of their tricks. For example, to break a chain: take a nut, place the chain over the nut and hammer the pin out just enough. Beautiful. haha (non-bikey people…ignore that last sentence). It’s also pretty funny cause when I tried to just buy a tire, no one would let me! They insisted on replacing the tube and tire themselves…I’m sure they were doubtful that I would know what to do (crazy foreign girl wants to do it herself) but I also think that here, you let the mechanic do his job… “you be an English teacher…I’ll fix your bike…deal?”
I’ve come to really enjoy looking at all the variations of bicycles (can you tell?) and the contraptions they tie onto them. And I’m definitely more intrigued and appreciative of the upright-peddling position…a lot more human it seems, like walking almost…the handlebars wrap around so it’s almost like you’re pushing straight down and with each stroke talking a stride forward. Bike zen? Well…guess it depends on where yer going, what yer hauling and what yer doin!
As you can see and may well know, I love bicycles…the love runs deep and being in China is just stoking that love…I’ve got a whole world of new ideas now! I love the bicycle inventions so much that I may just start a new little mini-feature called “The Weekly Bike Sighting!” of one particularly awesome bike contraption or loaded carrier that I’ve seen and managed to iPod snap (while on my bike most likely) that week. Done and done. Look out…bicycle brigades coming your way! Zixingche love!