Thursday, December 3, 2009


I have a bicycle. It is a Giant (or a Giant knock-off). It is a cruiser. It is mint green and has some flowers painted on it. It has a nice basket on the front. Like anything we love, it is both the source of great pleasure and great anxiety for me.

People say that when the culture shock subsides I will realize that there are actually rules of the road and they make sense. I think I have figured out the rules. Close your eyes and go, go, GO! Don't stop for babies or buses or motorized bicycles with trailers of cabbage or pigs, don't slow down at corners because you will cause a scooter pile up, if you can pass someone then do it, if you heed traffic signals you put everyone else on the street in danger and it is best to ride with a baby on the back wheel. I follow most of the rules but I'm waiting til payday to get a baby. They aren't as cheap here as they are in China.
Really. Riding a bike here is like driving the go carts at Coney Island.

My bike gets me to work quickly. I work at two different branches of the school and they are two miles apart. When I have to go from one branch to the other I take my bicycle and it is faster than taking the bus. If I walked I would be late.

My bike lets me explore in comfort. Walking is wonderful. I love it. But I like to blend in as I walk, I like to walk on unfamiliar streets and get lost and remain anonymous. My giant western nose is like Rudolph's beacon. People spot the foreigner right away and change their behavior. I remember when I was a kid playing in our neighborhood in Philly. We would stop our play if someone (like a Yuppie) not from the neighborhood would walk down the street. We would get quiet lest the intruder discovered our secrets. (It must have made passersby uncomfortable, but their presence made us uncomfortable too). So, Sanxia is a new neighborhood for me. I'm not yet familiar to the residence. Walking down the street on aimless rambles isn't as fun as it could be. I don't get to see anything but their reactions to me. On my bicycle I get a glimpse of their life and sometimes people don't notice me so their behavior doesn't change. And i'm moving too quickly for my movement to be discouraged by disapproving glances. It is far better to cruise down a tight little alley that has women picking beetle nuts off of branches, washing clothes, burning incense and the make shift temple and drying pears, then ride my bike. Yes it does detach me a bit. If I'm walking I can't talk to people. But I'm learning the rules. It might be rude to strike up a conversation off the cuff or interrupt someone's work. And then I have know how people feel towards me. I would prefer ambivalence. I fear hostility. I am confused at the prospect of being received well right off the bat.
So my bike provides baby steps and giant leaps. Baby steps into my towns consciousness. Giant leaps because I can go far, even into the neighboring towns and explore more!

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