Tuesday, September 9th, 2008...9:11 am

今天我买了一辆自行车. Today I bought a Bike.

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Today I bought a bike.  I may be the happiest 外国人 in 上海.

One of the most attractive things about moving to Shanghai was buying a bike and riding around the city.

The story begins the night prior when Alex and I happened across an electric scooter shop.  I thought perhaps they knew where to buy bicycles.  So after dinner and meeting up with Christophe we headed over to the shop.  I asked the man in broken Chinese if he sold bikes, he understood but began describing something I didn’t understand.  I often get into trouble using Chinese…just because I can come up with a sentence doesn’t mean I’ll have any clue what you say back to me!  Christophe called one of his Chinese friends and she talked to the salesman, relaying the information that he was going to take us to his friend that sold bikes.  We jumped in a cab and headed into the night.

After the ride took a few turns down dark alleyways we began to worry that “bicycle shop” was code word for “mug tourists” .  But our hosts were truthful and we emerged at a row of stores lined with bicycles and electric scooters.  I had the intention of buying a used bike. After a bit of a language struggle I was able to communicate that I wanted a used bike.  They said they don’t have them, and at this point I was pretty committed and so I was prepared to go with the flow.  The prices ranged from a couple thousand 元 for the nice road bikes to just under 400元 ($58) for the cheapest bikes.  You can guess which ones I was looking at…

I had intended to buy a used bike, which they didn’t have.  But we were there, and I was excited!  After browsing the selection, I had them snag one of the cheap ones down from the wall and rig it up.  We tried to haggle for the price, but realized that things with sticker prices are a lot harder to bargain down.  We got them down 10元 (maybe a dollar 50) and decided to let it go.

We took the bike outside and they began to fix it up for a tall dude, or 大人 as they called me, by raising the handle bars and the seat.  When I first got on the bike it became apparent quickly that it was definitely the “economy” model.  The brakes didn’t work, the wheels weren’t trued, and the chain rattled every time the pedals went around. But it’s shoddiness seemed appropriate, and I was happy to be back on wheels after leaving Seattle.  The salesman gave me a cigarette and I happily lit up. It was the first cigarette I’d ever smoked in my life, and I puffed away pedaling around Shanghai on my new bike.  We gave the poor thing a thorough test run by putting Alex on the back, trying to ride with no hands, and almost crashing with Christophe on the handle bars.  The bystanders of that area enjoyed the commotion…we drew a small crowd.

I settled up with the salesman and he pointed me the way home as he jumped in a cab with Alex and Christophe.  Until then I hadn’t really considered that my purchase had instantly committed me to returning home by bicycle.  It was an appropriate introductory destination… I boldly pedaled into the night.

The ride home was the most excitement I had felt in Shanghai yet.  I was thrilled; my heart raced.  I had assumed a new way of travel and a new operational mode.  After several blocks of dodging cars and people, strange looks from locals, and worries of being lost I began to get a bit apprehensive.  Across the skyline I caught site of a building that I recognized as being close to my hotel.  It was the spire of the Tomorrow Square building.  I was instantly calmed and began to enjoy myself.  I went for a joyride. I took streets at a whim, dodging, zigging and zagging through roads and alleyways.  Always keeping that huge luminous spire in view as my compass. “This place could be home” crossed my mind.

I arrived back at the 大户 hotel to Christophe and Alex sitting on the curb with a couple of beers.  We each took the bike for a spin.  We took turns riding on the back and showing off for the street vendors.  I locked it to a pole and left it for the night.  The sheen of the new fenders already starting to collect pollution and dust.

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