I returned yesterday from two weeks in Huangshi, Hubei, China on a medical mission which was very successful.  Our team of 35 medical and support staff completed cleft lip and cleft palate reconstructive surgeries on 120 children and young adults and saw 150 children and families in a dental clinic.   It was gratifying work, and I’m very glad I was able to participate. 

It was hard work, but we did have some time for fun, and one of the things on my “to do list” in China was to ride a bike.  Although there were many more cars than I thought I would see, bikes are still the most common, inexpensive form of transportation.  But it only took walking two blocks in Huangshi, a small city of 2.5 million people, to scratch my Chinese bike ride OFF the “to do list”…with the biggest, blackest, widest marker I could find! 

My primary reason for not riding a bike in China is…LIVING WITH ALL BODY PARTS INTACT IS PREFERRED TO CERTAIN VIVISECTION.  Some drivers do heed traffic control measures, like stop lights. But some drivers, especially cab drivers, must see the color red as a happy Chinese symbol of traffic fortune…and for those drivers red lights are discretionary.  

All Chinese drivers are well acquainted with the game of “Chicken.”  Their version requires NASCAR-like three wide manuevers down a two-lane street (with a motorbike or bicyclist sliding between).  Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are whining schoolboys compared to these drivers.   

Bicyclists generally do try to stay on the right and off to the side of traffic to avoid certain death, but most just dig in, stroke and I assume say some sort of Chinese chanting prayer when they have to cross traffic. 

Which may account for why I noticed a lot of welding and bicycle repair going on down alleyways in Huangshi.  Most of the equipment I saw had been welded, repaired, scraped and abused, but it was still functional.  And every bike I saw parked had a lock regardless of its condition.  And believe me, there are some true beater bikes in China.  The best bike I saw was a fiveish year-old aluminum Giant yellow hybrid.  

Three-wheelers are very popular.  They are the Ford F-150 of the cycling world in China.  Street merchants  use them to haul their wares, food vendors use them to haul their “portable” kitchens, gardeners take their veggies to market, and some families use them as a mini-van, drink holders and DVD players optional.

And you can forget the need for a bottle cage.  It rains frequently in Huangshi, so you’ll be plenty hydrated.  So much so that some bikes were equipped with an umbrella holder…which amounts to a vertical pole attached to the handbar with, you guessed it….duct tape!

And speaking of accessories…trunk racks are not for trunks…they carry children, groceries, livestock, aging parents and laundry.  One bicycle was so loaded down with discarded polystyrene used for packing that the bicyclist could barely see around the load.  I marveled at the intricate system he used to keep it all tied together.   Bikes are loaded down in China and the loads are usually not even distributed, which obviously requires lots of riding skill.

Bicyclists take their life in their hands when they grab handbars and start pedaling in China.  I am truly impressed with their traffic savvy, but I was definitely out of my league.

img_0493

We stopped to talk with this man and his son on their way to school and work.

He was obviously a smarter rider as he was riding on the sidewalk!

Advertisements