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Peter Snow Cao

Peter Snow Cao

Tales of Cycling in China

Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 2002.

Tonight, I Met Another Chinese Bicycle Master

The following is one of several a short articles about my experiences bicycling in China.   Enjoy.

About three years ago, I wrote about the time I met a Master bike mechanic in China who took a seriously potato chipped front wheel and brought it back to the land of true. Here is another true story about another such incident.

I live and work in Chengdu, Sichuan in the heart of southwest China. The city is mid-sized for China, about 5 million people and is as flat as a pancake which makes cycling the transportation mode of choice for most. Given the popularity of cycling, it is also a sad fact that bicycle theft is common. My city bike is an old 12-speed Phoenix, a name that aptly fits my steed. In the three years I have owned this bike (which I bought used for about $14), I have broken and replaced four front forks, twice broke the frame at the headset tube, broke both places where the front axle rests on the front fork, worn out three bottom brackets, and countless other little things. So breakdowns are not unknown to me.

Two nights ago, I was cycling home along a dark street (because of the present construction removed all the street lights). I ride helmetless, like everyone else. Most times the speeds are slow, both for cars and cyclists, and while the danger is there, I choose not to wear one in the city. While cruising along in the bike lane at about 15 miles per hour, I suddenly heard a loud rattling of my front fender. However, before I could focus on the cause, the sound suddenly stopped as the fender jammed between the front wheel and fork stopping it dead in its tracks and catapulting me over the front handlebars like Superman. However, unlike like Superman, I made a three-point landing on the palms of my hands and my chin while the bike did a triple somersault over me and landed 15 feet away on the sidewalk. Dazed, but not too confused, I quickly got up before I got run over by another cyclist. My chin hurt a bit, and when I touched it, it felt wet. A tissue confirmed my suspicions, I was bleeding, but not heavily.

I went over to take a look at the bike. Seeing the fender jammed in the front wheel I realized that the bolt that held it fell out causing it to fall onto the rotating wheel and slide forward until it jammed the wheel. When I tried to roll the bike, I noticed another problem. The front wheel would not longer fit under the diagonal tube running from the bottom bracket to the head tube because the front fork had been bent during the mishap. Great, I thought. Not only do I hurt, but I can't ride or even walk the bike anywhere.

Suddenly, a young man riding an empty tricycle truck came by. I was not far from a local hangout I go to, so I asked him to stop. I told him I just had an accident and asked if he would help me take the bike around the corner about 800 meters. He said okay so we loaded the bike flat on the truck. I told him he could ride and I would walk, but he insisted on walking as well. At the corner there was ongoing construction and we had difficulty pushing the very heavy tricycle over and around the debris. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the restaurant. I thanked him for his help and asked how much he wanted for his work. He said forget it and rode off. I ran after him and tried to pay him, but he wouldn't accept anything. As is often the case, it is poorest who are the most generous.

At the restaurant, I went inside to use the bathroom and survey the damage. A small one centimeter cut on my chin was the extent of the damage so far. I rested for a bit and then contemplated on how I was going to get me and the bike home. I went out and waited by the street for something to come along.

The taxis here can carry bikes in the trunk, but usually refuse because they don't want to be bothered. After being turned down four or five times I gave up on them. Then a very beat-up motorized tricycle came by. They are illegal in town, but at night there are few police around to catch them so they sometimes can be seen. I flagged one down and asked if he could carry the bike. He said no problem and pointed to a big hook on the back on the passenger compartment that could be used to hang the bike. Next, I asked him the price to my house. With these vehicles, the price is negotiated because there is no meter. He told me 15 yuan, a price double that of a taxi. I told him it was ridiculous and offered eight yuan. He countered with 10, but I stuck with eight. He then came down to nine, but I held firm. He then said forget it and slowly rode off looking back several times to see if I would change my mind.

A few minutes later a young man on a bike doing roving bike repairs came by and asked if I wanted him to fix my bike. These guys are usually come in from the countryside and cycle around the city looking for cyclists with bike problems.

They are China's equivalent to the Highway Angeles in the U.S. They get one yuan (about 12 cents) for fixing a flat tire, or 2 jiao (about 2.5 cents for filling the tires with air.

I told him it was impossible and showed him the problem. Undaunted, he said he would do it for 10 yuan. I said I would pay five if he could do it, but I didn't think he had a chance. He started to work immediately, first removing the basket (almost every bike in China has a front basket), then the wheel and finally the fender. Turning the bike upside down, he then stood on the handlebars and grasped the front forks with his hands. He asked me to stand on the rear rack for weight. Doing a bit of aerobics, first standing and then falling back and pulling with his hands and lifting me off the ground, he slowly worked the forks back into position. I was amazed. Ten minutes later, I was cycling home with a sore chin, and a reinforced respect for these phenomenal bike mechanics who can repair almost anything, anywhere.

May the god of good fortune shine down on you as he has for me.

And now my trip to the hospital...

I want to talk about my recent experience at the local Chinese hospital. After my bike accident where I was momentarily flying through the air like Superman, my three-point landing left me with a one centimeter cut on my chin. I went to the hospital to see if I needed stitches.

For those who have never had the pleasure of going to a Chinese hospital, it can be a bit of a shock. Even though I have lived here almost four years, it still is shocking to visit emergency room. On this particular night, I was not hurting much, but thought I might need stitches. At the registration desk, I paid 3.50 yuan (about 40 cents) and waited for the paperwork to be completed. Beside me was a woman who had just suffered a serious accident. her head was injured and her hair was matted with blood. The blood had also drained to her down to her dress soaking it halfway down her back. She was barely conscious. After being assigned to the doctor, I went to a room with two doctors and several patients and waited my turn.

The doctors sat at two small desks facing each other while the patients sat at the side of the desks telling each doctor their problems. Several people were bleeding and I wanted to let them go first since my problem seemed so minor by comparison, but my wife said if I did that, we would be there all night.

The doctor suggested I get tested for Tetanus allergy. So we when through the complicated process of first going to the in-house pharmacy to get the price of the shot, then pay for it at another booth, then return to the pharmacy to get the drug, then go to the nurse's station to get the shot. After the mandatory 20-minute wait, the nurse said I was clear to get the Tetanus shot, so we went back to the doctor to get the prescription, during which time he cleaned the area and applied a bandage. He said I didn't need stitches, to which I thought he doesn't want to be bothered as it isn't his face.

After that we went back through the drug buying routine, and then back to the nurses station for the Tetanus shot. For some reason, the Chinese medical profession believes the best place for a shot is in the rear end. This was true 13 years ago when I got daily vitamin shots for treating hepatitis and it is just as true today. Bearing half my bum, I received my shot with precision and without pain. Both shots were given using single-use disposable needles. All the while, people are floating in and out in with a never-ending variety of maladies.

A trip to a Chinese emergency room is not easily forgotten.

Other Articles

Today, I Met a Chinese Bicycle Master April 1999

Bicycling in China  Aug 1999

A Bike Trip to Hailougou National Park, Gonggashan, Sichuan China  September 1999

Bike Trip from Chengdu to Xi'an, China   October 1999

Cycling in Chengdu, China May 2000

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