by Paul Banken, China Team Member
Note: This article was originally published in the “The Other China”, the China Connect newsletter, July 2014. To learn more about the organization, visit www.chinaconnectonline.org
On my first day in Langfang with China Connect, I was determined to buy a bicycle. With a little help from David Du, I was rolling with a used bike for 200 rmb or about $30 dollars. I woke up every morning at 5:30 to see the people of China start their day. I mixed with the people by saying hello In Chinese and waving and smiling. The response was remarkable. Almost everyone smiled and waved and returned my hellos. I was often asked “how are you or where are you from?” When I met the locals one-on-one in their environment – the bike lane – they made my day and I know that I at least made them smile.
On one morning ride, I encountered several older men on road bikes wearing spandex and helmets – a very rare sight here. I pulled over with them as they were taking a smoke break. I showed them my padded biking briefs under my shorts and my Garmin GPS. They all laughed and I asked if I could join team China. As far as I know, they agreed and the photo tells the rest.
I also stopped and talked to the local street food vendors. They were all very patient with my pointing and gestures. I loved the food and made sure they knew how much I appreciated their service. I would see bike food vendors move locations on subsequent outings and I knew them and they knew me as I smiled, waved, and rang my bell.
My bike was not always trouble free. On my first ride home, the pedal broke. I took it to the bike shop on the corner of the road and the nice man fixed it with a new pedal for about 75 cents. We smiled at each other as I thanked him. I was eager to ride again with two pedals. Within 5 miles it broke. I returned the next day smiling and pointed to my pedal – it was quickly replaced with a stronger metal pedal. I asked how much and he waved me off – no charge. I insisted on paying and he eventually accepted about 50 cents. Two days later my seat was tilted so far to the right it was almost falling off. Back to the repair man and we both laughed about my seat problem, and a new one was installed for about 3 dollars. Across the street from the repair shop is the place I bought my bike. They have already offered to buy it back for half price.
I love my interactions with the people even though I only know two words in Chinese. Most people here study English, but speak very little as they do not have a chance to practice it. They welcome the opportunity.
Over the course of 10 days, I rode over 100 miles – a century ride in China. On each day I waved and smiled at at least 100 people – and they almost all returned the friendly hello. I feel like I made more than a thousand new friends. For me, a real China connection.