If there is one thing that outnumbers the vast number of people in China (other than the gobs of spit on the sidewalk, I mean), it’s bicycles. Sure, there are lots of cars – China sells more cars each year than there are people in most North American cities. Cars are status symbols, but they are expensive and a personal vehicle is a relatively recent phenomenon. Chinese city planners also did not originally allow for many motor vehicles, so bicycles are still ubiquitous here in our city. From electric bikes, to tricycles ridden by grandparents with their grandchildren in the back, to the regular old two-wheeled cycles, the bike lanes are full, come rain, shine, or even snow.
The sidewalk areas outside shopping centers and schools are crammed with bike parking, and attendants give a little wooden parking pass to hang on the handlebars and will watch the area in exchange for a few mao. Roadside bicycle repairmen do a brisk business in fixing flat tires, slipped chains, and selling seat covers and wheel locks.
Oh, and believe me, the wheel locks are necessary. Everyone has one, and it gets put to good use every time the bicycle is parked somewhere. Despite this, and despite the fact that bicycles can be bought new or used, almost anywhere, bike theft is still a big problem. Which brings me to my husband…
My husband makes his commute across the city for work every day by bike. We don’t own a car (don’t even start with me on that issue!), so riding his bicycle is the easiest and usually fastest way for him to get to and from work. Plus, he enjoys the exercise (it’s true, I’ve asked him!).
He recently had a three day holiday from work, and for once, he didn’t even have to go in to act as the supervisor on duty, so he got to relax for three whole days (granted, he had to work on Saturday and Sunday in order to make up for having Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off, so it was really only one extra day, but that’s how things work here and he’s used to it). Unfortunately, I did not have this time off, so I was at work when I received the following message on the afternoon of the last day of his holiday.
“I lost my bike.”
I knew right away that when he said ‘lost’ he meant that it had been stolen, so I asked for more details. His bike had been locked to the heating pipes on the second floor landing inside our stairwell, but he had come home to find no bike, and a cut lock. I asked him if he was absolutely sure that it had been at our zone, since sometimes he leaves his bicycle in his old dorm apartment at the factory and gets a ride with a friend or takes the bus home or out to meet me for dinner. He was certain it had been there.
Clearly these thieves had been casing the joint to find the most valuable bike to steal, because at any given time, there are dozens of other bicycles, both locked and unlocked, in various stages of newness or rustiness, outside our building…and there are thirty-six buildings in our residential zone alone! They must have viewed my husband’s fairly new, well cared-for mountain bike as worth the trouble of coming inside the stairwell, up two flights of stairs, cutting the lock, and carrying the bike out.
The theft of a bicycle is very common here, and a bike is not seen as valuable enough to warrant going through the trouble of trying to report it to police (it would never be recovered anyway, even if the police decided to listen). So both of us were annoyed and frustrated, but knew there was nothing we could do about it. My husband started making plans to look at new bikes, and even considered buying an electric bike. This brightened my day a little, as an electric bike would come complete with a seat on the back that I could sit on – a huge improvement from the current situation, where we either walk home together with him pushing his bike, or I balance uncomfortably on the bar between his legs while he pedals.
The next morning, he had to return to work, so he took the bus and walked the distance from the bus stop to his office. Then, at noon, he called me, laughing uncontrollably.
He told me, through fits of giggles, that he had returned to his old dorm apartment that day to have a sleep during his lunch break (as he often does, since that means he doesn’t have to commute across the city and back like he would if he were to come home) and spotted a bicycle outside the building that looked exactly like his.
His first thought apparently was, “Those jerks stole my bike from our zone in the east, only to bring it all the way here to the west to taunt me?!”
Upon closer inspection, however, he realized it was indeed his bike. As he stood there, absorbing this information, he then vaguely remembered leaving it there on his last day of work before his holiday.
I joined him in laughing at the whole ridiculous situation (and resisted saying “I told you so” since I had been the one to doubt whether the bike had been at our home at all) and we agreed that all’s well that ends well. Then he revealed the biggest irony of all…
During the whole four days that his “stolen” bicycle had been sitting outside the dorm building, it had been…unlocked.
(Oh, and that cut lock that was on our second floor landing? When we got home that evening and analyzed it more closely, it turned out to be a discarded piece of wire cable from something that they are replacing around our zone.)