Dave's Sketch Journal

Drawing is taking a line for a walk. - Paul Klee

the "bike"

Traveling around in China is easy, once you figure out how to read Chinese.

Once you've accomplished that, there are many options for getting around. There is public transportation, that is the bus, a taxi, moped, bike, and car. Not many people own cars. Our tutor does but I think she's on the upper end of the financial scale. Taxis are expensive by chinese standards so most people travel on bus, bike, or moped.

The owner of the apartment that I'm sitting for offered me the use of his gas powered "bike." There are two kinds of mopeds in use here: electric and gas. They often refer to both as "bikes." I don't know why. There are tons of muscle-powered bicycles here too. Ah, but I digress.

Anyways, the plan was to follow a friend to another part of town for some tea. He has an electric bike and I have the borrowed gas powered variety.

Riding the moped took a little getting used to. Even though I owned a motorcycle for a couple of years, it's nothing close to getting on one of these tiny toys. This thing turns sharply and will dump me into the street without compassion. Oh, and there is no manual switching of gears. It's got some kind of an automatic clutch. I have to rev it a bit to get it to move forward. So I'm in the courtyard trying to find the clutch and gear shifter only to be told that all I have to do is twist the throttle. I have the same challenge when I got gas for it. I couldn't get it going again. People must have thought I just stole it.

We took off through the narrow gate of my safe and secure complex and injected ourselves directly into the flow of traffic. There are no merge lanes. And understand that no one observes any of the lanes painted in the street anyway. These are merely "suggestions" and are never followed. No one uses blinkers either. Horns are popular, although now you can get a ticket for using them to warn drivers you are nearby.

No, there is just one wide, mercilessly hard, concrete lane that contains all of the vehicles, big and small, trucks and mopeds, gargantuan and tiny, seen and unseen, moving and smashed.

I'm a small fish in this ocean of traffic. All of us are swimming together, as one single school of creatures, darting here and there, and suspended in the invisible current.

There are few lights or stop signs along the way. Only lanes merging on my left and right. Lanes that sometimes become traffic circles and onramps to other places I don't want to go. There are throngs of people pressing in all around me. I'm driving right next to a guy with some boxes sitting on the floorboard of his scooter and others tied and stacked high up on the back. We are driving side by side. I can touch him with the pinkie of my right throttle hand, he's THAT close.

But wait, here's our first stop light.

There are policemen waving all the mopeds over. What's going on? They are talking to my friend in rapid Chinese (is there any other kind?) and waving for his wife to get off the back of his moped. He is writing a ticket. After the ticket is exchanged for some cash, the policeman tells his wife to get on the back of my bike! I act nonchalant but I sure hope she realizes that she's risking her life. Rats, I wish I knew what was happening. All I could gather was something about "two people." Maybe he could tell I was a better driver than my friend!?

He paid 20 kuai (about $2.50) and we took off.

I later found out that the law says electric bikes can't have passengers. Gas-powered ones can. There are other restrictions too that was news to my friend.

He later told me that he asked another policeman specifically if he can have passengers. "Oh, yeah, not a problem." he told him. My friend told me that one of the frustrating things for him is that the laws keep changing. No one knows for sure what is legal or illegal.

But in the end, two dollars and fifty cents is not a bad price to pay. I think of it as an "ignorance tax."

Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death. - Earl Wilson

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