Friday, October 15, 2004
If you are a mother family member or someone who cares about Rachelle
(or me) getting home alive, do not read the following post. You may
become upset enraged or silly. We the writers for "JIMSPEAK" can not
be held responsible for the content of this site or any emotion
wreckage that may result from a review of the drivel contained
With that out of the way, on to the story of yesterday!
The Brit boys in the bar the other night suggested we ride out to the
Panda Research Center and check out the cuddly pandas, and if we were
to reach there by feeding time (9:30AM) all the better. Here's the
kicker-Rachelle and I have been avoiding set tours and tour buses and
anything remotely looking like tour groups. We have been stubborn and
thus far, it's worked out. The boys told us it took them 1.5 hours to
bike there. Not a problem!
Or so we thought. Waking at 630am (after going to bed at 1am), we
dressed and headed into the lobby to rent bikes and get directions.
Any and all maps we could find were not broad enough in scope to show
the Center. This is what they had: a major road leading north out of
town, a zoo (6km from our hotel) along this road at the edge of the
map and an arrow pointing off the map to the Center (another 6km). No
address, nothing. The office that arranges tours was closed until 9am.
The bike renting lady wasn't supposed to show until 8. The desk lady
told us we could ride up and ask directions (directions here consist
of pointing and sending us in pointless circles). We assumed most
signs would be in Chinese. Frustration and irkment followed.
I am getting too wordy and am avoiding the best parts. Let's move on.
We got bikes, decided to try our luck and set out around 7:30am. BUT,
our bike situation was, well, tenuous. Rachelle had a nice looking
newer mountain bike. Me, well, let's just say that the bikes birthing
presaged mine by quite a while. Recall any images you've seen of old
Chinese men riding to market on a decrepit piece of shite. That's what
I got. I felt like that old Chinese man, only not old Chinese or
heading to market with a basket full of...stuff. The thing weighed
about 200lbs, had them rounded sit-you straight up in your seat
handlebars (I felt like I would if I ever drove with my hands at 10
and 2). Both rims were shot to hell and bent like Dickens. The front
wheel was so bent that if that damn bike hadn't weighed so freakin'
much, I would have been doing wheelies with every rotation of the
front wheel. And brakes? Marginal but operational. Acceleration?
Barely. I'da had to weigh 376lbs to move it. Weaving/maneuvering
ability? Akin to steering a blue whale (and you know how ornery they
can be!). Seat....not good. Remember that episode of South Park where
Cartman is abducted by aliens and gets a..probe? I kept waiting for
the bike to speak alien to me. Ugh. At least there were rusted out
dented fenders in front and back that felt so much love for the wheels
that they rubbed continuously.
Now let's look at traffic. Rush hour in a city 9.3 million people, all
of them on the same road as us. Just a tich busy. Let me say this-the
traffic 'laws' in this city to me are like an unrequited love that has
finally realized the error of her ways and realizes that I am her one
and greatest love. I would kill to spend my life driving/riding in
this traffic. I'd crank some tunes into my ears and ride for days!
It's so much fun and adrenaline inducing that I'd OD on it if I could!
I might even go so far as to say it's a religious experience for me.
See, I'm not the Antichrist! I'm almost like a priest! Even on this
rickety bike it was great. I love using other riders as 'blockers' for
cars (as though their frail bodies would prevent a car from plowing
thru them into me) and riding crossways thru traffic without pissing
anyone off or getting runned over. A rush. The best!
Back to getting there. By random luck, I picked an overpass for us to
climb up to (we needed to make a right somewhere, but apparently
street name signs are taboo) and it was the road we needed. On we
went, carousing thru traffic, me fighting the beast between my legs.
After an hour or so we realized that we'd missed the zoo and now were
in unmapped territory (still crazy busy smoggy choking traffic). I had
a feeling. We crossed a road and I let Rachelle go back to the corner
and ask the military dude posted there (they are everywhere) if he had
any ideas. That was our street!! I am SO good!
Pandas. Cute, cuddly unless they are eating you, and fun to watch (red
pandas are the best. I tried to sneak one out in my bag, but they
caught me. They wanted more for it than I had on me. Damn!). Chinese
tourists-loud, obnoxious, photo obsessed, self indulged and
consternating. But it's their culture, and that is a later post
(that'll come after I am done traveling here. Can't play it too safe).
Fun times, but we needed to leave. It was ~11:30 and all we'd eaten so
far were a banana and half an orange each. Svelte-ing down are we!
Back on the bikes. 10 feet later I stopped due to a loud bike rattling
clunking noise. 12km away, no Chinese skills, aw hell no! I figured
the crank or a wheel was coming off. Instead, one of my rear brake
pads was lose and was hitting every spoke. I tightened it and we began
again. 20 feet later, same thing. No tools on me, I took it off. Again
we pedaled, all was now good!
Now the last road we turned on to get to the pandas was very lightly
traveled and there was never any need to stop. Which was good with no
brakes. (Sidenote: most of the way back was downhill. We realized this
quickly. I didn't feel like each leg was dead lifting 600lbs and if I
wasn't worried about the chain coming off I could have coasted.
Rachelle realized that she coasted twice as fast as I moved pedaling
furiously. She pulled up alongside me and may have pee'd her pants
from laughing. I do know she was crying from laughing so hard. Not
necessarily because of her easier ride, but because she was getting a
full on side view of me and now realized how completely ridiculous I
looked and she laughed the entire way back, no joke). The rest of the
way was very busy, very bus car bike moped ped and bicycle choked.
Brakes, while not a necessity, are highly encouraged. My lack of
stopping ability became well known very quickly. Going thru a very
large intersection, the opposing left-turn vehicles were going and
some bikes were threading their way thru (common practice). I threaded
a needle that no one else saw. Not because I wanted to, I had no
choice. Rachelle said the guys in the car were laughing very hard at
me and my frantic attempts to not die. It continued this way until I
grew tired of the excitement. Fred Flintstone had it right back in his
day. At lights, I began making full dismounts onto the left side of
the bike and using my entire body weight to stop, or slow down enough
to jump back on and scream thru every minute gap in traffic. This may
sound like a seamless solution to the problem, right? Not the first
attempt. There was a rack over the back wheel on which my fanny pack
rested. I didn't gain enough clearance the first time and my foot
caught and I tumbled. Don't worry! I didn't fall! I kept a hold of the
handle bars and was dragged for about 30 feet before I could get back
on my feet. How is this possible? Wouldn't the bike fall, you ask? IT
MIGHT IF IT DIDN'T WEIGH 300LBS!!! It's inertia prevented a little guy
like me from knocking it over.
The Flintstones never caught on here I'm convinced. No one failed to
laugh at this manuever of mine. Which worked out well, because many
drivers would lift their feet from the accelerator while laughing and
give me more room.
Speaking of people laughing at me, EVERY person on the road found me a
funny sight. Everyone. People riding past me (even the pretty in high
heeled stockinged pantsuited little chinese women blowing past me as
if I were riding in molten lead) would stop and I assume offer
condolences or advice while street walkers (not the slutty kind)
stopped to point and laugh at the big goofy looking white boy riding
the old chinese man's bike.
It was exciting to say the least, and don't worry-there are pics. My
fave part (I was annoyed at traffic on the way back. It's not nearly
as fun when you have no real control over your mode of transport) was
the last 2 blocks. I was fed up with the bike. The bus station is
right there and the road is clogged with taxis, bike taxis and buses
and cars and people. The gaps I was hitting were unhittable (R showed
up 10 minutes after me). It was pure genius.
All in all it was fun and exciting. Never ride those old bikes. My
level of respect for those old guys riding them damn bikes up hills
baskets or cages filled increased immeasurable. Studs they are.
I really need to go to the bathroom now so I am going to go.
Oh yeah. We went to the Chinese opera last night also. Good, and
unlike any opera I've ever been to. There was fire! I'll describe