Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bike-Buying 101

After five weeks of pedestrian-living, you've decided to take your next step towards independence and buy a bike! Congratulations! Here is a step-by-step guide to purchasing and maintaining your vehicle in Chengdu:

1. Mention your desire for a bike to any and all open ears. Wait.

2. Hear tell of the "bike bridge" from another expat who heard it from a friend who hear about it from some guy on a bus...

3. Go to said "bike bridge" between the hours of 4 and 6pm on any weekday. Do not arrive early. Do not arrive late.

4. You will not see any bikes. You will not see any people, for that matter. Don't let this bother you, and don't make any sudden movements. Just stand on a corner with that certain je ne sais quoi "I want to buy a bike" look in your eyes. If you feel compelled, mime a biking motion every few minutes to catch the attention of no one in particular.

5. Psst!, you will hear from a bush behind you. Turn around, and you'll notice five men sitting in some bushes and playing cards. Without looking you in the eye, they'll ask the secret pass-question "Ni yao mei zi xing che ma?" (you want to buy a bike?). To which you give your secret pass-code response "Yao." (yup, I do.)

6. The card men will tell you to walk the other way across the street. Do as they say, and find yourself once again surrounded by nothing in particular with no one in particular ready to sell you a bike. Stop. Wait.

7. A pink polo-shirted man will approach you and once again ask the secret question. With your confirmation, he'll lead you down the street to a parking lot where 20 rusted bikes are lined up next to playground equipment. Now you're getting close!

8. Pink Polo will point to the most expensive (least rusted) of the lot and tell you it is the only one for sale today. His friends (4 others who have appeared and begun to play on the playground equipment) will gather and make suggestions on the price-points of other bikes, which all magically become "for sale" once you express enough interest.

9. Choose an ok-looking bike (only semi-rusty, with a basket), and spend the next five to twenty-five minutes haggling over the price, whether "cost of living" has increased recently, and whether that is a good excuse for Pink Polo to charge more than $15 for an old, probably stolen bike. If it gets tiring, hang out on the playground equipment and wait for the prices to drop.

10. Pay $10. Know you've been had, but smile and shake hands anyway, since the playground equipment made the experience a little more fun. Buy a bike-lock ASAP, but not from them. (where do you think all these bikes came from?)

11. Congratulations! You've bought a bike from the Chengdu Bike Mafia. Ride off into the sunset while checking the brakes.

(11.5 Look for the bike-lot the next day and see that it is completely empty. Pink Polo is gone, as are the card men and the playground loiterers. Was it all a dream? Think about this as the brakes give out while you are riding through traffic.)

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