Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bicycle Adventures

As a foreigner in China, just about anything you do is considered crazy. This can often be played to your advantage if you choose. You can go around doing whatever you like, claiming ignorance to just about everything, saying "我就是个笨蛋的老外。我不知道了!” ("I'm just a stupid foreigner, I didn't know!") But today, I began to think I was a bit nuts as well.

Being a student staying in China for longer than 6 months, I'm required to obtain a residence permit. In order to do so, you have to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops, including getting a health checkup to prove you're not bringing AIDS or other goodies into the country. You get the checkup in your home country, but need to immediately get it verified by the health officials here.

So during registration, the university gave me instructions on how to take care of this, and handed me a crude map of how to get to the clinic. It looked quite far from the university, but I figured Beijing is a city of bikes - therefore, all places in this city are bikeable. So the next morning at 9:00, I set off for the clinic.

Already, the elements were against me. It was as cold as it had been all week (mid-20's), but Beijing was covered with the first (and more than likely only) snow of the year, amidst the biggest drought Northern China has experienced in 38 years. (The Chinese government actually is taking credit for the snow, saying that they had launched chemicals into the clouds causing the snowfall). It was quite obvious to see that the city is not well-equiped in dealing with snow, as the maintenance ladies on campus removed snow from streets and sidewalks with brooms instead of shovels.

But weather aside, I was off, riding through the 1-inch of snow in the bike lane. It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't making much progress on my map, and that it could take me quite a while to reach the clinic. 'No matter' I thought, as my American gut could use the exercise, and I continued.

Conditions soon worsened. The speed of the cars on the streets kept increasing, as the size of the bike decreased. Then I happened to notice the sign that said no bikes were allowed on this street from 7:00-21:00. It occurred to me that if bikes weren't allowed on a street in Beijing, it must be pretty serious. While the bike lane still had a good coating of snow and ice, the snow in the car lanes had melted into brown slush and water, which made perfect conditions for spraying water on the bike lane every time a car passed. 'No matter', I thought once again to myself.

An hour had now passed, and there was a considerable more distance to go on the map. I was now at a point of no return though. I had to keep going. The campus is located in the far Northwest of the city, and I was headed farther Northwest. Slowly I saw the city spread further and further out, and it became apparent that I would soon be in the outskirts of the city. A few minutes later, I was in the absolute middle of nowhere. It was bizarre. The buildings disappeared, and were replaced with fields. I then came upon an absolutely enormous lot of the biggest satellite dishes I've ever seen. (Think "Cable Guy" big). There must have been over 100 satellite dishes in the lot.

I stopped seeing other bikers a while ago. But now, I had stopped seeing cars for a bit too. As I got close to the clinic people started appearing again. As I passed on my bike, they looked at me as if I were a madman. There I was - a white foreigner bundled up from head to toe, completely covered in snow and slush, riding in the middle of nowhere, on a street that bicycles were prohibited to ride on. It was fantastic. I so dearly wish I had a photo of these looks.

In total, it took just slightly under 1 hour and 45 minutes to get there. I filled out a short form, and handed it to the clerk at the desk. She then informed me that I should come back in 3 hours to pick the results. I did not know this was part of the deal.

After a short, pointless debate on whether to start riding home and turning around half-way, I hopped back on my bike to find a place to kill some time. The only problem being that I was in the middle of nowhere, it took me 45 minutes to find signs of civilization. After a bowl of fiercely hot noodles, and a couple of hours in a fiercely cold internet bar (how is it colder inside than outside?), I picked up my documents and headed home again.

I think next time, I will check the map a bit closer.

(Also, I hope to promise that this is the last voyage I take without brining my camera.)

1 comment:

Eric Spreng said...

ha! glorious!

keep up the good work, farang.