How a Flying Pigeon Saved My Life

5 09 2010

Over a bowl of pho a few weeks back, two good friends sat me down (both of whom have awesome blogs here and here) and gave me a piece of advice that I didn’t take until not but yesterday. The one thing that you first notice in Beijing is how ungodly difficult it is to travel from one place to another. Walking gets you nowhere (beijing block=2.5 normal people blocks), taxi-ing in traffic is ungodly frustrating and expensive, and rush hour subway is usually an all you can grope buffet. So the solution?

Meet the Flying Pigeon. There are three fabled bicycles in China lore: The Phoenix (Fenghua), Forever (Yongjiu), and the Flying Pigeon (Fei Ge). Yes, I could’ve gotten a snazzy little whippersnapper bike with all the fancy trimmings for half the price. But this beautiful piece of machinery is a relic from a the past, one in beautiful condition mind you. As Deng Xiaoping once said, “A flying pigeon for every household!” That’s how awesome this thing is. Everything from the heavy frame to the shock absorbent seating makes it such an enjoyable experience. And hold on to your pantsuit, because my god can it fly. Ben rides a Phoenix, and together, we’ve been stopped on the street by pretty much everyone on the street who happened to be alive during the cultural revolution. Nods of approval and the occasional storytelling moment only reassure me that this might be the greatest machine I’ve ever owned (what about it iphone?)

A few observations about bicycling in Beijing:

1.) The name of the game is ALERT. All senses are working as one to make sure you dont get steamrolled by a coal truck. Looking both ways just simply wont do. Is that the smell of exhaust I smell wafting from behind me? Yeah, its the giant BMW SUV that wishes to consume you. Is that the jinglejangle of the fish monger bike I hear to my right? Pump your brakes lest you want to smell like a fish monger.

2.)  As Ben so rightfully said, “You really have to deal with your sense of mortality pretty quickly.” Truer words have never been spoken. Hesitation really could mean the difference between safe passage and a face full of car door. With that having been said, boldness must be tempered, because cutting off a bus on a bike will only work but a few times.

3.) The little bike bell really really doesn’t work. Its tinny ring just doesn’t clear the crowd of people just randomly standing in the bike lane. What does work? A friend of mine has developed a tried and true method of just yelling hello as loud as she can. I’ve also found that screaming the opening verse to Welcome to the Jungle to be effective.

The impetus behind this purchase was because of the growingly intense effort to find an apartment here in Beijing. It really sucks. Ben and I have probably spent an accumulated…12 hours over the weekend apartment hunting, with a lot learned, but little to show for. Trying to balance comfort and convenience with authenticity and cultural flavor is difficult, as they either lead to awesome neighborhoods with shitty living conditions (Russian ghetto!?) or vice versa. I’m confident we’ll find the right balance eventually, but until then…