Sunday, May 18, 2014

A perfect China day

Living in China is hard. But it's like Ice Cube said - the more difficult your environment is, the better it is when it cooperates.

The weather was gorgeous. My English classes went by quickly. And to cap it all off, I got a bicycle.

I had been meaning to get one for a while, but I was turned off by a bad experience. I went to the shop across the street for my school to ask if they had any second-hand bikes. The saleswoman showed me one, but then started insisting that it was actually new. And wanted to charge me accordingly.

Her price was 400 RMB, or about 60 USD. In American terms that doesn't sound like a lot, but for someone who's been living in Beijing, it's obviously a "foreigner price", one designed to negate the impact of purchasing power parity. Whether bargaining on the street or buying at an English-speaking restaurant or supermarket, foreigners get charged more. But there's one exception. If you speak Chinese, you can go to the local restaurants and supermarkets. And sellers who can haggle (anywhere where there's no cash register) will offer prices that, if not quite as low as the native price, are a lot better than the foreigner one.

But not in this case. The frame was chipped in several places and the gears rusted, yet the woman insisted that the bike was new and had simply been kept outside too long. I felt frustrated and discriminated against. Finally, she admitted that it was a used bike, but claimed that a new one would be 1000 RMB, so her price was justified. I walked away in disgust. I wish I had thought to first say what I was thinking: "swindler!"

So I was feeling alienated and dispirited about trying to find a bicycle, when along came a man walking down the road, saying loudly, "I want to sell this bike for 30 bucks!" He said this to a group of three men who were standing on the street near a bike repair shop, who he perhaps thought worked at the shop. But before they could reply, I, feeling lucky, turned around and said, "I'll buy it!"

It was too late for him to raise his price: he had already announced that he was selling it for 30 RMB (5 USD). The three men actually started pressuring him: "Sell it to him!" And, when he tried to get out of giving me the lock: "Throw in the lock too!" I took a quick test ride, handed over the money, and took my new bike.

The bike was a beat-up old Forever - one of the classic Chinese brands - and to me it was perfect. Never mind that both brakes didn't work and the pedals were falling off; I had gotten the bike I wanted. At a better price than I could have imagined. When I tell people about my $5 bike, even my Chinese friends are jealous.

My new bike at the repair shop, after I got new brake cables for it (don't worry Mom!)


  1. I sure WAS worrying. Thanks for the reassurance, and congrats on the great deal! A good bike is a good friend.

  2. You can get the brake lines replaced for as little as 5 yuan at a roadside bike repair stand (or you could in Shanghai 5 years ago).