The first time I ever rolled overseas was four years ago in Beijing. I was training student teachers at Beijing Normal University as part of a curriculum reform project with The Great Books Foundation. This video comes from the BNU Zhuhai campus, a little north of Hong Kong ... I warned you that I'd be embedding more YouTube vids %)
When bikers die they probably go China. In Beijing alone over 6 million Chinese roll down the streets ever day. The've held bikes in high esteem since the late 19th Century. Before the Communist Revolution in 1948, bikes represented the technological progress that would confer the repect of the civilized West. Great admirers of H. G. Wells, the Chinese took to heart his observation, Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.
Under Mao's long, maniacal tenure bikes became revolutionary instruments for achieving the equality of workers and peasants alike. All good socialist familes dreamed of the three luxuries: a cassette player, sewing machine, and a bike. Inspired by their example, the Chilean leftist, Jose Antonio Viera Gallo, declared, Socialism can only arrive by bicycle.
Now at the begining of the 21st Century, bikes are a nuisance. They are obstacles for thos government officials building what will be the largest national highway system in the world. Car culture is flourishing. The Western gas-guzzler along with the plasma screen TV and an iPod are the new three luxuries snapped up by would-be capitalists.
Despite the allure of Western cars, bikes aren't going anywhere soon. They remain a cheap means of transport for poor students. Not that they expect to be lifelong bikers; all aspire to the the new three luxuries. So when I asked my hosts at BNU for a bike they were incredulous. Traditional hospitality necessitated a car and driver as a big show of respect. They also genuinely worried that I might get killed.
I insisted that rolling would give me a better understanding of Chinese culture. How else would I be able to effectively train their student teachers? Eventually they relented, I think, because of their hopes for a long-term, lucrative partnership with a respected American NGO.
With that I got an old Flying Pigeon that hadn't been exported to the Netherlands. I was also accompanied by a female grad student, Rong Kun Kong, who would guide and translate for me.
To be continued tomorrow with The Hutong Tour...