Bicycle Diaries: Power to the Pedal

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Power to the Pedal

or Borat in reverse?

Kazakhstan's #2 journalist isn't the only foreigner shaking up local sensibilities these days. Back in October, an older 老外, or foreigner, was trying to ride her bike from points A to B in Beijing. It should have been an ordinary commute in the famous City of Bikes. Instead, our intrepid roller found herself doing battle with the bane of every biker's existance - the taxi.

As I've written before, rolling the streets of Beijing has become a dicey proposition. Increasing numbers of cagers are enthusiastically embracing their own version of the American Dream. Daily traffic jams are turning bike lanes into open battlegrounds between those who pedal and the upwardly mobile owners of piston-driven behemoths.

Battles between bikers and taxis are now as common in Beijing as they are throughout the rest of the world. Taxis regularly violate bike lanes with the fervor of a barbarian horde. And the police seem do little to stem the tide.

What makes this incursion particularly remarkable has been the intensity of Chinese reactions. One witness, Lao An, photographed our roller's plucky resistance. They quickly spread globally via the web. Then a popular blog by Mo Jei posted them with a strong commentary. Here's a translation of her A foreigner helps the Chinese to improve their civic quality. Note the moral she ultimately draws from the incident at the end of the post.
At around 8:50am on October 20, 2006, on the road from the Zhaoyang East bridge towards the Blue Island Building, a funny episode occurred: a foreigner acted as traffic police and made a small sedan which had gone into the bicycle lane move back out into the car lane.

By the time that I got there, a foreigner had stopped and held her bicycle in the bicycle lane in front of a silver car (license plate number HL ****). She was smiling and saying something to the driver while making gestures. At first I went past and I did not take any photographs. Then I saw the foreigner go past the car and stopped her bicycle in front of the car.

So she was trying to get the car to go back into the car lane instead of being in the bicycle lane. This went on for a few minutes. The driver got mad and got out of the car to curse the foreigner. He even picked up the bicycle and hook it. Even so, the foreigner would not budge and she insisted that the car get back on the car lane.

Finally, the car turned back into the car lane. The foreigner then blocked the next car (a white Santana), which quickly retreated and went into the car lane.

The foreigner catches up to the car and stops in front of it.

She holds her ground and maintains a smile.

She will not budge

The driver gets out and pushes the bicycle.

But the foreigner holds her ground.

The driver gets out again and demands: "Are you leaving or not?"

The driver picks up the bicycle and threw it on the side.
He said:
"If you block me again, I'll throw it even farther away!"

"Go home and mind your own business!"

But she does not leave.

"If you block me again, I won't be polite anymore!"
(but he drives into the car lane all the same)

The foreigner now blocks a white Santana that entered the bicycle lane.

This car quickly backed up and retreated into the car lane.
The whole incident occurred in under 10 minutes and drew quite a few spectators. After the foreigner left, the spectators commented: "The Chinese really need to be educated this way!" Dear brother and sister readers, what do you think?
All hell broke loose when Chinese newspapers immediately picked up the story. This prompted the taxi driver, Mr. Niu, to apologize on live TV for his disrespectful behavior. For her part, Mo Jei became a minor celebrity; not so much for declaring, Power to the Pedal! but for shaming Mr. Niu and calling for all Chinese to learn from a gutsy foreigner.

It makes me wonder what would happen if Americans were as open to learning from foreigners like our bumbling Mr. Borat?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's hilarious! The woman is fantastic. I love nothing more than seeing frustrated drivers becoming increasingly irate. Otherwise normal folk turn psycho behind a wheel. Too funny;)

19/11/06 13:56  

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