Have you ever fallen in love with a bicycle? Maybe you were infatuated with a motorbike, car or sailboat but I’m smitten by a bicycle that can never be mine. It doesn’t matter because I can have him whenever I want. I can never take him home but when I need to, I can hop from one to another, a temporary polygamy of convenience.
In efforts at being eco-friendly and eco-trendy, Jinghong which we have made into our new home base, boasts of public green bike stations scattered throughout the city. You can rent the bike for an hour for the price of one rmb (US$0.14), two hours for two rmb (US$0.29). You get the point. It’s insanely affordable with a refundable deposit of 400 rmb (US$58) and you get this durable piece of hunk, built to take a daily beating, passed from one master to another.
I’ve been wanting to rent a bike or buy second hand but in our more than a month’s stay in Jinghong, we haven’t managed to get our bike act together until Jason’s bike ordered from Taobao (China’s biggest online store) finally arrived and was assembled the morning after. Jason claims he purchased it for me but I repeatedly told him I’d much prefer to choose from a non-virtual store. The one he bought was a foldable bike that neither of us liked and we got into a debate whether to buy bikes for the kids or not.
We checked out four bike stores and Jason didn’t think it was worthwhile to shell out money considering the amount of time we had left in Xishuangbanna before we started traveling again. I was feeling frustrated because it was important for me to get the kids biking and the bikes could be stored with the rest of our things and used when we got back. We couldn’t find any second hand bikes and we discovered the public bikes but those were only for adults.
Jason hit upon the brilliant idea of trading the new, unwanted bike with questionable quality for a smaller bike for Joshua. The first bike store boss didn’t want to make an exchange without extra payment on our part but the boss in the second shop agreed. To sweeten the deal, we also bought a bike from him for Jimmy. Joshua got the bike he wanted with gears although not in the color he liked. The boss offered it to us since it was a color combination (pink and green) that was harder to sell.
We biked by the river with much bliss and joy. I love how sturdy the basket is on my rented bike. You can adjust the seat so you can sit up straight, not hunched over the frame, like in the old style, traditional bikes, riding for leisure, not for speed. The cushy seat is very kind to the butt and the handle is gentle to the palm with it’s curved support. Kudos to the designers who crafted the bike to be comfortable, stable and sturdy. If there was a bike exactly like it for sale, it would be my dream bike to buy. Maybe I could steal one but there’s no need. The public network is quite convenient to use with a station located near our temporary home. Finally, I have the freedom to investigate Jinghong in my own pace and time.
When I lived in TEDA, Tianjin in the northern part of China, I mastered the town’s layout by biking, eventually got my Chinese driver’s license and was able to drive. The bike is my initial ticket to independence. I don’t have to rely on anyone to bring me places. However, TEDA and Dagang (the other town where we lived) are easy to maneuver around because everything’s within a grid. Jinghong, on the other hand, has streets that meander much like rivers and streams. The planning is more irregular and complex, confusing to a navigation klutz like me. Biking would force me to know the roads and gradually complete a mental map of the city.
Biking is one of the best ways to travel, not as a tourist but as an almost-local. Read about our bike ride in Dali here and check out my bike story in Taiwan through this link. In our future family trips, we’d do well to include as much biking as we could arrange.