When I first walked into the Giant bike shop in Shanghai’s Min Hang district a Specialized custom frame mountain bike outside the door caught my attention.? This bike belonged to the clean-cut, well-built shop mechanic, a man by the name of Zhang Xing. He wore the clean but plain clothes of a man who worked for his living.
Due to a paucity of bike terms in my Chinese dictionary, I came into his shop not knowing how to say the names for the parts for which I was searching.? “Do you have a thing…I mean a thing, I don’t know how to say, if you want to put something on your bike, one of those things,” I said, leaving room for interpretation.? Mr. Zhang patiently narrowed down my description to what I wanted, a front rack, and later helped me find a few other hard to describe parts.
The shop wasn’t busy.? As he showed me various parts and described the wheels he was and was not able to build, I told him about the trip and found out a bit about him as well.
“I’m glad you speak Chinese,” he told me, “my education level isn’t beyond junior middle school, so my English isn’t so good.”? Despite the “egalitarian” reputation of communism, many folks here express a hesitancy or lack of confidence when associating people who are more “educated” than themselves. I tried to reassure Mr. Zhang that my college degree was well worth the effort, but not much more than that.
He told me that he, just like almost everyone else I talked to in Shanghai, was not from Shanghai, but was actually from one of the surrounding areas; in his case Anhui. The poverty and lack of jobs in his hometown first sent Mr. Zhang into the military after he no longer attended school, and he spent several years in Xinjiang, a time which he found interesting but cold.
Giant is a quality bike brand, ranking right up there with Trek, Specialized, and Cannondale. However, most Chinese people who ride bikes use non-name brand bikes.? The classic bikes work well, but the newer style non-name brand bikes are infamous for their low quality components and tendency to break down.
Giant is actually a Taiwanese company.? Not knowing this, I told Zhang that I thought it unfortunate that there wasn’t a quality Chinese bike company.? Taking my ignorance or possible hint at Taiwan’s independence in stride, Mr. Zhang explained that Giant was a good company, and that Taiwan “is part of China, right”.? I agreed with his first point and let the latter pass by.
After the military he came to Shanghai looking for work, and found a job at the Giant store. He enjoys life in Shanghai, or at least finds it preferable to the countryside.? From the apartment he describes as tiny and poor quality, Mr. Zhang commutes fifteen minutes to work every day by bike.
I told Mr. Zhang how by doing our trip, we were hoping to convince more people in the U.S. and China to bike instead of drive, yet I wasn’t sure how best to communicate this message, or indeed how the current situation would be best changed.? “More and more Chinese people are driving cars,” he said.? Then he paused thoughtfully.? “I don’t think this is a problem that can be solved immediately, nor one that can be solved by one person,” he told me.? Then a person came in with a poorly adjusted derailleur, and it was back to work.? Mr. Zhang back to his tool kit and grease smeared gloves, keeping people biking by fixing their bikes.? Me back to my trip preparations, hoping to inspire biking by relatively extreme example.