Re-Adjustment Woes #1: Bike-Parking Graft

When I got back from Taiwan this past summer, I had a nasty case of reverse-culture shock, and for over a month hated EVERYTHING I saw. It was made even more difficult by the fact that Tianjin seemed to be going out of its way to bug me. I sent an E-mail to friends recently in which I listed a few contenders for the “biggest reason I can’t re-adjust to Tianjin” crown, and people seemed to enjoy it, so I’ll post them one at a time here. Here’s the first.

I just bought a VERY nice new bike. The old one was absolutely destroying me. The seat was too low (and had a short pole so it couldn’t be raised), the chain ran with the gears with the smooth motion of a drawbridge-cable, the gears had the weird habit of changing randomly without my ever touching the shifter (this once caused me to lose control of the bike and one sandal, the latter of which shot out in front of an oncoming bus), and the brakes were getting squashy. (Note: Beware of getting used to squashy brakes. I did for the longest time, then when Scott loaned me a nice bike once for a long trip, I slammed on both brakes like I usually do and nearly shot over the handlebars.) Riding it was starting to feel like Aerobics Sunday during the Spanish Inquisition. My new bike fairly flies. I hardly even realize I’m pedaling sometimes. The other day I rode it to Binjiang Dao so I could meet a friend for coffee. I parked it in the paid-parking area, which costs .5 RMB. When I was pulling out later, I gave the attendant 1 RMB and waited for my change. And waited. And waited. Finally I asked him for my change and the lady standing next to him said, “It’s not .5 RMB. It’s 1 RMB.” No it’s not. It’s never been. Not in four years (I do remember when the price increased) has it been more than that, and I really hate getting ripped off, no matter for what amount, so I demanded to know why I was being charged so much. This was her answer: “Your bike is too expensive.” Sigh. Sometimes I think I’d find it easier to deal with being cheated or lied to if it was at least a good lie, or perhaps even brutal honesty, like the time a policeman told me to stop doing push-ups on the grass in a local park, and when I pointed out that thirty or forty elderly people had been treading on the grass earlier that morning prior to swimming in the lake, he just shrugged and said, “They were too many of them to stop.” Ha! I just laughed and got right off the grass. A little honesty, even if it’s cowardly or annoying, is refreshing sometimes. With the bike parking lady, if she had said something like, “The government has made us change our prices,” I would still have been angry but I wouldn’t have been totally sure any more because things like that do happen in China. I would even have enjoyed something creative like, “We had to fight off a horde of ninjas to keep your bike safe here.” Instead she came up with the weakest excuse for a lie I’ve heard in a long time. I kept yelling, and eventually she gave me my change and said angrily, “Just don’t park here any more!” Rest easy on that score, my dear.

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