Enjoying cycle lanes free of cars

15:07, August 06, 2010      

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While stuck in a traffic jam at Chang'an Avenue, immobile and frustrated, I had the tearful realization that, Beijingers have outgrown their bicycles.

Ten years ago, when I visited the city, the road was dotted with cars, a few taxis, some buses and the occasional tattered motorcycle. Now, the roads are so packed with cars, traffic jams are the norm. A taxi driver looked at me quizzically when I asked him when the rush hour was - "There is no rush hour. It's 24/7."

Naturally, I assumed the cycling lanes would have thinned out, the bicycle culture lost. But I was wrong. There are still areas where cycling survives.

Yesterday, I picked up my bicycle and decided to venture into various meandering hutong and was delighted by the mlange of cyclists I found - grandfathers clutching rotund babies; vendors and their stocks of sweet potato; old crones lugging carts and gaggles of cycling tourists.

I learnt how to deal with each species of cyclist.

Students are the easiest to interact with. Adolescents and twenty something's are nimble, sharp-eared and will let you pass or turn or swerve (albeit begrudgingly) in an instant. Just ring a bell and they'll move.

The elderly, however and small children frolicking on plastic tricycles, are more difficult and much more fragile. I encountered several sluggish, wizened women directly in front of me. I rang the dainty silver bell on my bike with a slight flick of the wrist and uttered a firm but polite "qing rang lu nai nai (Granny, make way please)."

But my method proved to be unfruitful. Nine times out of 10, the woman wouldn't hear me and I remained stuck at the tail of her bike, watching the green light tauntingly turn red in the distance.

Navigating through clumps of tourists, however, was the most arduous task.

One of the hutong I cycled through was Qianshi, adequately named "the narrowest hutong in Beijing", a nightmare for anyone cursed with broad shoulders. A Cycle China group of seven people happened to pause in the middle of the road to whip out their cameras and admire an old teahouse, subsequently clogging up the entire path.

At this point, a man lugging a vegetable cart tied to his bicycle approached the jam. He glared at the group, and then let out an indistinguishable grunt. It wasn't a "yah" or a "ah" or a "hai" or even a "MA ya!" it was just a hippo-like, phlegm-ridden rumbling from the inner throat, perhaps an "uuhggh," - doubtlessly worthy in any Xinhua dictionary.

It worked though. I am sure the tourists had never been taught the term "uuhggh", but they immediately understood, and quickly sidled out of the way to let him pass.

I love the hutong, love cycling through them. But one thing I hate is when cars persistently try to drive in, try to squeeze into territory that is not theirs. Frequently, I would be gliding peacefully along a hutong when a black Audi would honk at me from behind. Cars are fat, noisy and pretentious; they do not belong in old Beijing.

Hutong are for two-wheeled locomotion, or for sitting on the sidewalk with straw fans, for waddling babies, bare-bottomed and bare-footed.

I have finally found refuge from the city's traffic.

Please keep the cars out.

Source: China Daily(By Yi-Ling Liu)


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