More on China in 1983 – Bicycling Excursions

Bicycling is a Way of Life

Our travels in China were mostly by bicycle. The terrain is nearly flat in the parts we traveled. This sounds excellent, but, there is never a strong work-out or coasting downhill!  We often rode over 50 miles in a day. Some had sore legs, some sore arms, some sore other parts.

The people in China are exceptionally friendly. They were very curious as well. Not surprising since we biked in areas that had never before been visited by foreigners’. And…. We were all tall, fair skinned and dressed in shorts and T-shirts.

Many of the ladies were shocked by my pierced ears. They just could not understand the hole and  having metal going through my ear. I loved playing with the children. The children are so precious and fun.  I brought several Frisbees with me and taught various groups how to play. I communicated through various methods that they could keep the Frisbees. In the end of the discussion, I usually won and the children were thrilled.  But, their culture, their honesty in their upbringing resulted in the children always trying to return my Frisbees. Adorable all.

Other children were in their mother’s arms. I wanted to hold one child as she was reaching out to me with both arms. The mother reacted with pulling  back and speaking rapidly. I figured she did not want a foreigner to touch her child – especially not take it from her. (Children are very precious to the Chinese as they were limited to a single child during this time). After a few tries, our translator explained to me the mother was very concerned since the children do not wear diapers. The pants they wore were just open to the air.  I told them it was ok and truly enjoyed hugging and playing with the child. No accidents occurred!

As you may imagine, not all was open and honest. Politics played a role in several incidents. For example, we were taken to model schools where the children performed for us. We were allowed to photograph the children but not the buildings.  These children were well dressed, performing on queue and smiling while staring in shock. We found groups of children walking in a line with teachers similar to our kindergarten classes. One major difference was the dress code. All were in white, clean, spotless short sets. While I certainly enjoyed all the children, I longed to see a real family situation in their own home. It did not happen.

I once rode last in our line and stopped to take a side journey to take pictures. I found an old train engine and since I love all trains, was intrigued and began to photograph various views.  Shortly after beginning my side journey, I was approached by two communist guards that I did not even realize were nearby our group. I was immediately  ushered back to the group. They made it very clear I was not permitted to wander off nor to take pictures of their treasures. I never did understand the issue but it was a communist country and we were strangers. Several other light hearted ‘incidents’ happened:

We were biking through growing fields on the highway. This was in 1983 so the only vehicles on the roads were trucks and few of them. Most people traveled via bicycle, mule driven cart or walking. We rode alongside miles and miles of rice and other plants growing. While it was very beautiful it was also very sparse with workers.  All of a sudden we came upon a stretch of highway where the workers lined the streets. They left just enough room for us to ride through. They were cheering us all the way.  I guess they thought we were racing.  One of our riders lost her balance in the middle of the crowd and as she toppled over to the side, people caught her, and while up righting her sent her on her way without ever hitting the ground. They cheered her on.  It was amazing.

Another time we were riding in a larger city (neither Beijing nor Shanghai) but with crowds. A biker road by us traveling at a high rate of speed. He hit one of our riders and she fell. He did not stop but sped away almost as if he was frightened.  She was not hurt and we all stopped and helped and were quickly on our way again.  That night during dinner we were each called away from dinner into an interrogation room where three communist officers quizzed us on the accident. We all claimed it was nothing and that she was not hurt. They kept our passports and kept telling us it was not intentional. We tried to ensure them we understood and held no blame. It was tense but passed over once we all had the same story. It was not a rehearsed story, just the truth!

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