24 September 2002

long promised, now delivered

so here it is - the long-awaited (well, at least long promoted) story of the motorbike, followed by the russian-speaking chinese grandmother.

i acquired my second bike about a month ago after the first one had been stolen from my chicken-saturated hutong (this more or less means tiny street in chinese) in april and was again becoming accustomed to "riding euphoria". anyone who has ever tried to navigate a borderline anarchic road system such as new york, bangkok or china (to name a few) will readily appreciate the courage and detachment involved in bicycle navigation. so armored, i was returning from a swell swim and peddling to my heart's content around a roundabout (dastardly things) when a motorbike ripped around like hell on wheels and pounded into my poor unsuspecting front tire. i flew like a superhero and landed on my backpack (blessings be to towels and soggy suits) before i even saw the feller's shirttails whipping in the wind as he accelerated away. now i should not have taken offense. the ways of the chinese street are as yet still foreign to this waiguoren, and i should know better than to curl my fist in the air. but the fact that it was a BRAND SPANKIN' BIKE (i named it clyde), that he was most definitely going the wrong way around the intersection, that he sped up expressly to hit me and then didn't stop to see if i was alright really got my goat. and i don't even have a goat (though my neighbors do). the rest of the day was spent as a transformed me, from contented swimmer to anger ball. this feeling subsided as soon as i took my much-abused clyde to an able bike mechanic for a 20-minute overhaul. the fellow, like most bike mechanics in this area, have a set of tools and a chair or two. this guy had a deluxe setup, with added features such as large umbrella and two chairs for waiting customers. for 8 yuan (referred hereafter as kuai), he tightened my spokes, set my handlebars to rights, straightened my wheel, realigned my brakes and filled my tires. and clyde shone like my blue steed again. all was mended. ahhh!

as i become more and more acquainted with this wacky language of mandarin (aka hanyu aka putonghua aka zhongwen aka . . .) i understand more of what people say about me. as it happens, i am finding that everyone and his chicken, goat and donkey thinks i'm russian. considering jilin province is within a discus throw of russia, this is not an unwise assumption. and since most people over the age of 35 were compelled to study russian in school, some feel it a great opportunity to exercise their linguistic skills in my general direction. my ignorance of aforementioned language is met with disappointment or suprise, but in a few cases with blinking disbelief. and so it happened one evening that my friend, michelle, and i strolled into a store ("shangdian") with every intention of buying chocolate. during our perusal, i noticed an elderly woman staring at the two of us, and once she caught my eye she started touching my arm and spattering off a line of speak that met my ears as jibberish. it took a few solid seconds to realize she was speaking russian. no matter how hard i tried to tell her that i'm american, not russian, she would not stop. her daughter behind the counter even joined my plea to dispense with russian, but she was not budging. i felt so ashamed that i had not spent more time trying to learn russian from stacie or my brother, but i figured that regardless of my desire to communicate, the few words and phrases known to me (hello, how are you, out the window there's a church choir) would be of little sustained use to a woman bent on lengthy communication. and so i left the store bereft of chocolate and with a greater sense of how very much in this life i have to learn.

anyway, that's the news from here. sorry for the length, hope you slogged through, and thanks again to those of you who have been reading this! so marvy to know that my meanderings aren't sputnik. as perhaps can be seen, i have realigned my last email to its true temporal state.

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