A large part of what made our first week here so wonderful is the kindness we’ve been shown by locals. People here are so willing to go out of their way to help out a few confused laowai (foreigners). For example, the well-dressed businessman that helped Santiago and me get into one of the sky bridges of the Linked Hybrid complex was clearly on his way out when he heard us asking for directions. He stopped what he was doing and brought us to an elevator hidden in the back of a cafe, up 20 stories, and through a gallery into the skybridge. He didn’t speak any English, and he didn’t stick around when we got to the top; he just wanted to help us catch a great view.
The owner of our hostel, Linda, is no exception. After a long conversation about our options for acquiring bikes, many of which being too expensive or requiring a Chinese bank account (bikeshare apps), she offered the hostel’s rental bikes for AMAZINGLY cheap. The posted rental price for the bikes is 30 yuan per day, but since they almost never get rented out, she agreed to give us the bikes until the end of August for only 50 yuan total.
Biking in Beijing can be chaotic, but not as much as you might expect from seeing videos or pictures of crowded Chinese streets. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s a little hectic. But for the most part, people bike much more slowly here than they do in Portland. Not only that, but the bike lanes are huge, and it’s pretty normal and expected for bikers to overflow into car lanes when necessary. As long as you’re paying attention (and ready to brake), it’s totally manageable.
On the second day of having a bike, I woke up ready to rush to CAUPD before free breakfast ended, only to find that my front tire was very flat. The hostel staff couldn’t find their bike pump, so we decided to ask around for one. Thanks to my Chinese dictionary app (Pleco) and a little bit of pantomime, we were able to ask some of the neighbors if they had one. We mostly got “mei you” (not have) until we came upon a very elderly woman lingering in the street, about to go back into the tiny alley that led from the hutong to her home. Once she figured out what we were asking about, her face lit up and she waved us to follow her into the tiny alley. A man who was presumably her son also came out to help find the pump. All we could do was say “very thank you,” and smile and nod like dorks. Yet another example of locals going out of their way to accommodate us. I’m really looking forward to more of these heartwarming (and often hilariously awkward) interactions as we explore China in the coming months.