It's funny how having to make a hypothetical decision sometimes makes a real decision too. One of the guys in the program, Colin, bought a bike a week ago but was dissatisfied with it later that day. He said that he hadn't properly considered how much he had to hunch over when he rode it, and was considering selling it and buying a different one. In about ten seconds, I decided that if his bike didn't break in the next few days--and with Chinese bikes you really have to have that test--then I'd be willing to buy his bike off of him.
Of course, Colin warmed up to his bike and decided he liked it, but by that point I had warmed up to having a bike and felt deprived for not having one. I decided to ask Alex to take me to get a bike. He knew a place to get bikes at and had taken all the USAC students there as we've decided to fork over the cash for one. We think they might all be stolen bikes, because they're used, and what Chinese person is going to sell a bike that can still be ridden? We don't know how to ask, though, and we don't really want to know, so we just go.
On the way to the bike market I had a strange experience. Most bikes here have a metal rack on the back that you can sit on, and Alex had even fitted his with padding so it was a comfortable ride while we biked us. As we were riding, though, there was a Chinese kid, maybe 13 or 14, who still had on his school outfit and looked like he was riding home. When he saw me look at him, he said in very passable English, "That's illegal." He meant, of course, that it was illegal to ride on the back of Alex's bike. We're in China, where all the world is a trashcan and I've seen three stop signs since I've arrived--things aren't illegal in China. Besides, we're fifteen minutes out by bike and still have another fifteen before we arrive, and after this trip I wouldn't need to ride on the back of someone's bike, so I didn't take him very seriously. "Illegal!" I tried to say in Chinese in a friendly tone. I don't think my Chinese was good enough, though, because the kid just shook his head and rode on. Now that I think about it, that's probably all the English he had worked himself up to, and didn't know how to continue a discussion on it. And probably it was just a way to look good talking to foreigners. But still, being rebuked by a Chinese kid for being too rebellious gave me a bad taste in my mouth until we got to the market.
It's an outdoor market down a typical Chinese alley, with tons of bikes and tons of salesman just waiting to pounce once you let on that you're looking for a bike. First you look at the bike they've shoved on you, and if you don't immediately reject it, they urge you to test it out in the narrow street, and if you don't immediately say it's no good, they urge you to buy it. I'm still working out what Chinese politeness looks like, so I didn't want to be too fast to reject a bike and felt stressed just thinking. The second one I tried, though, was a really nice 21-gear bike with paint still left on the frame and breaks that didn't squeak. Seriously, most of the time you hear people coming by the sound of their breaks. Alex thought it also looked like a good buy, but I was scared off by their initial offer of 280 kuai. I was thinking of paying more like 120 (less than $20), and when the salesmen saw that I was serious about that they brought a string of junkers to show what a 120 kuai bike would look like.
My eye was on the blue 21-speed, though, and after riding a few others I went back to the guy who had the blue one and offered him 200. He agreed, I paid him, and then I realized that I didn't have a basket or a rack, which the guys said they would be no problem. Four or five of them swarmed the bike and looked like they were disassembling it completely, which made me nervous. They added a front and back fender, with no strength to give people rides (illegally) on the back. They put on a basket so I can put my backpack in on my way to school and started haggling over the price of it with me. I tried to remind them that they had said they would add it on, but they claimed that it was extra, that my 200 only covered the bike. When they offered me a really nice chain and lock for it which they wanted 17 kuai for, I told them that I'd give them 20 for all the add-ons. They agreed, and a few minutes later I had a sweet bike to ride home. I might have been paid a little too much, but not a lot, I don't think.
It took me an amazingly short amount of time to bike back home. Mom knew that no one in China wears a helmet, so I have one that I brought from the States. I think if I wear I'll feel justified biking more recklessly, though, so I maybe it would be safer not to. Feel free to chime in with mothering opinions.