Monday, October 19, 2009

Musings: Smiles and tuk tuks

I was on a morning ride in a dingy industrial zone when I saw a three-wheel motorcycle cart up ahead. In Thailand, they call these vehicles tuk tuks. I'm not sure what the Chinese call them. There aren't many of them in Guangzhou, but a few cruise around industrial parks, offering cheap transport to factory workers making quick runs to the convenience store or to a friend's dormitory.

When I pulled up to this one, I noticed it was hauling three women in their early 20s. They might have been migrant workers or students at a nearby university. They were cute and cheerful, though it was only about 6:30 a.m. Were they going home after a wild night on the town or were they getting an early stary on a special girls day of shopping? It was hard to say.

They quickly took an interest in me, a goofy foreigner in a helmet and covered in skintight Lycra. I decided to pass them and had no problem doing it at 33 kph. As I rode by, they yelled the popular Chinese cheer: "Jia you! Jia you!"

When I opened up a 10-meter gap, the ladies started urging the driver to catch me, and he sped up and was on my wheel again. He passed me, flashing a big mischievous smile as he putt-putt-putt-putted by me. I ramped up my speed to 36 kph and cruised by them again. The girls smiled, cheered and then began yelling at their driver to catch me.

He caught me again, and I ramped it up to 38 kph and held it for about 20 meters before I had to turn off and ride to a place where I planned to meet up with other riders. I regret not pushing on with the three-wheeler. It was great fun racing them, and the smiles on the women's faces were wonderful.

I bitch a lot about China, so I want to make an effort now to try to say something positive. Chinese are generally quick to smile. Friendly gestures toward me are common on the road. This is especially true in the countryside and mountains outside of Guangzhou. People are usually eager to chat or joke when we stop for water or a Coke. Passengers in cars will often lean out the window and cheer for us in the middle of a long climb.

Chinese roads are rough and dangerous. I have a good friend who has become fed up with them and has pretty much stopped riding. There are days when I feel the same. But the roads do make me feel alive. The challenge. The difficulty. The emotions. The rough texture they add to my life. It can all be invigorating. I often wonder whether I'll miss it when I eventually leave.

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