Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tips: Never throw a punch in China

I got a text message today from another expat cyclist in Guangzhou. It said, "I crashed my bike against another cyclist going the wrong way and I slapped his head. A bystander intervened. He hit me and so I punched him. He went down. Now I am in police custody."

I called him and found out the situation was much more serious. He sent the text from a hospital, where he was being treated for possible injuries to internal organs. He wasn't able to talk long, but he said that he was still in police custody at the hospital. The details of the incident are still sketchy.

I'm completely sympathetic. I've been in the same situation many times before, and I struggled to maintain my cool. This rider said he was descending a small mountain when he hit the cyclist who was "salmoning" - one of the national pastimes of cyclists in China. I can't tell you how many times I've been climbing or descending and had to find my way around someone who was riding against traffic. You would think that it was the responsibility of the salmon to find safe passage around the person going the right way. But that's not how it works in China. It's one of the few times a Chinese cyclist will hold his line, i.e. when the line really belongs to you.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. The point I want to make is that it is NEVER a good idea for a foreigner to hit a Chinese person - NO MATTER WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. It's dumb for two reasons:

1. Cyclists look ridiculous in a fistfight. We're wearing clippity cloppety cleated shoes and Spandex that looks cool on the bike but extremely dorky on the road in a fistfight. If you don't believe me, check this out.

2. In China, a Chinese person can rape your women, burn down your home and key the new paint job on your Colnago ... but if you hit him, oh man, you're in big trouble. I know a guy whose crazy Chinese neighbor threw his wife's bike off the top of the apartment complex. He confronted the Chinese guy, things quickly got heated, he punched the Chinese guy and pinned him to the ground. Before he knew it, the Chinese guy called the police and the foreign guy had to write a mea culpa "self criticism" letter and pay a small fine to his lunatic neighbor. The police weren't at all interested in hearing about how the neighbor tossed the guy's wife's bike off the roof. They just focused on the fisticuffs.

I have another friend - a pretty strong bike rider, actually - who was on a training ride when he got doored and hit the ground really hard. As he was picking himself up, he noticed that a Chinese passenger in the car was laughing at him. He went over to the passenger and clocked him. Well, the police showed up at his house later and threatened to expel him from the country if he didn't apologize in writing and pay a fine.

The Chinese take assault very seriously, especially when a foreigner is doing the punching. As soon as you strike out, it doesn't matter what triggered it, you're guilty.

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