Monday, December 21, 2009

Please bookmark the new Waffles & Steel!

Waffles & Steel has moved to:

Please check it out!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Update: Waffles will be ready soon

I'm getting closer to launching the new Waffles & Steel. Thanks for bearing with me. It may be ready as soon as Friday (China time).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Work in Progress: Getting ready to move

All of my blog-writing energy is being directed to blog moving. I've decided to migrate Waffles & Steel to a server that's not blocked in China. It's silly to have a blog with so much China content that can't be read by people inside the country. Please bear with me as I sort this out. I'm definitely more of a writer than a tech guy, but I'll keep grinding away at the problem like it's a long climb. Be back soon. Meanwhile, go out and ride some more ... or do an extra five minutes on the rollers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bike Traps: What kind of sick mind thought this one up?

How does this happen to a manhole? I guess a crack forms, years of corrosion work on it, relentless traffic wears it down more, battalions of Red Guards parade over it, wet seasons come and go, road crews pretend it's not there and partially cover it with asphalt (or bitumen, I love saying that word with a British accent) ... until it looks like this - a craggy, sinister bike trap.

This one couldn't be in a worse place. You come upon it after making a hard right turn between these two overpass pillars. You'll usually have a container truck on your tail or one of those pesky gray micro vans trying to squeeze by you on the left just as you're threading the pillars and trying to steer clear of the trap on the right.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Crash & Punch: The last chapter ... probably

It seems the crash-and-punch drama is finally over. I know I've said that before, but this time it appears to be true.

The expat met with the police to pay the rest of the money to the "victim." Originally, he was ordered to pay 20,000 RMB (about US$2,930). He paid half of that after the incident. When the expat went to the police station to fork over the rest, he was told that he would only have to pay 4,000 RMB (US$585) more. Really good news.

Part of this sum was compensation to the guy for a month's lost wages. Yes, the guy claimed he would need to take a month off from work to recover from his injuries and the trauma. He's a construction worker who claims his annual salary is 30,000 RMB (US$4,393).

The guy didn't show up at that police station to collect the money. He had his daughter represent him. He probably was afraid he wouldn't be able to repress the laugh he'll be laughing all the way to his bank.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Food: Eating up the road - literally?

I've written a lot about Chinese roads. I've ridden thousands of kilometers on them. Now I think I might have literally eaten a bit of them.

Somedays, I cook my own lunch in my office. One dish in my regular rotation is corn grits with red beans, green peppers and sweet garlic chili sauce dripped over it. It's a one-pot meal, all cooked up in a little rice cooker. I buy the coarsely ground corn grits - a bit like rough-cut polenta - in the bulk food bin section in a grocery store a couple blocks from my office. It costs less than 50 US cents for a kilo of the stuff. I've never had problems with it ... until today.

The grits cooked up nicely and I stirred in the beans and peppers. It was almost ready when I sampled a spoon full of it. As I was chewing, something went "crunch!" in my mouth. It felt like I was eating tiny fragments of glass. I carefully isolated the parts in my mouth, then spit them out on the palm of my hand. Fortunately, it didn't seem to be glass. The culprit appeared to be tiny black bits of asphault or rock from a road.

Now, why would I think the crunchy stuff might have come from a road? During my forays into rural China, especially the northern parts of the country, I've often seen farmers drying out their corn crop on the side of the road. They'll remove the kernals from the cob, and spread them out on the hot shoulder of the road, letting them bake in the sun for awhile. It's a beautiful scene - a long carpet of brilliant yellow stretching along the road. I've always wondered how they filter out the road dust and car exhaust contamination. Sheep, pigs and cows also use the road, so that's another concern.

But I never thought much more about it because I figured the road corn was most likely the farmer's private stash. Could it ever make its way into the bulk food bin at my local grocery store? Nah.

Today at lunch, I started wondering about it again, though. I was facing one of the most common dilemmas in China: Should I keep eating this stuff? I decided to continue and stop thinking about it. I had already invested too much time, effort and money (about US$1.50!) in the lunch to throw it away and head back out to forage for food. I cautiously chewed each bite, searching for hard bits with every first soft chomp. I found a couple more tiny suspicious pieces, but the rest of the meal seemed OK.

Has ingesting the road given me a better feel for it? Not yet.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ride Report: Used-car dudes and Mr. Cheng Guan

I set out on my Saturday ride about two hours later than I usually do. It's good to do this to get a fresh view of things. Chinese roads are filled with a new cast of characters every three hours. From 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., you'll see the peloton of bedraggled migrant workers on their squeaky bikes. You also encounter lots of car washers who sit on the side of major roads with a couple buckets of water and some sponges. They'll scrub down your vehicle for a small fee.

But by 9 a.m., the car washers are gone and their spots are taken over by the used- car dudes. They put up a little sign that says "Qiu che," or "Seeking car." They sit on a stool or stand up while gesturing to drivers to stop and negotiate the sale of their car. On one stretch of road - Guangzhou Da Dao - that I ride on frequently, you'll see used car dudes lined up 10 meters apart for about 3 kilometers.

Funny, I've never seen anyone actually stop to discuss a deal with them. I'm not sure how the business works. Getting them to explain it is difficult because I don't think they're supposed to be working the roads like this. They certainly weren't happy about me snapping photos of them.

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Everyone knows that I can't resist an overloaded bike. This bike was stacked high with plastic dish washing liquid jugs. I guess the guy goes from restaurant to restaurant collecting them. I hope they get refilled.

I was taking a picture of the dish washing liquid bike when my new best friend pulled up.

I met this guy a couple weekends ago. I was hammering down the road when I heard someone huffing and wheezing behind me. He pulled up alongside me and asked why I was wearing a blinking orb on the back of my jersey. He was talking about the clip-on blinky light that I attach to my back jersey pocket. I told him that it makes me more visible in traffic, and he thought that was clever but kind of weird. I think the Chinese think that I shouldn't worry about drivers approaching me from behind because it's their responsibility to avoid me. Why spend money on equipment to help them to do their job?

He also thought my interest in the overloaded bike was strange. When I told him I was riding to the university district about 16 kilometers away, he was blown away that anyone would ride that far. I love these types of guys. Curious, good natured, upbeat. Check out his shoes - the classic People's Liberation Army sneaker, in camo!

He works for the "cheng guan," a government agency in charge of policing commercial activity on roads and sidewalks, among other things. They're the ones who terrorize the Tibetan women who hawk jewelry on the sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses throughout the city. I noted the "cheng guan" patch on his shirt, and said, "Oh, you work for the scariest government agency!" He just rocked back and let out a loud maniacal laugh, "Heewwaaayyaaaaah!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bikes: Need to haul 12 water cooler bottles?

I see guys pedaling these water cooler bikes every day. I keep telling myself that one day, I'm going to ask if I can borrow one for a spin.

The water bike guys are usually in their 30s and 40s - too old for factory jobs. Factory bosses usually only hire workers in their 20s, and job ads usually specify that applicants should be female. Men are too hard to control on the factory floor.

Ahh, my favorite part - pedals made of rebar. I found a shop that sells them and bought a few of them for gag gifts.

This rig was made by Guangzhou's biggest bike builder, the "Wu Yang" or "Five Rams" company. The ram is the city's improbable mascot. Legend has it that five celestial beings descended from heaven on five rams and they gave the locals stems of rice that would keep the area free from famine.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crash & Punch: A phone call

A follow up to last week's drama involving the expat who hit a local cyclist:

The expat said that for the first time since the incident, he wasn't in pain when he woke up this morning. He did visit the guy he punched in the hospital. When he walked into the guy's room, the guy was laughing and sitting up in bed smoking. But when the guy saw the expat, he suddenly started feeling unwell and had to lay down.

The guy's daughter called the expat's wife and said that after hearing the expat's side of the story, the family realizes that the scuffle wasn't entirely the expat's fault. She said that at the time, her father didn't know that the expat hit a guy who was going up the hill the wrong way. He only saw the expat smacking the idiot bike rider on the head while trying to leave the crash scene.

Does this mean the expat doesn't have to pay the hefty amount of compensation? Nope.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Concrete Blobs: A rare victory in the war (Part II)

I was riding along last Saturday when I discovered this newly born concrete blob. This is the first time I've found a fresh one. I couldn't help but whip out my camera and document the find.

It was shaped like a huge comet with a long tail. It also looked a bit like Australia. I was snapping away with my camera when, as expected, a small group of gawkers gathered. It never takes long for that to happen in China. They were three guys who worked in a nearby metal shop, welding together aluminum security doors and gates.

I asked them if they had a shovel and said it would be wonderful if someone could clear away the concrete pile before it dried. As soon as I mentioned labor, two of the guys walked away. I guess it's no fun gawking at a foreigner who's suggesting you should do some unpaid work.

The one guy who stayed told me that street cleaners would take care of the blob. But I told him I doubted that because I see millions of the damn things on Guangzhou's streets everyday. Then the guy said I shouldn't worry because he'll call the city and they'll send someone out to take care of it.

Beware: sweeping generalization coming up. Many Chinese are programmed by their Confucian Communist overlords not to get involved in civic matters. They're supposed to take care of their families, do their jobs well and let the government and Communist Party run everything else. Cleaning the street is something the regime must worry about. A citizen doesn't fuss with it unless ordered to by the state.

But I started working on the guy. I trotted out the old slogan, "Serve the people!" Then I invoked the spirit of Lei Feng, the legendary selfless soldier, a Communist Good Samaritan who liked to clean latrines in his spare time. These things work with taxi drivers when I'm trying to convince them that my broken bike will fit in the back of their cab if I take both wheels off. It worked with this guy, too. He went into his shop and came out with a pathetic-looking shovel head with a broken handle.

As he scooped up a bunch of concrete, he said to me, "Now, what do I do with it?" I noted that a section of the curb was crumbling and he could use the concrete to patch it up. That's what he did and it looked great.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bike Traps: The concrete blob (Part I)

The concrete blob. It's not the most dangerous bike trap. But it is by far the most pervasive one in Guangzhou. They are everywhere!

I'm not sure how exactly they get created. I'm guessing there's some leftover cement on the chute on the back of the millions of cement trucks that rumble around Guangzhou everyday. The stuff eventually slides down and plops on the street like a big pile of chunky peanut butter. Or it's dribbled, making a long bumpy line. It often just dries into a mound, or a car or truck will run over it, creating an extra dangerous obstacle with ruts, ridges and dodgy edges.

Concrete blobs usually aren't big enough to knock you off your bike, unless you hit one at high speed when riding with one hand while the other hand is holding a water bottle or fishing a snack out of your back jersey pocket. The biggest danger is that they throw you off your line and cause you to ride into traffic. They can also be hard to see because they often blend in with the road. I've never seen road crews removing them. Once they've been born, they're permanent fixtures, unless some righteous roadie takes a stand. To be continued ...