“I always take my bike”

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Right across the street from our building is a guy in his 50s who repairs all different kinds of things. One day in the summer of 2013, I take my bike to him to repair a puncture. While he’s mending the wheel, he starts chatting with me.

He: “Where are you from?”
I: “I’m from Austria, and you?”
He: “I’m from Sichuan. Of course, I’m from China.”
I: “I already thought you were Chinese. Is life better in Sichuan or in Shenzhen?”
He: “It’s better in Shenzhen. The economy is good here. The air quality, on the other hand, is better in Sichuan.”
I: “Is your whole family here?”
He: “I live here with my wife. My little kids live in Sichuan.”
I (surprised that he has little kids): “How old are your kids?”
He: “They are older than you. How old are you? You look quite young.”
I: “26.”
He: “My kids are 28 and 30. Are you married?”
I: “I am. I married only recently.”
He: “What’s your husband doing?”
I: “He’s working as a designer.”
He: “That’s a great job! What is your job?”
I: “I have the same job. We met at work.”
He: “Where are you living?”
I: “Just across the street.”
He: “Have you bought an apartment here?”
I: “No. We can’t afford to buy an apartment in Shenzhen.”
He: “Renting an apartment here is expensive too.”
I: “You’re right, but it’s still cheaper than buying, at least for now. Where do you live?”
He: “I live two stops by bus from here, right next to the subway stop.”
I: “That’s convenient.”
He (pointing at his bike): “I always take my bike.”
I: “Your bike looks quite old.”
He: “It’s already more than 20 years old. The brand is called Dongfeng (东风, East Wind).”
I: “The quality of old bikes is much better than that of new ones. Look at mine, I bought it a year ago and this is what it looks like.”
He: “You’re right.”

He is finished with repairing the puncture. I also give him a belt that needs two more holes. When he is done, I ask:

“How much is it?”
He: “4 Yuan.”
I (hearing him say 4 Yuan, but being unable to believe it’s that cheap and since he has a heavy Sichuan accent I’m not sure I heard correctly): “10 Yuan?”
He: “No, 4.”

I give him 4 Yuan, get on my newly mended bike and say goodbye.

Have you ever let someone mend your bike or modify clothes on the street in China?

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8 thoughts on ““I always take my bike”

  1. oh God, 4 yuan – so cheap. I didn’t ask on the street, but in the shop to adjust my watch (belt was too big for my hand) and I got it for free, on the other hand my husband doing the same had to pay 10 haha 😀


  2. In this age of disposable everything, we still have bike repair shops in Seattle; you can still get your watch repaired by a jeweler, and there’s a little kiosk at the mall that repairs jewelry. There’s even a little shop near the zoo that repairs espresso machines.


  3. I have never let someone mend or modify something for me in China, or in any other country. I am a passionate DIY person. Not that I am too cheap to let anyone fix something for me but I really love trying to do such things myself 🙂
    Anyway, if I would ever need such a thing in China, or to be more precise in Xi’an, I know all the corners where they offer those services, never can be prepared enough


  4. We had our bike tire pumped up and the guy seemed not to know what to do when it came to payment. Some adjacent vegetable seller jumped in and demanded 1 yuan on his behalf. The next day we mysteriously had a bicycle pump delivered to our apartment. The grapevine – it was large and active.

    I didn’t have a good conversation like that one, though.


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