Friday, February 20, 2009

Little things that make your day

Even though me and the guards working at our complex in general get along well and enjoy some quality game time together, there has to be someone living around here that doesn’t like me.

I was shocked yesterday morning when I went down to the bike parking lot and discovered that my precious bike had been ‘vandalized’: someone had stolen (!) the bike bell, ruined the backlight and tried to steel my geeky, old-lady-style bike basket (although they might have been caught in the act because it was still hanging onto my bike on a mere screw). Since I rely so much on my bike I decided to get it fixed by once, despite the fact that it was raining cats and dogs outside.

Now, there’s a thing with me and shops. If I find a shop, let’s say a bike shop, that I like, no matter where in the city it is located, I will always return there. Last time my bike was in need of some aid I went to a small, dirty little place located at the other end of Suzhou to where I live (don’t ask me what I was doing there –I assume that I was out ‘enjoying a bike ride’ or something like that?). Since I got immaculate service from two old men running the shop, I had no other choice but to return to this very shop.

Sure, I did get a bit wet but it was well worth the trip (although going on a bike ride without a bike bell was like pure torture. I almost killed myself as well as a bunch of pedestrians. Note to self: there is no such thing as riding a bike without a bike bell over here). I’m not sure if the repair guy recognized me although I think so, because he gave me a friendly giggle when he saw me, completely soaked, standing in his shop. (Last time I was there –to get a new bike basket- I managed to impress him as I knew the Chinese word for both basket (篮子-lan zi) and tire (轮胎 -lun tai) and he called me a ‘smart laowai’ before we said our goodbyes).

-My bike needs some repairing! I said.

-Oh I can tell it does! He said. You want a new bell?

-Yes please.

-What kind?

-The cheapest one you’ve got (I was considering the fact that someone living in our complex might be collecting bike bells so I figured I would go for something quite tacky looking in order to not have it stolen again).

He went to a bag and grabbed a pink, shiny bell.

-Have you got something even cheaper? Not so good looking?

This made him smile a little, before he nodded and went into another room. He came back carrying a low-key, black, boring looking bell.

-Perfect. I said. Does it work?

He tried it for me, but there was no ringing sound. Actually, it barely made any sound at all. Just a low, rusty sounding ‘rrrrrrr.’

-OK, no, I can’t use that! I said. How much is the pink one?

-5 kuai.

-OK I will take that one then. How much is this one by the way (pointed at the black, useless bell).

-4 kuai.

-But it doesn’t even make a sound?! Does anyone buy it?

We both laughed. (I guess cheap bastards like me do)

He changed my bike bell and fixed the backlight and the basket. While he was at it, he also did some extra ‘touching up’ on my bike.

Meanwhile he was fixing my bike another customer walked in, keen to buy a bike. Oblivious to the fact that the old man was busy, he started asking around and touching bikes in the shop. I was expecting the repair guy to abandon my bike to make a sale, but nope… he was so devoted to repairing my bike that he didn’t even care about his new customer, who in the end left –bike-less. 

Once the old man was done (and my bike was shining like a new one!) I gave him a 10 kuai-note and said:

-Is 10 kuai enough?

-No! I already told you. Five kuai.


-I already told you. 5 kuai for the bell. Now wait here I will bring you your change.

Wow. Now that’s a conversation I don’t often have in China.

Some minutes later I left on my as-good-as-new looking bike, happy as a day. Going back to places where you've gotten good service sure is the way to go in China. I'm already looking forward to my next visit. 


Little Tiger said...

I'd be careful about talking about your 'basket'.
When I took Chinese classes with a tutor I thought I was being really smart by one day saying: 'Someone who is pang4(fat) is called a pang4zi (a fat person), right?' 'So can you call a lazy person a lan3 zi?' to which she burst out laughing, made a 'timeout' sign with her hand and insinuated that lan3zi refer to a man's 'family jewels'. Having said that, she loved to teach me dirty words (I didn't request it, I swear) so maybe it is regional slang. So perhaps, I don't know, you *might* receive a few chuckles when you describe the state you found your basket on bike. (oh god, I completely understand if you deny this post :) )

I think my bike got vandalized aswell, but I'm not quite sure. I left my bike in the city-centre for a few day expecting at least a wheel to be missing when I returned. It seemed ok when I got back, but mysteriously the breaks don't work anymore...

Anonymous said...

That man is so nice!! Good for you! People like that always make the sun shine, even on a rainy day! :D

Anonymous said...

There are reputable bike repair places, but you need to look a long time. Great for you in finding someone that does good work.

If you don't have a bell you could shout. When biking in Southern China and here in Toronto we shout "Hot Water" (like when you're in a restaurant), and people get out of the way. You do need to say it in Cantonese, and the people who speak Mandarin think you are crazy (Gunshui). It's kind of odd, but people instinctively move out of the way for a waiter with hot water.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Little tiger -aooch, I had no idea bout this... maybe that's why that old man kept smiling so much?!?!

Kanmuri -Yeah, people like that make ur day! :)

Don tai -I am still working on my shouting-skills. I have a bit of a problem with it... as shouting doesn't come natural for me. I reckon it is good I am not driving a car here coz I would totally abuse the car honk!


Lucky little are back in business!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations and here's hoping your bike stays in great shape for a long time.

And, Little Tiger, thanks for the tip. I totally didn't know that and can imagine finding out too late!

lola said...

I am addicted to your blog...can't wait for your new post everyday. You are such a talented writer. Please keep on blogging.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Lola -stop it, my head is exploding... ;) Nah, seriously, what a nice thing to say! Thanks a lot!

Kosmo said...

The place I got to get my car serviced is like this. I witnessed them convincing a woman that her car did NOT have a serious problem and did not need an expensive repair. She was about to leave on a long trip and kept asking if various parts needed to be replaced.

These places - honest and helpful to the customer - can get a lot of business because of people telling about their positive experiences.

Sorry about your bike. I really don't understand why people commit acts of vandalism.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Observer -Got to love places like that. And you're right. I'll def recommend all my friends to go there.
No biggy bout my bike. I guess someone just really liked my bell (so did I). Let's see how long my shiny new pink one lasts! :)

heyjulia said...

I'll have to say I enjoy reading your blog--very much.lovely story:)

Anonymous said...


Your entry reminded me of how my mountain bike got stolen a year and a half ago from outside my unit. It was chained up and I'd just bought mudguards and a new pump. It was so weird. It was there when I got home after work. Then, when I went back out 5 hours later, it was gone. I was stunned.

I think I'll mention this to my new therapist.


Nancy said...

It's nice to know there are merchants who have integrity and honor, don't you think? I would return to that shop again, no matter if I had to go out of my way to get there. Hope no one steals the pink bell!

The Taipan said...

I have experienced this kind of refusal to accept more money. My recent return to Shanghai was delayed for a few weeks and I didn't have my Ayi's phone number, so I couldn't tell her. She dutifully came each week to check if I was back.

So when I finally got back I wanted to give her an extra 200 kuai as compensation for wasting her time, but she refused to take it. It was like I was trying to give her poison or something!

Oh, and I have to agree with lola. I'm also addicted to your blog, Part of my morning routine is to have my coffee and snus and read your latest post:)

Anonymous said...

Thats so sweet

I would've tipped 10x that amount for the kindness!

baoyuanzhe said...

I had something happen that made my day today. As I was returning to my dorm from the canteen, I saw there were lots of people crowded around something, so I went to have a look, and I got myself a free piece of cake! I was in the right place at the right time for once :)

The Candid Yank said...

i am totally the same way with shops, even and especially with my bike guy. Luckily for me his shop is only a 15 minute walk or 5 minute ride from my house, but I will always go to him, no matter what. It's the same principle as loyalty to mechanics, plumbers, and technicians.

Anonymous said...


卵 (luan3)--egg

篮 (lan2) --basket

They sound very different in Mandarin.
Southern chinese might not distinguish the first two sounds.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jonna, Thanks for post this nice little story.

Little Tiger, just wondering which part of China use "lan3 zi" to mean "a man's 'family jewels'"? Need to remember to avoid to use it there.

I have heard a story about a Shanghai lady went to a neighbour to borrow a "chui2 zi" in Sichuan, and got mighty embarrassed.

In Shanghai, "chui2 zi" means hammer. In Sichuan, hammer is "ding1 chui2" meaning nail hammer. And "chui2 zi" is used as a slang for "a man's jewel" as you put it. So ladies, make sure don't ask a man to borrow his (Shanghai) hammer in Sichuan. :-)


Brad Farless said...

This reminds me of something that happened here in Singapore. My wife and I both have bikes. She used hers much more than I did. Her office is a ten minute bike ride away, so she couldn't see spending money on the bus. Plus, the bus took longer than the bike, so she could sleep later if she rode her bike. Well, her bike started to act up and she started using my bike while I was being lazy about fixing hers.

After using my bike (which was still shiny and new looking) for a few days, she came out from work one night at 10pm and it was gone, completely. You'd think someone would've noticed a guy with bolt cutters, since it was parked in front of a row of restaurants at one of the malls here... but I guess not.

To heap on the tragedy, when I went to fix her bike finally (since it was the only one left) we discovered that one of our housemates must have fallen on it or something because the tire was ripped from the wheel and it wouldn't seal again. We thought about replacing it. We probably should. We're moving to the Philippines in June and we'll have to sell it. It's hard to sell a bike with no tire, especially when it's used looking and a bit rusty here and there.

Madelaine Smith said...

Ha ha! Great! At least they didn't steal it... I went through 6 bikes in 18 months in Tianjin.
Happy cycling!

Little Tiger said...


It was in North Eastern China.
I'll remember that the next time I visit Sichuan! Speaking Chinese can seem like crossing a minefield at times because of all the different meanings the tones can have.

Jason said...

Don't make your bike too attractive in China!

Tracey said...

No offense, but I thought your blog was personal.

P.S. I'm not trying to be rude, I'm just curious.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Tracey -u r right. It is personal. Very personal. I tell about everything I do every day. Although I don't publish too many photos of me and my closest friends or my bf... I reckon some things I keep to myself.

Shubha said...

Love reading your blog. You paint a lovely picture of what it is like living in China.
All the best with your studies!