Before I arrived in Hangzhou I met up with a friend of mine that studied on the same Hangzhou program a couple years ago to ask him about his experience and how to make the most out of mine. He touched on all the basics that he learned on his trip from which classes to take to what to do on weekends, but there was one tip that I let slip through the cracks for slightly too long. According to him, Hangzhou’s public bike systems is one of the best in the world, and while intrigued at first I was lazy about it and didn’t end up purchasing my bike card until about a month into the program.
Since purchasing the card, I constantly have the desire to bike someplace new and explore more of Hangzhou. It feels as if there are bike stations everywhere just waiting for me to pick up a bike and ride. Instead of always going to the common room of our dorm to do my homework like I did before, I will toss my things in a backpack and hop onto a bike to find a nearby Starbucks to do work. Not only do the bikes provide me with a mechanism to get from place to place, but they also give me a strong sense of freedom. Before if I wanted to go out and do something it was not so easy. Even if I knew the name of where I wanted to go many cab drivers still passed me over, and my knowledge of the bus system was limited to the few lines that go between my campus and West Lake. With a bike, I could simply pop a destination into Baidu maps (a navigation application) and ride there with ease.
Interestingly enough, I think my most memorable experience of biking this semester was when I was hit by someone trying to zoom past me on a moped. I was in the bike lane turning off the road to park my bike at a bike station when out of nowhere a man on a moped smashed right into me knocking both my bike and his moped to the ground while the two of us somehow managed to stay on our feet. My first reaction was to apologize profusely because I thought it may have been my fault, but once I finished talking the man stared right at me and said “Wow your Chinese is so good!” While it was not the response I was expecting, I was not too surprised because anytime a Chinese person hears a foreigner speak more than a couple words in Chinese they are normally pretty mesmerized. After examining the damage to see that besides a cut on my leg all was good, the two of us went on our way, and as soon as I began walking down the street I burst into laughter. I felt as if I had finally been initiated into the biking culture in China because with the number of aggressive riders in the bike lane I am surprised I made it that long without being hit. Even before my accident I knew that the thought of me riding a bike on crowded roads made my mother worry endlessly, but I think that at the same time her knowing that I am using the bikes to get everything out of my trip that I can would almost make up for the dangers of the roads.
Since, I bought the card I have biked to and around West Lake, to restaurants, in the rain and in the sunshine, but merely feeling the wind in my face and knowing I have the freedom to go anywhere I want makes the purchase worth every penny.