"Iím 63 years old and wear a hearing aid, but I peddled 63 miles on my birthday. Would I qualify for the China bike trip?" The young trip leader laughed and said, "Yes, Iíve just signed up an 84-year-old man from New Orleans."
The 11-day trip from San Francisco, including everything except camera supplies, cost approximately $3,000. There were four young men from California, a young couple, a plumber and his wife, a Chicago lawyer - 16 bicyclists total. Male and female interpreters were available day and night. Our longest bike ride was 53 miles on a drizzly day. I didnít know that a woman in our group was "drafting" - with her front wheel too close to my bike. The bike lane suddenly ended, and I had to make an unexpected left turn. The woman drafting knocked my bike from under me, and we both went down. She got up and peddled away. I realized that nothing would stick on wet skin! I straightened handlebars, saddle and front wheel and was soon on my way, muddy and lightly bleeding. Every Chinese person I met stared, horrified and sympathetic. I often recall those concerned faces!
Trip insurance required a doctorís report, so the next day interpreters and I walked to an ancient building called "Hospital." The doctor wrote a long report in old-time Chinese characters. Someone paid 35 cents for three envelopes of pills, and then I was permitted to stay downtown alone. The interpreter wrote our hotelís name and address on the bag in which I carried camera, film and flash. I was quite comfortable to be alone on the streets and in the small shops with roll-up front walls.
The streets were filled at noontime with people eating white rice with chop sticks. Huge metal containers steamed with the cooking rice inside. I never saw anyone pay for rice - and I was determined to eat nothing from street vendors, but I had tourist money and native money and could buy. A woman sitting flat on the sidewalk sold me some dirty Chinese china cups, saucers and rice dishes - exactly like some I had paid well for in touristsí money earlier.
Cups were tied through the handles, and shallow rice dishes were stacked; all of it was filthy from the street dust from trucks loaded with workers headed for factories. She would accept a little money, but not much.
I was fascinated by an unusual basket that was thick with years of street dirt hanging high above a sidewalk in front of a dentistís office. The dentist, in white shorts and shirt, left his patient to get the basket down and wash it thoroughly - and he wouldnít accept either kind of money! He made it clear that I was to have it, to take it to America, and he went to his bike and removed the black crocheted piece.
A few pigs were running loose on the street, and one was asleep on a pile of damp sand. An occasional old 1930 truck passed, loaded with workmen standing inside stock racks on their way to work in factories.