Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Bicycles substituted for trucks in 1981 China

The idea of traveling in China with a leader and 15 other American cyclists was ideal for me in 1981. The advance planners had done well; we biked less than 200 miles.

My friend Jim, from New Orleans, was 84 and a skilled cyclist. He and I had no problem keeping up with the group.

The longest day’s ride was 53 level miles. Our leader was a young American woman.

The All China Youth Federation had arranged interesting visits to factories, craftsmen at work, a visit to a cave and more. Male and female interpreters were fun people from Hong Kong, and they were with us around the clock.

Chinese bicycles were all black, men’s frame, single-speed; a few had black, crocheted decorations hanging from the top tube.

At factories where hundreds of bikes were packed together, the black crocheted decoration might have helped the owner identify her own bike, packed tight with several hundred others.

Consider the family bike: It carried Grandma, riding "side-saddle" on the bike’s top bar while the man pedaled; the man’s wife rode on a flat luggage carrier behind the saddle; and a youngster rode in a woven bamboo carrier in front of the handlebars.

This family might have had money enough to buy a second bike if a committee decided that the family really needed a second bike! It took as long to save money to buy a bicycle as it takes Americans to save to buy a car!

Before my trip, our son, Walt, said, "Mom, they don’t have private cars or trucks. Take pictures of the loads they carry on their bikes."

Loaded bicycles were everywhere. One man pedaled with a huge load of loose, dry straw that almost hid him.

Two fellows were walking, pushing a bike while balancing seven empty 50-gallon metal oil barrels, strapped to the bike frame and stacked high. Two other fellows were pushing a bike loaded with five bales of cotton! The load was so heavy the tires were mashed almost flat to the ground.

Chinese bikes often had large baskets strapped to a strong bamboo pole, one basket on each side of the bike’s rear wheel. Some baskets hauled dry manure, and others had dry ashes, sand, broken bricks or construction materials; individuals had few tools.

Many people were loaded with freshly picked foods being transported by human power. We were in the southeast - the farming area of China. To feed millions of people, every square inch of ground in this vast country had to produce as much as possible.

Gone were homes, barns, fences, pig pens, cattle lots, mail boxes. Gone were telephone and electric poles and wires, billboards, directional markers; all removed to make space for food production. Gone were things of natural beauty. Gone were places of worship - and places for burial.

After work, people biked, carrying unwrapped fresh fish and raw meat on bones - for soup? The bike shop displayed only one new bike, one tire, a tube and a few single bike parts.

More on another Monday.

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