Few get opportunity to see China as bicyclists see it

I wiped up mud and blood, aligned the bike’s saddle and handlebars, checked the wheels and limped to protect a painful right ankle, then pedaled on. I realized that I was a horrible sight. The Chinese I met registered surprise, compassion and empathy - in rapid succession. I felt much better after a warm bath and getting most of the grit out of out of my shallow skid wounds.

At breakfast, our trip leader said, "Mrs. Liu and a Chinese interpreter will walk with you to the hospital; our insurance requires a doctor’s report."

We stood in line while the man paid for emergency room, doctor and pills - the equivalent of 35 cents. I stared at a half-page of characters the insurance company and my doctor would never be able to read. Mrs. Liu asked whether I wanted to join the others shopping in the tourists’ store or did I need to go to the hotel to rest.

"I’d like to just stay downtown, if it’s all right," I said. She wrote the hotel’s address in Chinese on the baggage tag on the saddlebag I carried for cameras and billfold. It did not occur to her or to me that, as interpreter, she had no authority to grant this permission!

This was "everyday China," with many natives staring. I stopped where several people were sitting on a curb visiting on their one free day. A basket held green sticks cut in 18-inch lengths. I knew it was sugar cane but pretended it was a baseball bat. No! A golf club? A cane?

People laughed. A fellow bit the end off one, chewed, swallowed and let some fibrous residue fall from one corner of his mouth. Several street chickens ran up and ate what fell. People laughed. I extended several coins, and he picked out just pennies. This was "China’s back door." These people had never seen an American with such strange eyes or heard a foreign voice or words. Crowds gathered where I stopped.

More than 50 Chinese people wanted to know what I was asking for at a drugstore: acupuncture needles. My dentist asked me to bring him an acupuncture needle, but neither he nor I had ever seen one. I was making no sense to the druggist or his helpers, and people came in from the street to see what I was saying.

I turned to the oldest person in the group, thinking that someone age 60 might recall some English words from the time when British tourists or merchants could travel to China. The woman recognized the block letters as I drew them. "Aye, Cay, Ou, Pay ... ." She was stumped by "N."

She smiled and apologized for not being helpful. I quickly sketched a man, put an acupuncture needle in the picture and a tall fellow in the back of the crowd called out - in Chinese - "The woman wants acupuncture needles!" Applause roared, and the proprietor opened a drawer very near his hand and extended several sizes of needles. An assorted dozen cost just pennies.

At a fast-food place, I focused the camera on what I thought was a circular cookie sheet of raisins. A woman growled at me and fanned hundreds of flies, not raisins, from her meat-cutting board!

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