Most mornings over the past ten years, I ride down Tamaki Drive from Eastern Bays towards our city offices, while dawn cracks against Auckland’s skyline and the sun rises from Waiheke Island. Typically, I would see less than ten bikes along the way. In recent years, more and more bikes have joined the commute. I see all types; gears, penny bags and people of all ages. One occasion this year, when a fleet of bikes began forming a line waiting for a green light, I felt a sudden moment of Deja-vu which took me back to a long, long time ago…
I was born in a little township in Zhejiang province of China in 1970. When I was about seven years old, my dad bought his first bike. A bike was not only the main transportation method for us, but also a major asset for a family to have (a bike could cost a person’s annual salary). Dad was so excited about his new bike that he offered all the kids a ride on the back. When it was my turn, I accidently jammed my heel in the rear wheel and the pain was unforgettable! I was rushed to hospital and got several stitches. I can still remember mum’s scolding of dad and my own screaming. What a memory of my first bicycle encounter!
When I was 15, I was admitted to Chunhui High School. Located right next to White Horse Lake and surrounded by Elephant Mountain, Chunhui was found by a group of famous Chinese scholars during 1920’s. The idea was to isolate pupils and teachers from the rest of the world so they can focus on study and academic research. To get to the school, we first took the bus to the county capital city and then walked 10km to reach the school gate. All the students boarded at the school and only went back home every other weekend. My dad found a short cut from home to school, a trail that crossed a saddle between two mountains which he used to transport homemade food and groceries to me. When I got my first bike around 17, I decided to tackle the route by myself (I could not remember the details of the route during my first attempt). Mum banned from doing it again because it was deemed too dangerous. So instead, I took the official bus route, about a 30km a ride. In hindsight, I could not figure out why the bus route was safer than the trail. The one feeling I remembered so well after I rode to the school gate through that tough trail was the euphoria from achieving something (and of course the endorphins from the long-winded work-out also played a part).
Fast forward to University times in Beijing during 1988-1993. There were seas of people and bikes everywhere in that city by then. Right in front of the dormitory where I lived during my time at Uni, was a long line of bike racks. Locating your bike and getting it out during the morning rush was a task-and-a-half!
Getting a second-hand bike was the first thing to do as a freshman. Bicycle repair stalls were at almost every traffic light. I remember we nicknamed a boy “20Yuan” because he bragged about getting his first bike for RMB 20 Yuan and made it work. We got everywhere on our bikes! From lecture theatres to shopping, we once rode hundreds of miles to The Great Wall! Waiting for traffic lights amongst a super large fleet of bikes was the norm, and even losing your bike was normal during Uni, it happened so often that everyone had their fair share of being the victim to bike thievery! I lost my first bike in 1989, rode to… (cannot re-call where), dumped my bike in a huge public bike park and walked to Tiananmen Square. It wasn’t until I got back from school after the summer holidays that year, that I started asking myself, where was my bike?
The world changed so fast after that, people moved on to more advanced transportation methods; scooters, motorbikes and cars. Bikes became more for sports than transportation. So, 30-40 years later, I am lined up with commuting bikers in front of a red light in Auckland, I had this “circle of life” moment.
A song by Heck Lee described this feeling the best;