Recently, a mysterious thing happened. I came out of my apartment and couldn’t find my bike. It was just after returning from the holidays and I hadn’t noticed its absence when arriving back to Beijing. I know it had been locked and it wasn’t easy to carry—a heavy “Yongjiu” (永久Forever) model with a big baby seat on the back.
I could only conclude, with a heavy heart, that it had been stolen.
I’ve had since 2008 and ever since I installed a baby seat on the back of it, I rarely lock it. Who’s going to steal a seat belonging to a parent with a small child? Especially when I’m going inside for something in a store or when I’m just running upstairs for something at my apartment—I prefer to trust the universe. That is, during the day.
So that’s why I knew I had locked it before the holidays. I did it intentionally—the same way I always lock the bike at night.
When I told the family by WeChat that my bike had been stolen, my Chinese husband, a notoriously terrible gift giver who failed to produce a Christmas or birthday present in the last year, went into immediate “problem-solving” mode. He declared that a new bike would be my Valentine’s Day present. (The first Valentine’s day present EVER.)
Taobao to the rescue. Old-style Shanghai bikes called “Fenghuang” (凤凰 Phoenix) bikes look a lot like Yongjius so I selected that style from the links he sent me, (also through WeChat.) The seller was to arrive in five days. Until then, I had feet.
Then, en route to another job, I noticed something grey poking out from behind a homemade shed/shanty that one of our neighbours built in the middle of the courtyard’s parking area. It was the same colour as the baby seat from my old bike. Upon closer inspection, I discovered my whole (locked) bike—intact—lying on its side behind the structure. Its position—invisible from my entrance and many metres from where it had been parked—was mysterious, to say the least.
When I told my husband (also over WeChat) that I had found my old bike, he just laughed. He said having a second bike would finally enable him to go riding as a family. “We just need a second baby seat,” he said, casually.
This is a guy who rarely walks unnecessary distances. First a present and now an expressed desire to exercise? These are mysterious times.
The new bike arrived, shiny and perfect. The guy assembled it in my building’s courtyard, locked it up, and delivered the keys to my apartment door. I’ve decided to ride it as my primary bike while the old one, rusty from eight years of Beijing streets, gets a well-needed rest.
What’s the lesson here? One should not assume theft. But, yes, assume that if you’re going to go on vacation and you leave a bike in a public space in Beijing, someone is very likely to move it for random and inexplicable reasons before you come back.
And the other lesson? People can surprise you, even after years of knowing them.
Just more Unsolved Beijing Mysteries to keep life interesting…
Photos: Courtesy of Ember Swift