Friday, April 11, 2014

Not An Ordinary Tuesday

It started out just like any other Tuesday, perhaps even a little better. Thanks to the Qing Ming holiday, China’s tomb sweeping festival, when families pay tribute to their ancestors, classes were canceled on Monday. I lounged around in bed after restful sleep, wondering what to do with the day.

Incidentally… about Qing Ming: on several occasions I’ve written about the Chinese custom of burning paper money so that the deceased will have money to spend in the afterlife, although I never wrote an entry specifically about this festival. Last week, I learned through a conversation with my friend Diane that the Chinese version of The Afterlife is rich. One’s ancestors might have remarried and started a new family, or could be indulging in a passion held in this life that was never pursued. I had no idea the Chinese hold such descriptive views of afterlife.

In reading an article about this ancient celebration I learned that, in addition to the ‘money’ – yellow paper cut to roughly the size of a 100Yuan bill, people are now also burning pictures of I-phones, I-pads and android phones. If one can expect the afterlife to be rich in passion and indulgence, why shouldn’t grieved ancestors also have Smartphones?

Of course, then my perverse mind conjured up centuries-dead ancestors holding I-phones and wondering what they were, or even that those long gone actually knew what such a device was, but complained that they got poor reception in the afterlife. Maybe I’m just not reverent enough to appreciate giving Otherworld denizens modern technology.

Back to that perfectly secular Tuesday morning when I lay in bed stretching, deliciously rested and pondering my options for the day. I’ve long had on my mind to buy a bicycle. Maybe today would be the day to do that? Now that I can walk without falling over and I’m not dizzy all the time, riding a bike is a perfect way to exercise and shed those pounds I gained when I was not so steady on my pins. After asking a few of my friends to help me find a suitable bike, and even going from store to store I found one that I absolutely fell in love with.

Bear in mind please that until recently in China a bicycle was considered a form of transportation rather than a piece of sports equipment. Now that everyone is buying cars, jumping in taxis or riding battery powered scooters, recreational biking has come into its own. At any of the chain department stores, Walmart and Metro included you can now find an array of bikes for all sizes and any pleasure: dirt bikes, cruisers, even BMX and racing bikes. The cost generally ranges with the function, and 400Yuan is a base price.

The bike I had my eye on was a hybrid dirt bike and cruiser. It had wide, knobby tires and an articulated frame. Of the colors available, I chose the red and white one. Price: 499Yuan. That is a lot of bike for the money!

I went to several Walmart stores around town, just to gaze longingly at my bike. Once, I even took a picture of it and showed it off. I found the best selection of accessories was at the larger store downtown, which, conveniently enough was the closest to the campus and with most direct route. I planned my way home from that store, deciding I would make a day of it: pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water. I would ride as long as I comfortably could and then walk a ways, and then sit and lunch… I had it all mapped out. And then, Sam had to go and blow it for me.

As is often our habit, we lunch and visit on Tuesday afternoon. I have no classes on that day and Sam, after wrapping up his four periods at his other teaching job, comes to our school to complete administrative work. So, when I received his text message: “Will you be home at 1PM?” I only raised an eyebrow because we had visited the night before, and gone to dinner with his lovely Penny and my little buddy, Erica. However, it had been a while since we visited before that Monday evening. I just thought he had more stuff to talk about.

Have I ever told you he and I sometimes have intense conversations? He is a wise man, my friend Sam.

So I offered lunch and/or coffee via responding text. He opted for both. I scooted into the kitchen, started chopping, slicing, dicing and just generally rattling my pot and wok and cast iron skillet. At ten minutes till one lunch was ready and my phone pinged another incoming message. “I’m going to be late, maybe 1:45”.

Sam and I are good friends and, by now he understands my wacky sense of humor. So I felt comfortable sending him: “Late??? The food will be ruined! I hate you! Never come here again! HAHAHAHA! Travel safely, my friend. See you when you get here.”

I had no idea how fortuitous that message was, but I was disquieted when he did not respond. Maybe I had gone too far? That worry intensified by ten till 2, when he had still not manifested himself.

Finally! A knock on the door! There is my friend Sam, sweaty and slightly disheveled, grinning hugely nonetheless. He asked me if I had already bought my bike and gestured behind him, to the stairwell entrance.

There she was! My beautiful bike that I had lusted over for so many weeks, prolonging the sweet agony of desire! She was there, in front of my house, taunting me!

Now I’m confused. No, I had not bought my bike yet, and OH! The cruelty of whichever neighbor, selecting the very bike I wanted, in the very color I craved! And to park it right there, in front of my house still all wrapped up in its Styrofoam sheets and cardboard!!!

Sam grabbed my arm and urged me out. I barely heard him say: “Penny and I bought it for you…” before I was out the door, leaping about and shouting with glee. I could barely bring myself to touch it, so miraculous was its appearance at my home. In fact, Sam had to bring it in the house. I was too shocked and delighted to do anything productive.   

How many times does a body get to experience childlike joy in the fifth decade of his/her life? I felt like a kid at Christmas, discovering a new bike under the tree, and then learning that that bike is intended for her. I was so taken aback with this gift that I was literally struck speechless.

Sam rested and drank water while I walked around and around my beautiful new bike. He told me he and Penny had long wanted to gift me something, but they were both hard put to think of anything I might want or need. When I kept on blathering about my bike and showing pictures around that settled it for them. They decided on Monday night, after our dinner together that Sam would buy it the very next day. He then took it to a bike mechanic to get all the nuts and bolts tightened up, and have it given a good once over. And then, he rode it to my front door.

It was all I could do to eat lunch and converse. All I wanted to do was jump on my bike and ride, ride, ride. Don’t worry: I behaved myself. We had a lovely lunch featuring deviled eggs, which Sam had never had but quite enjoyed.

Frankly, the visit is a blur. My eyes kept straying to my red ride, goading me with her shiny chrome, tires whispering how good it would feel to roll over pavement. I was put out of my misery by Sam being called to a meeting. Somewhat solemnly, no doubt exhausted by his bike ride in the noonday heat, he took his leave.

I took my leave too. Hard to fathom how I could simply slam the door to my house, leaving my treasure behind without a single spin around the parking lot. I took off to buy every accessory I had planned on for my bike: lights, tools, a pump, a lock, gloves, a saddlebag-type pouch and, most importantly, a helmet. I spent 366Yuan on my 500Yuan bike. When I came home I had half expected the whole thing to be a dream but no! There she was!!!

That evening, after forcing myself to sit long enough to dine I outfitted my bike and, at 8PM I took off. The joy of gliding effortlessly around campus! I went around 3 times, about all my legs, unused to that type of exertion could take. I was home at 8:20 and showered and in bed by 11PM.

As for Sam and Penny? If you look in the dictionary under ‘friend’, you’re likely to see their picture. To me, they are the very definition of ‘friendship’.

I have to stop writing now. Time for a ride!!!  

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