Friday, September 19, 2003 was just another overcast, dreary Friday in Shanghai — until John pounded up the stairs and asked about my bicycle. “Where did you park your bicycle last night?”
“Why outside, of course,” I responded. I pulled on my clothes and bounded down the stairs and outside, just to prove it.
But I was proven wrong. I stood before the doorway, only to find my bicycle gone. I had parked it inside of John’s bicycle, a generic little cement-colored bike that seemed a foil to my sturdy Giant. John’s bicycle was still there, but mine had become another statistic. Robbery.
I should have known better than to park a 6-month-old Giant bicycle outside the old, creaky wooden townhouse that contained our apartment. But we had no garage where we lived. And the only possible garage — my neighbor’s kitchen downstairs — was an unfriendly, unwelcome one. The wife often complained about my bicycle being indoors, even though her family parked theirs in the kitchen, or the hallway downstairs. But I obsessed over “keeping the peace” in our home, and conceded to her demands, parking my bicycle outside. What a fool I was.
When I came home for lunch that day, still smarting from the loss, the last thing I expected to digest was the wife’s explanation of why she forced me to park outside. I don’t remember what she said to me in that nasal Shanghai accent, shouting more than talking, because I pulsed with anger at her words. How dare she justify herself? I should have been challenging her in the first place, not conceding that space — but she should have been a good neighbor and provided that space without dispute.
Dispute was my life that day in the community — if you can call it a community. I not only lost my bicycle, but also any sense of community support. When we reported the theft to the head of the community, he blamed it all on us, and even attracted a chorus of retired old Shanghainese who joined to point a finger at me — never mind that no one bothers to watch the gates at the community, or even lock the other entrances to keep rogue thieves from sliding in and out. Even the elderly woman who lived across from us, a friendly and chatty neighbor we’d come to love over the months, called us reckless.
Now I know. I never should have left that lovely Giant bicycle outside. And I never should have expected this community to understand.
Have you ever had your bicycle stolen? How? And how did people/the authorities respond?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or browse the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.