Chapter 77: The Stolen Bicycle in Shanghai

An old bicycle
I never should have left my bicycle outside of my apartment house. And I never should have expected the community to understand the theft.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Chapter 77: The Stolen Bicycle in Shanghai

  • June 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I’ve had two Giant bikes stolen in China. I bought a 大龟王 (and a kryptonite lock) and haven’t looked back. I’ll be selling it when I leave China in November.

    • July 9, 2010 at 8:20 pm

      路医, thanks for the comment — if only I’d had a sturdy kryptonite lock back then!

      SA, wow, what a frightening experience — thank goodness he wasn’t successful.

      My husband and I were just talking about the unwillingness of groups/communities in China to take responsibility for crimes. There was a story recently about a girl whose three peers forced her to walk through an internet bar naked, then walk outside, and finally shouted for someone to rape her (and through it all, no one tried to stop her peers, even though obviously they could have). No one took responsibility or tried to protect the girl.

      Even though China is a collectivist society, the collective mentality seems to stop at your family’s front door (or with your friends).

      @asdf, thanks for the comment.

      @globalgal, sorry that you too lost a bicycle in China. Borrow it? Now that’s the craziest thing explanation of a bicycle theft that I’ve ever heard!

  • June 29, 2010 at 4:26 am

    I had a young guy in my apartment complex in Shanghai try to rape me as I headed into my building in 2008. I thankfully got away, while the guards snoozed out front. My Chinese friends blamed me for going home after dark and suggested I keep this information to myself. I asked them if I should mention it to the guards, but my closest friend said it was best to forget about it.

    I find it strange that there is this heavy sense of community or family obligation in China, but if you’re attacked, your bag or bike is stolen, or whatever, it is because you did something to deserve it.

  • June 29, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Sucks, but at least the perpetrators didn’t threaten to beat you up for catching them…


  • July 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I had a bicycle stolen when I was living at the Shijiazhuang Airport. When I told my work colleagues what happened, they told me, “Oh no, someone probably just borrowed it.” What? How do you “borrow” a locked bicycle? I’m not really sure why they told me that.


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