Posts Tagged ‘Bicycles’
Burma seems to be Southeast Asia’s latest hotspot. The ‘opening up’ of Burma’s and talk of it being like Asia 30-years ago (not the first time that one’s been used) has seen tourists flocking to get a piece of the action before it’s overrun with tourists. Unfortunately that’s already happened. In 2012, Burmese tourism soared 43% and its infrastructure is struggling to keep up.
There’s little wonder tourists are coming to Burma. The people are charming, smile at ease and, unlike some with of its neighbouring countries, you feel comfortable that they’re not going to be ripped off every time you slip your hand into your money belt. There are some big-hitting sites to see too. The scale of Yangon’s crumbling colonial grandeur is matched by few cities in Asia, maybe just Mumbai. The bizarre one-legged-paddling fishermen, floating villages and surrounding vineyards of Inle Lake are cool, although one does get a little souvenir-shop fatigue. And cycling between the 4,000+ temples that dot the grassy paddocks amongst goat herders and ox-pulled ploughs is right up there with Amritsar’s Golden Temple as my favourite things to do in Asia, or pretty much anywhere.
The international press hasn’t been shy reporting the dramas in the build up to this week’s change of leadership in China. There’s been the blocking of Google and other annoying Internet disruptions, the 1.4 million-strong volunteer security force keeping peace in Beijing, and the unrelated, somewhat sensationalised reports of thousands clashing with the police in China. But there seems little coverage of the positive change taking place right now in China’s police force.
Every time I’d seen the little men peddling the big stack of polystyrene, which was a lot, I though I must get a photo – I finally did. It’s hard not to love what they add to the contrasting city of Shanghai. They’re one of the hairier obstacles on the daily bike adventure but one of my favourites.
When I first arrived in Beijing in 2010, my biggest surprise was the lack of bicycles. As a young lad, gaping over sepia prints of China, it was the hordes of bicycles on Beijing’s streets that made the biggest impression. These days, China’s bicycle situation is one of the most noticeable indicators of the changes China has made over the past three decades.
Beijing has many great things, but its diminishing bike culture isn’t one of them. Just 10 years ago, 60% of Beijingers used peddle power to get to work. But with increasing wealth, sprawling suburbs, bigger roads and lessening bike lanes, that figure now languishes below many European cities, at 20%. For someone who enjoys powering two wheels from a hard seat, I was disappointed.
Six months later and a 1,200 kilometre move south to Shanghai, my faith was restored. Shanghai is China’s original home of cycling and it still reigns as a dreamland for those who enjoy a little excitement when they play on their peddles.
In days gone by, talk of China would conjure up sepia images of streets crowded with men on bicycles. Times have changed.
During the swinging 60’s and 70’s, the must-have items for a marriage in China were a wrist watch, sewing machine and bicycle. Now there are cheap rip-off watches everywhere, someone else does the sewing and almost everyone wants an automobile. Yes, the monarchy of the ‘Kingdom of Bicycles’ has been overthrown.
Back in 1949 when The People’s Republic of China was formed, the party in Beijing opted for the bicycle as the people’s vehicle and started a massive production drive, making two wheels and a chain a big part of their first Five-Year plan. Pedal power took off.
Every year it comes with blasts of gunpowder, steamed dumplings and red envelopes. Chinese New Year or Chūn Jié (Spring Festival) as it is known in China is The celebration on the Chinese calendar. Think Christmas, New Years Eve and Thanks Giving all mashed into 15 days of festivities. Fireworks bang, red oval lanterns hang and red cut-outs are plastered everywhere; symbolic of happiness, longevity and wealth.
During the Chinese New Year Festival it’s obligatory to be with your nearest and dearest, so every year sees hundreds of millions of Chinese return to their hometowns and villages. It’s when the city folk really appreciate the migrant workers doing menial jobs to keep the cities ticking over, because things slow right down once they’re gone. They’ll leave by train, bus, car, motorbike, boat, bike, horse, plane, whatever. It is the largest human migration on the planet, by far.
Over the festival, around 2.6 billion trips are made. That stretches China’s extensive transport networks to breaking point. For most Chinese, train travel is the mode of choice – it’s safer than planes and the roads are congested and less comfortable. But the finite capacity means only about 12% of trips during the festival period are on tracks.