When cars meet bikes

I got hit by a minivan yesterday while biking along the highway that makes a ring around inner Beijing.  It had just been raining.  The defined bike lane, usually separated by a row of trees, had just ended as a road branched off the highway.  To my right was a moped veering left to avoid a deep puddle, and to my left, a minivan that was veering right to exit.  Between them: me, hitting the brakes of my beloved bicycle;  my shoulder, hitting the moped;  my back wheel, hitting the minivan’s back wheel. And then my rear reflector clattering across the concrete.

The minivan pulled over, and a young couple came out.  After their initial confused emotional angst, they kindly asked if my bike was broken.  “Did you get hurt?” I hadn’t even tipped over and didn’t have a scratch.  Only the splashguard over my rear wheel was warped, so that it pinned the tire in place.  “If we had tools,” the wife said, “we’d definitely help to fix it.”  They seemed genuinely concerned.  Eventually there was nothing more to say, and they drove off, maybe a little slower this time.

I grabbed my bike with its immobile back wheel, careful not to get grease on the suit I was wearing, and carried it a few meters looking for a place to park it overnight until the bike repairmen returned to their street carts.  There, by chance:  a woman standing by the open hood of a car; a man crouched next to a fan and some piping;  and a wrench.  I asked the auto repairman if I could borrow his wrench, and he instead got up without ceremony, took out some tools, and expertly repaired my back wheel.  He refused a tip. Even the woman didn’t seem bothered that he interrupted fixing her car to help me. Eventually, there was nothing more to do, so I biked off, maybe a little slower this time.

Getting hit by a minivan reminded me why I love China.  There are so many people here that you can’t avoid bumping into them once in a while — sometimes they’ll break your bike, sometimes they’ll fix it. In Beijing too, there’s that same persistent “plodding along” that I felt in New York this March; despite the pounding pace of change, such patience.  Perhaps it’s because things have been so hard for so long, Chinese people I’ve met tend to recognize what’s horrible, and what’s really not — and then they shrug off the stuff that’s not.

Next week, the US and China, one land known for its cars, and one land known for its bikes, will meet for the Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Washington, D.C.  The headlines, I suspect, will focus on the collisions, since people like to read about accidents.  Admit it.  You’ve been reading mine.

But I hope that the real story will be about how the US and China can help each other out anyway.  That sometime during those two days, Treasury Secretary Geithner turns to his counterpart at the SED, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and says, “Hey, sorry you got hit by this financial crisis thing.  Did you get hurt?”  And maybe in response Wang Qishan will look at his wounded economy, which isn’t really that horrible, shrug and say, “We’ll be alright.”  At some point, after all the tea and coffee is drunk, there’ll be nothing more to say.  And so the US and China will set off on their own ways as they work to rebuild the world economy in their own ways.

Maybe a little slower this time.