China Elevator Stories

“I Always Take My Bike”

I chat with a man from Sichuan who mends bikes in Shenzhen.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


Right across the street from our building in Shenzhen is a guy in his 50s who repairs all different kinds of things. I take my bike to him to repair a puncture on a day in the summer of 2013. We chat while he’s mending the wheel.

Bike (illustration) - Ruth Silbermayr

He asks: “Where are you from?”
“I’m from Austria, and you?”
“I’m from Sichuan. Of course, I’m from China.”
“I thought you were Chinese. Do you think life is better in Sichuan or in Shenzhen?”
“Life in Shenzhen is better. The economy here is good. The air quality, on the other hand, is better in Sichuan.”

I ask him: “Does your whole family live here?”
“I live here with my wife. My little kids live in Sichuan.”
I am surprised he has little kids and inquire: “How old are your kids?”
“They are older than you. How old are you? You look quite young.”
“I’m 26.”
“My kids are 28 and 30. Are you married?”
“I am. I married only recently.”

He asks: “What’s your husband doing?”
“He’s working as a designer.”
“That’s a great job! What is your job?”
“I have the same job. We met working at the same company.”

He goes on: “Where are you living?”
I tell him: “Just across the street.”
“Have you bought an apartment here?”
“No. We can’t afford to buy an apartment in Shenzhen.”
“Renting an apartment here is expensive as well.”
“You’re right, but it’s still cheaper than buying, at least for now. Where do you live?”
“I live two stops by bus from here, right next to the subway stop.”
“That’s convenient.”

He points at his bike and says: “I always take my bike.”
I mention: “Your bike looks like it’s quite old.”
“It’s already more than 20 years old. The brand is called Dongfeng (东风, literally: Eastern Wind).”
“The quality of old bikes is much better than that of new ones. Look at mine, I bought it a year ago and this is what it looks like.”
“You’re right.”

When he is done mending the puncture. I hand him a leather belt that needs two more holes. When he is done, I ask: “How much is it?”
He tells me: “It’s 4 Yuan.”

Being unable to believe it could be this cheap, and having noted his heavy Sichuan accent, where 4 sounds like 10 in Mandarin Chinese, I ask him: “10 Yuan?”
“No, 4.”
I hand him 4 Yuan, get on my newly mended bike, and say goodbye.

Have you ever let someone mend your bike or modify clothes on a street in China?

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