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You can't call yourself a Beijinger till your bike's stolen

By Jules Quartly | China Daily | Updated: 2012-08-22 09:44

There was a story at the beginning of the year about a Japanese man who had been cycling around the world for a year and had his bike stolen in Hubei's provincial capital Wuhan, China. He made a plea on Sina Weibo for the return of his 13,000-yuan ($2,045) velocipede and it was unexpectedly recovered by Hubei's finest in a market, on sale for 1,000 yuan. Keiichiro Kawahara became an Internet star and an unlikely ambassador for China-Japan relations.

Well, putting aside that bike diplomacy doesn't appear to work as well as ping-pong diplomacy - considering the recent arrests of Chinese citizens on Diaoyu Islands by Japanese authorities - my bike was stolen recently outside my Beijing office.

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I notified security personnel and they showed me hopeful CCTV footage of my bike before it was taken. They were sympathetic but I haven't heard anything from them for a week and I don't really expect to. I imagine late at night or early in the morning an anonymous looking group of individuals with a small truck stopped, loaded all the bikes that weren't chained up (and possibly those that were) and fled.

You can't call yourself a Beijinger till your bike's stolen

I had bought my unprepossessing old man's bike with a child's seat for 300 yuan four years ago and it had weathered drought and flood, ice and fire. Fortunately, I wasn't emotionally attached to it.

I did make a half-hearted plea for the return of the bike on Sina Weibo, in English and bad Chinese. And while there were no replies my Chinese friends were of the opinion that, "You can't say you're a Beijinger until you've had your bike stolen," which made me feel better, sort of.

China has such a highly developed bicycle economy, so well established, and has led the world for so long that it was inevitable I would learn about its gray market and even its underworld eventually. My stolen bike was my passport to crime.

Nearly 1 percent of the nation's 470 million two-wheelers get stolen, according to China Daily. And they must go somewhere.

I was reliably informed that Beixinqiao was the place. I went there one evening, didn't spot my bike (unlike Hubei province's finest) and was told the market only opens in the daytime. It was no hardship. Guijie Street, the gastronomic capital of Beijing is close by and it's true to say you must be tired of life if you can't find something good to eat down there.

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I went back the next day when the sun was shining to buy what was laughingly termed a "second-hand" set of wheels. The vendor outside the cycle store (no one goes inside) said this with a kind of wink and pointed to the "second-hand" bikes he was offering, parked up without locks on the sidewalk. There was a Giant with Shimano gears and brakes that cost just 100 yuan more than I paid for my old bike. The vendor told me he had been working out and flexed his muscles, shouting all the while, "It's decision time, you make a decision now," in English, which he didn't speak at all except for this one phrase.

I was sold. I thought not of whom this bike previously belonged to. I was at one with the bicycle trade and realized that bikes stolen means bikes bought and everyone wins. I basically pay for a "second-hand" bike every couple of years the same as everyone else: part of the gray market or black economy.

Which got me thinking that gangs probably organize the trade of stolen cycles. Which made me wonder if the triads are alive and well on the mainland because I was led to believe they didn't do very well themselves after the founding of New China. And I haven't met many. Yet we all know of Hong Kong gangsters from the movies. And I know quite a few self-declared gangsters in Taiwan. Nice people.

Next time my bike is stolen I'm going to ask my bicycle vendor about triads and see what he's got to say.

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