Patrick Gough in China - Part 1

Club member Patrick is in his gap year before going to university. He’s teaching English in China and having some interesting bicycle-related experiences.

He is posting photos on his Facebook page ‘Patrick’s Travels’ and writing a blog ‘Five go wild in Henan province’ at

Here is some posts from April and a couple of his pictures of the velodrome he stumbled across.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I finally have a bicycle. It is a classy, 10 speed Chinese road bike, purchased from the second hand market in the north of the city. Firstly I ought to describe the market and our little shopping excursion.

Our visit occurred straight after a large lunch (in terms of people at the table and quantity of food and drink served) with a friend of Wojciech's and mine and his friends from a bank somewhere in the city. As with so many things, no matter the quality of the food (on this occasion, reasonably good) and drink (as usual, foul), good company makes for a good meal. I had a great time stuffing my face with fried dumplings and roasted duck while practising my listening (which is noticeably improving day by day) and having a crack at joining in discussions where I could. This kind of practice may not be quite as productive as a lesson but it is certainly more enjoyable. On the subject of my Chinese, I have taken to learning 6-8 new words a day. I have found that anything that I learn in this way, sticks. It is also something I could quite easily continue when I am not having lessons or even in China.

Anywho, we were given a lift to the second hand market which is in the far north of the city straight after lunch. As I have already said, we had had a very good time, and Wojciech had had a bit more of a good time than others (if you catch my drift). I'm not sure whether the 'Chinese courage' aided or damaged our bargaining ability but, in the end we walked away with a working bicycle and a lock for less than 15 quid. Unfortunately, we were not really in the mood to look round the market, which is housed in a number of cavernous warehouses. It apparently sells, second hand, everything you can possibly imagine and it would be interesting to wonder through the stacks of TVs and heaps of fans for inflating bouncy castles.

This week I have been working and studying as normal, but with the aid of my bicycle I have given myself about an extra three quarters of an hour during the day. This makes coming home at lunch far less of a rush, which in turn has allowed me to fit in some more small study sessions and find some cool little restaurants around our flat.

My contract ends on the 7th of May and after that I do not know whether I will continue to work there or take another job (there are still continuous offers from the multitude of private schools in and around the city). At the end of May, I am going to meet my mother in Beijing (I cannot escape!) and I will hopefully find out by the end of this month whether I have a job on the closing ceremony of the Olympics. In the intervening months, I am keen to visit Oz to see the cousins and also do a little travelling in China. However, I feel the most important thing I can take from my time abroad is a good grasp of Mandarin, and for that reason I will try to do whatever allows me to learn as much of the language as possible.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pedal Power

As I have finally purchased a bicycle (she's a beaut') I felt it would be a appropriate to compose a post on the subject of two-wheeled modes of transport. This will be extremely uninteresting for most of my readership, however both my father and uncle will take great pleasure from the fact I am still obsessed with anything with pedals, cranks and a chain.

The most common variety of bike about Zhengzhou is in fact a kind of electric bike, kind of like a moped but with a battery instead of a petrol tank. These are extremely popular as they are cheap and also allow the rider to make a journey with relatively little effort. However, I feel they are a menace. Firstly because the rear drum brakes are extremely poorly made and subsequently poorly maintained and therefore constantly squeal at pitch that is unbelievably painful for my relatively young ears. Secondly the extra weight of the battery and motor makes the all too common collisions (thankfully, none so far involving me, touch wood) more violent. These collisions mainly occur when a slow rider pulls in front of a faster rider without a glance over the shoulder, something I do automatically. In fact this is the main cause of all the traffic incidents I have witnessed in China. The other danger presented by fellow cyclists is their choice of the 'blinkers on, brake at the last minute' riding style as opposed to the 'constantly aware of traffic flow and potential hazards' technique that is so highly regarded in the west.

Anywho, the second most popular type of bicycle is the pushbike. Most have low slung cross bars (something that I would not be seen dead with as for me this means it is a girl's bike) and are single speeds. None of them are fixed wheeled. The rest of the push bikes are a mix of knackered old mountain and road bikes with the occasionally flashy hardtail thrown in. The biggest global brand out here is Giant. They dominate the pushbike market and also make a lot of the electric-assisted-bicycles that you see around the city. The other big brands are Merida and Gamma, the first of which make some quite nifty high-end cycles that you can by back in Europe.

If it weren't for the constant threats to one's life, riding a bicycle in Zhengzhou would actually be extremely pleasant. Firstly the cycle paths are wide, and well paved. Secondly, along every major street, there are small bicycle repair shops at intervals of about 100 metres. Here you can get all minor repairs done on the spot for very little money, and they pump up your tires for free. The people inside are often extremely friendly (actually friendly, not nosy and rude) and always impressed if you can speak a word of Chinese.

Anywho, must dash to my Chinese lesson this afternoon. Until next time.















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