A pedal-powered perspective

By Rachel Levine ( Shanghai Star ) Updated: 2014-07-18 16:51:07

A pedal-powered perspective

Zhang Chengliang/Shanghai Star

Two weeks after arriving in Shanghai for a summer internship at the American Medical Center, I bought a bike. Its low-slung blue frame, single gear, and high curved handlebars maneuver me reliably, if not always gracefully, through the one-way streets of the former French Concession.

At dusk, riding to dinner, I can watch the small patches of sunlight seeping through trees fade, and the neon start to take over. I spent the first two weeks here relying on my feet to get me where I needed to go, and now, soaring down the street on two wheels feels like a dream.

A pedal-powered perspective

Rachel Levine is a summer marketing intern at the American Medical Center.

The pace is something wonderfully soothing, somewhere between the rapid stop and go of a taxicab and the methodical rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other. Atop my bike, surrounded by the six o'clock smell of wok oil and scooters taking their riders home after another long workday, I feel part of an entirely different Shanghai.

Skeptics may question this last dramatic statement, doubting how much of a difference owning a wheeled device (motorized or not) can make in a new city, but they have clearly never felt the hot Shanghai air become a cool breeze by the simple act of hopping onto a bike.

Owning a bike brings me one step farther away from the traveler who walked off a plane in Pudong, and closer to a member of Shanghai's vibrant local lifestyle. The first step in this transition had been finding a suitable roof over my head. Once a small room in a lane house on Fuming Lu, balcony kitchen and all, was secured, my next task was finding food to eat.

Past experiences in China have taught me the value of discovering small neighborhood noodle shops, and what wonderful friendships mature from being a repeat customer. Unfortunately, in the heart of the former French Concession I was distracted by the American comfort food tantalizingly close to my doorstep.

By my second week, my limited budget could be ignored no longer, encouraging me to find kitchens serving up hearty, local fare for a third of the cost of a burger. A few days later I returned for my third dinner in one week at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant, exchanging a smile with the familiar laoban (shop-owner) and began my poor performance of consulting the Chinese menu, before quickly resorting to a healthy mix of Mandarin, charades, and even the occasional photograph to order my food.

Sitting on the small plastic stool I listened to my bok choy hissing as it hit hot oil. Here I took another step away from the wide-eyed tourist, and dug my heels a little deeper into this city, leaving my mark one meal at a time. The distance between tourist and local grows bigger each day. My neck is no longer sore from looking up at the buildings that hold more people than my entire hometown.

Finding myself pushed to the center of the metro car no longer means missing my stop, unable to maneuver my way out from behind a sea of elbows. And, most importantly, I bought a bike, opening a whole new way of exploring the city I am beginning to call home.


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