Friday, April 30, 2010

Tour de France

It's Thursday afternoon, the start of the May 1 holiday, and I'm taking a bicycle tour of the French Concession.

This is a publicity event, and I'm the token foreigner. Photographers pose me in several candid shots—standing with my bicycle, getting on, riding down the lane. Then they bring in the rest of my group, and we point at buildings, look at the map, discuss our route to the click-click-click of cameras.

A cameraman records our ride down the lane. But he wants another take, so we go back and ride down once more.

Now we're out the lane and into Wukang Road, a shady side street lined with pastel villas. We could be in southern France. We ring our bells just to say, “Hello World!”

A left turn brings us into the traffic of Fuxing Road. We glide along, contending for space with motorcycles and taxis.

The weather is great, and I'm in the flow. I'm also empowered, no longer at the bottom of the traffic pecking order.

A pedestrian crosses before me. He has the green light, but bicycles don't stop for red. I ring my bell, and he steps back.

Past the intersection, a taxi pulls out in front of me. I ring my bell again, but I yield. I may be brave, but I know my place.

Ringing my bell once more, I squeeze between a stopped bus and the curb. (Always watch for bicycles when getting off a bus!)

We each have a landmark to find and a question to answer. Mine is: “What color is the dome of the Russian Orthodox church on Donghu Road?”

We ride the length of the street but don't find it, so we stop and ask a local.

“It's not on Donghu Road,” he says. “It's on Xinle Road.”

“Or do you mean the one on Gao'an Road?” asks a local woman who's joined the conversation.

It seems there are two Russian Orthodox churches in the French Concession, but neither is on Donghu Road.

More locals gather and ask about our tour. The discussion shifts to Shanghainese, and my comprehension drops to zero.

At last we reach a consensus. We'll do the church on Xinle Road. We thank the locals and pedal away.

Two hours later, we've visited half a dozen sites, chatted with locals about the history of each. It's time to head back to the tourist bureau to claim our prize. But our leader is unsure of the way.

“Follow me,” I say.

Ignoring the “No Bicycles” signs, I lead the group into Huaihai Road, where we flow with the taxis and buses and, yes, other bicycles. We take the sharp corner around Normandie Apartment, its edge looming like the bow of an ocean liner, and we're back on Wukang Road, where we started.

And what color was the dome of the Russian Orthodox church? It was blue with gold trim.

No comments:

Post a Comment