Eight Tyres

Buying a bicycle tyre is a fairly straightforward in the US or UK. In the US you go into a bike shop and, after the dudes have sized you up, they will either recognize you as one of them and give you respect, or else they will classify you as a ‘cyclist’ and decide everything needs to be explained or punctuated with condescending questions (“you do know how to pump up the tyre right?”).

I’ve found the UK to be more straightforward, just walk into a local Halfords, head to the bicycle department and, if someone is there they might be kind enough to point you in the direction of the tyres. Otherwise you locate them yourself, find something of suitable quality that fits the price bracket and head to the checkout in the hope that someone is manning or womanning it so you can make your purchase.

I chose to go to one of the street dealers to get my tyre. It wasn’t because you can get black market models, or exotic women to perform the installation, it just happens to be convenient because there is always someone flogging their goods just around the corner, and it’s always good to support local business.

I pass this place almost every morning on my ride into work. It is manned by an elderly gent who positions himself by a small gate at the intersection of two narrow lanes. In the morning he is laying out his wares on a small door mounted on bricks. If I come back past at lunch time he is usually kipping in a chair and by the time I return home in the evening he is long gone.

In short, it is usually quite hard to catch him around to buy anything. I once passed by a little later than usual because I had a puncture but when I approached him he was just tucking in to a bowl of noodles and waved me away with a dismissive swing of his chopsticks.

But I decided to give him another chance. Although my new bike had never been ridden, it needed a new tyre, lack of quality control in a factory that harked back to the true communist era and all that.

I rode up to him on my old bike, got off, and leaned it against the wall next to his “shop”. He stood up when I approached him and I realized that he was less than 5 feet tall

“morning ” I said “I want to buy a tyre”
“a bicycle tyre?” he asked, and immediately I knew this was going to take some time
“yes, just like the one on that bike” I said, pointing to my ageing steed.

He ambled over to it and after inspecting it he said

“why do you want to buy a new tyre? It looks okay to me”
“I don’t want to buy a tyre for that bike, it’s for another bike” I countered
“where is it? Why aren’t you riding it?”
“because it needs a new tyre”
“well what’s wrong with the old tyre?”

I began to understand why he was 60 years old and still flogging his gear on a back street.
I didn’t feel like trying to explain how the other tyre kept blowing off the rim everytime I pumped it up

“so, do you have any tyres” I asked, glancing over at the rather sorry collection leaning against his door/countertop
He thought for a while

“what size do you want?”
“same as the one of that bike”
He wandered back over for a second inspection
“you want an tyre or an inner tube?”
“a tyre”

He considered the bike a bit more and for a moment I thought he was going to start asking me more irrelevant questions about the other bike. Instead he simply asked

“you want a ba tai?”

Well, tai was tyre, but ba means eight, but he wasn’t asking if I wanted eight tyres because there was no unit of measure in the sentence.

“an eight tyre?” I asked
“an eight tyre” he confirmed

I was about to seek clarification when I heard someone behind me say

“what’s an eight tyre?”

I turned around and there was a husband, wife and kid watching what was going on. I made the mistake of engaging them in conversation

“You don’t know what a eight tyre is either?”
“I’ve no idea what he is talking about” said the husband “you ride a moped don’t you” he added
“yes I do”
“why are you riding a bike then?”
“because petrol is too expensive”
“you speak pretty good Chinese” offered his wife
“I can’t speak that well” I said “I can’t understand what grandfather is saying”
“no one can” she said. “He speaks some weird dialect from another province”

As I watched him fumbling through the tyres I couldn’t help but feel the odds were stacked up against him. He finally came back with an eight tyre that looked pretty much like any other bicycle tyre I’d ever seen.

“you want me to install it for you?” he offered
“I’ll do it myself thanks” I declined, not really fancying the idea of letting him loose with a couple of screwdrivers for tyre levers.
“why not? I can do it for you”
“because it’s for another bike”
“why do you have two bikes?….”

And then I tried to pay with a 100 yuan note.

He eyed it suspiciously, he held it close to his eyes, he held it up to the light, he rubbed it uncertainly with his thumb, he crinkled it to listen to the sound. I think he would have licked it if the other guy hadn’t interrupted and inspected it himself and assured him it was okay.

“I’ll have to go home and get some change” he said “Wait here okay?” and he slowly limped off up a side alley.

I passed the time chatting to the husband and wife until he returned with a wad of small denomination notes rolled into a tight bundle.

He counted them out slowly. Three times he lost count and had to start over. The tyre was 26 yuan but when he had counted out 75 yuan in change he realized he didn’t have any 1 yuan notes. He was preparing to go back to his crib when I dug into my pocket and gave him a one yuan coin. That just served to confuse him further and he started counting back down again and tried to give me 65 yuan.. I think the onlookers were more frustrated than me and everyone started stepped in to try and explain it to him.

I got my change, I picked up the new tyre and put it across my shoulder and was about to leave when a slightly chubby guy wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and carrying an empty bucket sidled past. When he saw me he stopped and stared for a moment and commenced the usual spiel of asking where I was from, where I worked etc. It wasn’t so much he was speaking Wuhanese as the fact he was delivering it with highly effeminate overtones – a bit like that Dick Emery character that had the catchphrase “ooh, you are awful….”

Consequently, I couldn’t really understand much of what he was saying, so he started criticizing me for living in China and not speaking the language. As you do, he repeated each question more loudly, in the belief it might aid my comprehension. “how are you going to communicate with your coworkers?” he asked me, with a hint of anger in his voice. I thought he was going to hit me with his bucket.

Fortunately everyone stepped in once again to back me up. He seemed he was known to the neighborhood. “Lao Wang, if you spoke standard Chinese, he might get what you were saying” shouted someone from the back of the crowd. As he turned to confront them I jumped on the bike and, with a wave of the hand, took the opportunity to get out of there.

Next time I think I’ll go to Halfords.

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3 Responses to “Eight Tyres”

  1. janh1 Says:

    Pitch perfect, Chinaboy.

  2. Pseu Says:

    🙂

  3. cyanide bunny Says:

    i’m out the country at the moment. it will probably be nicked by the time i get back

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