That time I was surprise entered into a bike race...
That time I unintentionally entered a bike race…
This weekend a lovely woman from school kindly invited me to Fuzhou, our nearest city, to watch a bike race. I left Rob behind for the weekend as he had a football match to play in and went off with May. Not a single person spoke any English which meant two days relying solely on Chinese. We arrived on Saturday and the next 9 hours passed in a drunken haze as I was taken to two banquets and a karaoke club with May's classmates. The basic aim of a Chinese banquet is to get drunk; everyone should receive and give a toast to everyone with their chosen alcohol drink. Toasting is a respect thing and with 15 people all eager to show respect to the foreigner I was soon a bit worse for wear from a mixture of baijiu (China's specialty drink, translates as white wine but this one was green. Averages 56%), red wine and beer. I was busy sampling the various dishes as per usual; banquets always mean loads of really decent, free food and telling everyone how excited I was to watch the race tomorrow. Halfway through the second boozy meal May nudged me, beaming her face off, to inform me she had a surprise for me. She'd entered me into the race.
I thought I'd mistranslated but no. Tomorrow morning I was required to wake up at 05:15 and do a 36 km bike race. Of course I've biked to the shops and back and I bike to school every day on my battered Chinese bike. But I'd never done anything like this before. I smiled and nodded and told her I'd win it. I was a bit nervous and it was hard to sleep that night. I took an extra long wash from the bucket of cold water in her brother's house (the same guy that couldn't handle the first banquet and spent the rest of the afternoon falling asleep on me) and tried to sleep. I was sharing the hard double bed with the drunken brother though. He passed out on one side and snored very loudly and I gingerly lay on the other side of the bamboo mattress absolutely sweltering.
I did sleep in the end but it wasn't long before I was up again and stretching my legs in the vain hope that would help me today. May took me for a KFC breakfast (yes there's fast food in the cities) and told me more about the race. I discovered there was a cash prize of Y4000! I could do with that. Then I found out that people had travelled from all over to enter and there was roughly 1000 competitors. Now I had proper butterflies and this wasn't helped by remembering last night's phone call. News spread fast and an English teacher rang wanting my full name for the organisers and to inform me the city mayor wanted to meet me. Oh and they were organising a special prize for me! I love being a foreigner sometimes!
As soon as I arrived at the race entrance I was swarmed by cameras and journalists. I conducted two TV interviews in Chinese and answered lots of questions for the newspapers and posed for about a billion photos. I'd not been looking forward to the weather. Saturday had been almost 40 degrees and that wouldn't have been fun for a race. And during the night we'd had another tropical storm, only a small one this time. We get these a lot meaning knocked out water/electricity. I've never ridden a bike underwater before and I didn't fancy trying to race in those conditions. If I didn't drown then I may as well be a kite with someone flashing a torch in my eyes and banging a drum in my ears. Thankfully, today had some rare cloud cover and the temperature was only around 30-something. The race started at 08:30. At 08:28 I still didn't have a bike. I did meet the mayor and other important people, but as they descended on me at 08:25 with smiles and hands to shake I was preoccupied with wondering how I'd compete in a bike race without a bike. Turns out there were three groups and I was third. That's right, I woke up at 05:15 for a race that starts at 10:30. I whiled away the rest of the time visiting the loo (regretting the spicy food from yesterday), taking more photos (should really start charging people) and befriending a 10 year old girl who just wanted to know what colour my eyes were. My nerves weren't helped much after watching the ambulance opposite leave and bring back crash injuries three times in the first two races. One was my friend who hobbled back with blood running down his legs. Finally, it was my turn.
I'd been kitted out with a helmet, sunglasses and gloves to match the bike lent to me by a guy from the first race. I went to the start line and stretched on the floor again, I should have known that would prompt more photos… I'm used to feeling out of place in China but this was new. It seemed everyone was wearing latex and had shaved legs. I was in shorts and T-shirt and of course I was white and about twice the size of everyone else so still attracting lots of looks. If I'd known a few days in advice maybe I would have shaved my legs. But then again I wouldn't want to deprive the Chinese kids of stroking my 'yellow hair legs.' Surrounded by biking enthusiasts and taking last minute photos with a group of policemen I was informed that the third group was the youngest and strongest so our race was 6 laps totalling 36 km. This was a blow after just watching the other races do 4 laps each, damn. The entire group from my town told me to only do 2 laps though and to take it slow. Well, I took it slow. I wasn't about to go all Chris Hoy and try and actually race, I didn't stand a chance. Instead I took it steady and soon find myself right at the back with a tubby, friendly Chinese dude. He became my race partner and I slip streamed him for a good few miles and we shared the water we got. The vague hope I'd had of my thunder-thighs thrashing everyone and me being the surprise foreign winner with a new speed record was dashed and I settled down and focused on forcing my legs to keep moving and trying to ignore the pain in my bum.
We saw ourselves as crowd pleasers more than anything and shouted and sang to the crowds that we sped up especially for. He kept me going at a much faster speed than if I was on my own and we kept up a strong average of 27km for 4 laps. The three committers at the front whizzed by us on the second lap, I'm grateful they only lapped us twice… We pressed on and pulled faces for the cameras. It was thrilling to race down the declines at 40km an hour, not so thrilling to make the climb back up. Every-time we went past the finish line everyone cheered us and the guy on the stage shouted at the 'foreign friend' through the microphone which was motivation enough to speed right up. We even managed to give some proper bikers a run for their money by slip streaming then trying to overtake as we went past the stage! After 5 laps my team stopped me to say the race was over and I had to stop. But I was going to finish what I'd started and I begged in breathless, broken Chinese to do my last lap. I did the last 6km in 17 mins and finished second last overall in group three's race; I took roughly 1 hour 40 mins. I'm just glad I completed it! I posed for some more photos then got whisked off to another Chinese banquet to pile back on any calories I might have just burned.
An extra addition… Yesterday, May brought me a the Fuzhou newspaper with big pictures of the race filling the front page and a write up on page three including a large picture of me and my bike! There's an entire chunk all about me from my interview and I found an online article as well; hence the above link. If you click on it and open it with google chrome you can translate it to English, it makes for funny Chinglish reading. But I've also copied and pasted the translation of my bit below… Enjoy!
Bursting with popularity guy selling Meng Yang
"My name is Huang Xiaolong, from the UK, one in Yihuang an English teacher." Few English Mandarin go. Xiaolong is his Chinese name, he came to support education Yihuang. In just nine months came to China, dragons are often friends and outings. To participate in this game is to get the Organizing Committee's invitation, enthusiastic sports dragons will be followed Fuzhou partners came together.
When the dragons arrive at the scene immediately caused onlookers, spectators and other athletes competing photo with him. Dragons always keep smiling, occasionally also shouted "eggplant", amused everyone happy smile.
Before the game, Huang Xiaolong with his characteristic expression of British Mandarin prevailing mood: "I am very excited and a little nervous." Because dragons are not good at riding a bike, so a friend suggested he rode two laps, 6 laps do not need to ride the entire distance, But dragons insisted insisted ride completely away.When the people competing to discourage, the dragons are sprouting to say the sentence: "Why can not I ride six laps it?" People no longer justified persuasion.
Just a couple of points on the article…
My Chinese family name is actually 'Wang' (meaning king) not 'Huang' (meaning yellow )but ah well. My first name is xiaolong meaning little dragon which explains why I'm described as a dragon throughout. I think my favourite bit is 'occasionally shouting 'eggplant' throughout' - in England for photos we say cheese/sausages or something whereas in China we shout 'eggplant.' Or maybe he misheard my English name - 'Dan' translates to egg…