Does bicycle education work?

January 18, 2018 Comments Off on Does bicycle education work?

I cannot believe I am sitting here writing a blog post about bicycle education. If there is anything more boring, I don’t know what that might be. Oh, wait, yes I do: Uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance and how it can protect you on your bike. That’s way more boring.

But like the Santa Ana wind dryness of insurance blather, bicycle education blather is a matter of life and death. It is dorky and requires you to slow down and pay the fuck attention, spend some time doing something other than shopping for bike porn. Like taking the time to buy and charge and put on front-and-rear lights, it’s well-spent time.

I sat down with Gary Cziko, bible-thumping evangelist for Cycling Savvy, but the testament wasn’t written by a bunch of goat herders out in the desert, it was written by people who have a lot of bicycling and traffic engineering experience when it comes to staying off the grills of Rage Rovers. Cycling Savvy uses various instructional paradigms to allow riders to ride anywhere. Streets, sidewalks (where it’s lega), you name it. Although lane control is the default technique, the idea behind bicycle education is that people ride bikes all kinds of places for all kinds of reasons, and there should be a way to address their riding with sensible, practical, safe techniques.

Increasing bicycle education

Gary is now in his fifth year of teaching as a Cycling Savvy instructor. The number of actual courses and actual people who have been through his courses is shockingly low; more about that later and why it’s less important than you might think. After about 13 courses and upwards of 130 participants, I asked Gary what he thought the biggest obstacles were to increasing bicycle education in Southern California.

He didn’t miss a beat. “Two main problems, those who think they don’t need the education because they don’t ride on streets, and those who think they don’t need it because they have a lot of experience.”

Gary knows about that last part. “I was an edge rider for years but Cycling Savvy makes it easy and safe and it decreases the risks.”

“How are you going to expand that?” I asked.

“Cycling Savvy wants to exapnd. We have two online courses but need additional funding to market the curriculum. We’ve hired our first full time administrative employee, an associate executive director. We’re looking into partnerships with charity rides, SCNCA, USAC, and affiliation with clubs, much as we’ve done with Big Orange. We’ve worked with Sean Wilson at SCNCA to develop a complete skills system, from racing to training and riding on the road.”

Still, with only a few courses having been taught, along with a few hundred people who’ve taken the online courses, I wondered if Gary was optimistic. Dumb question. It’s Gary, folks.

“I’m encouraged by getting cyclists in the full on-bike training, not just the classroom, where we work with riders of all skill levels to teach them how to surmount challenging situations. What’s encouraging is that people are changed and enthusiastic and they want to share with others. The Cycling Savvy curriculum started in 2011 and reached 18 states in 3 years. But we need increased funding for courses that reach families and kids, courses for fondo riders, and of course for e-bikes.”

With  5-10 courses planned for 2018, the need vastly outnumbers available resources.

Or does it?

The ripple effect

Gary agreed that more instructors, more classes, more online marketing are crucial. He also pointed out that by educating a few cyclists you can education hundreds more.

“There’s a ripple effect,” he said. “When we started the training in Big Orange, people were unfamiliar with it. Now, even though most Big Orange riders haven’t taken the course, every club ride has at least one rider who has, and those riders take the reins and make sure that the group is using Cycling Savvy principles. By changing even one or two people, you can affect everyone who sees this kind of effective riding and who then tries it out. Of course we need training for planners and transportation engineers, too.”

When I asked him about the dreaded PCH, Gary was emphatic that bicycle education has educated drivers, too. “There’s less honking. Motorists are used to seeing large groups of riders out in the lane. Cyclists are less hesitant to use the full lane when it makes sense. One study found that there is more honking the farther you are to the right, which makes sense because they see you from a long way back and can adjust when you’re in the lane. But with edge/gutter riding they don’t see you until the last second.”

Getting your club educated

If you belong to a bike club and you don’t have a club-wide bicycle education plan, now is the time to get one. Cycling Savvy offers online courses and in-person instruction depending on the area. The courses are cheap and can save your life. Importantly, in our own neck of the woods, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, there anecdotally seems to be a lot less hostility than a couple of years ago; I chalk part of that up to the effect of people being more assertive and educated about where and how they cycle.

No matter how much you know or how experienced you are, these classes will open your eyes.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

The middle ground a/k/a FDR

January 15, 2018 Comments Off on The middle ground a/k/a FDR

There is a sweet spot in cycling for most people, located right in that middle ground between “pound” on the one hand, where everyone feels like they had eye surgery sans anesthetic, and “flail,” where you finish the ride and wonder, “Did I ride?” The South Bay’s Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, hits the sweet spot almost every time.

It’s a hard spot to find because any grouping of riders invariably attracts an outlier or two. The pounder whines because it was “too easy,” and the flailer moans because it was “too hard.” Of course no ride is right for every rider, all the time. But coming up with that Sweet Spot Ride, getting it started, and hardest of all, keeping it alive, is fiendishly hard to do, yet it’s precisely this kind of ride that builds community and participation in cycling. How to do it?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joann Zwagerman’s FDR.

Genesis: How the FDR came to be

I could give you the background of the FDR, but why? Joann has already done it for me. With a few edits and emendations, here it is:

Greg Seyranian had a South Bay ride called the Anti-Donut. I would show up week after week and pedal my ass off. It was mellow for them but it was totally challenging for me. I did my best to try and keep up. They never abandoned me and they always waited for me and I found that remarkable.

Once race season began and the Anti-Donut ended, I found myself looking for a similar ride. If you were a racer, you were on the Donut Ride. If not, you were looking for friendly people to ride with. Thus, the Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, was born. It is an inclusive, non pretentious, friendly, fun and challenging ride.

Maybe today is your biggest ride? Your first group ride? Your first FDR? Whatever it is, I hope you feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of it even if it’s just eating your first donut with chocolate sprinkles in ten years and making a few new friends!

Thank you everyone for all your support! Ride on and be safe!

Exodus: How riders joined the FDR

As we all know, it’s fairly easy to start a ride. You tell a few friends the time and place, give them a general rundown of the route, and three of them show up. If you invite a hundred people, you can expect maybe four. Everyone does the ride, has a more or less good time, and then you do the ride for a couple more weeks, and participation increases a bit or stays the same.

Then comes the crunch moment. It’s the day for “your” ride. You’ve told everyone you’ll be there. But yesterday you got a bo-bo on your boo-boo, or maybe a boo-boo on your bo-bo and it’s feeling really ouchie as you lay there in bed with only thirty minutes to crap, air your tires, drink some coffee, pull a pair of shorts out of the dirty hamper, and scurry to the start.

What do you do? You roll over, of course! This isn’t your job! It’s your hobby! Those wankers know the route! You’ll be there next week anyway! Snxxxxxxxzzzzzzzz!

Of course your pals see it differently. They get to the start and you’re not there. They check their phones. They call you. Someone finally rouses you and you groggily text back, “Boo-boo on bo-bo, out.”

And guess what? You just drove a wooden stake through the heart of your nascent ride. Because for a ride to continue, the person who started it has got to keep showing up. It’s like being married, only far worse because at least when you’re married, rolling over and snoring is an accepted part of lovemaking. Requisite, actually.

What Joann figured out with the FDR was that if you’re cycling in the South Bay and you want people to commit to you, you have to commit to them. And that means a date, a time, a place, and a commitment to be there “til death do us part.” Week in and week out, the FDR went off with Joann present to shepherd her lambs, and it went off in some pretty extreme situations.

Broken hand? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Broken wrist a few months later? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Ride founder overtrained and barely able to move? No worries, Joann either did the ride, sagged in her Rage Rover, or rustled up a deputy. And this last part, “rustling up a deputy,” has been a great innovation because the FDR’s success has led to its having two routes: A fixed loop around the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and a variable route that can venture pretty far afield. Having a deputy means that the fixed FDR route always takes place, and people aren’t left showing up to a ride where they are the ride.

Revelation: You can make an FDR, too

Joann’s FDR has brought a lot of people into cycling and now serves as a focal point for people who are looking for a regular ride–not too hard, not too soft–and for event organizers who want to get the word out about their event. From Phil Gaimon’s Cookie Fondo, to the Belgian Waffle Ride, to Rivet Cycling’s Santa Barbara ribs extravaganza, people in the cycling community recognize that FDR is there for the community as a whole.

This, of course, is how you grow the cycling donut, and then get to eat it, too. One rider at a time.

END

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For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and pay to support what you might otherwise take for free. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

The boozification of Starbucks

January 13, 2018 § 1 Comment

Coffee didn’t used to be part of cycling. It had nothing to do with it, period. I remember being out on some ride in the middle of nowherecentraltexas with the Dicksons and Fields … you think anyone ever suggested stopping for a cup of coffee? Or an espresso? Water and a coke and a candy bar, let’s roll.

Fer fuggsake, we didn’t even know what espresso was. Coffee was bad tasting watery black shit that came in a big can called Folger’s and you drank it in the morning to wash out the taste of your hangover.

I still remember my first Starbucks, in an airport circa 1999. I had been in Japan for years and was making a brief trip back to the States, and I think it was in the DFW airport where I wandered up to the counter, attracted by the sign and the giant word “COFFEE.”

“Seems like a thing,” I thought. “What will those crazy Americans think of next?” I stared at the menu like a monkey perusing a calculus textbook. “May I help you?” the lady asked.

“A coffee, please.”

She waited. “Would you like an espresso drink, sir?”

“Sure,” I said.

She waited some more until it became clear I was lost. “How about a latte?”

“Uh, okay.”

“Tall, grande, or venti?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Shots, bigger is more shots.”

I thought about that for a minute. “Can I just get a small coffee? It’s too early for shots.”

She nodded and made me what I later learned was a Tall Drip. Small coffee = Tall drip. Got it.

When fancy coffee came to town

A few years ago I was riding with Marshall Perkins, who is about a hundred. He knows the history of cycling in SoCal better than anyone this side of Ted Ernst. “Marsh,” I said, “when did coffee come to LA cycling? Was it always a thing?”

“Nope,” he said. “I remember the first time we ever stopped for coffee on a bike ride was in the late 70’s. Before that no one drank coffee as part of biking. It was a little joint in Santa Monica, I think, made espressos, lattes. Then after a while it kind of became a thing.”

LA was years ahead of Texas, naturally.

Of course nowadays you can no more ride without coffee than you can ride without air in your tires. And I’m pretty okay with that, not being a fan of riding on flats. But yesterday after the Flog Ride we wandered into Starbucks to grab a quick cup and noticed that they had just rolled out a new campaign, “Blonde Espresso.”

I roast my own beans in a frying pan and I know that any bean that might be light enough to be mistaken for a blonde is gonna taste like shit. But for a marketing name, it was pretty good. It was supposed to make you think of … what?

When crafts collide, or the boozification of covfefe

It didn’t take much ogling to figure out what they were selling, and it wasn’t sex. They were selling booze, or rather they were selling the image of booze. The subliminal messaging was astounding: Blonde is a variety of craft beer as we all know, and then the ads said “straight-up” and showed the coffee being served in proper shot glasses.

Along the back wall all of the syrup flavors were arranged in bottles, just like the hard alcohol in a bar. And the coloring, black and yellow, was exactly like in a Miller Genuine Draft ad.

Of course it all makes sense. There are millions of people who get up in the morning and the hardest thing they will ever do is make it to 10:00 AM, when they have their first drink and all becomes right with the world. That’s how it is when you work 14-hour days, counting the days to retirement, working your ass off to pay for things you can’t enjoy because you’re working to pay for them, a slave to status and buy-buy-buy clickbait, leading to double-margarita lunches, nightcap dinners, and a bottle of Jim Beam in the worksleep cubicle. And I guess the boozified coffee makes it seem like you’re cheating the clock and getting a little nip at the very top of the morning. In fact, the imagery makes you want to add a splash of whiskey…all a coincidence, I’m sure.

I ordered a double blonde espresso, and it tasted good. Lots better than the usual motor oil flavor that Starbucks is famed for, but not nearly as good as the beer I used to love knocking back well before noon. I wasn’t sure what to think about the boozification, other than to acknowledge that the marketing was pretty slick. But I did end up ordering a second round. For old time’s sake.

END

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The eyes have it

January 12, 2018 Comments Off on The eyes have it

I finished racing Telo on Sunday, changed, and hopped in the car for the drive to Santa Barbara. A few days passed and I got ready to ride again and couldn’t find my riding glasses. “Have you seen my cycling glasses, honey?”

“No. You had them at Telo, though.”

“Probably in the back of the car somewhere.”

“I’ll run look,” she said, and she did, and she came back in a few minutes with my cycling glasses, all right, but the frame was split in half along the top. “You left them under the hatchback and they broke when you slammed it shut.”

These were my SPY Quanta prescription riding goggles, the best eyewear I have ever had. My eyes are very bad and you can’t ride a bike and survive for long at all if you can’t see, and see well. The Quanta was the first wide-screen frame that could accommodate my ridiculously thick prescription.

My awful eye history

I’ve had bad eyes ever since I was a little kid. I always used to fail the eye test in class because the school nurse thought I was “clowning.” She’d set up the chart with the big, giant, monstrously huge “E” at the top and all the little tilted ones getting smaller and smaller as you went down.

She’d call name. “Davidson!” and the class would titter because they knew what was coming as I did it every year.

“First line?” the nurse would say.

“I can’t see it,” I’d say, and the class would break out in howls as even a blind person could see that huge, giant, monstrous, whomping “E.”

I was a cut-up and made bad grades mostly because of my personality, but also because I could never see the blackboard or anything on it. I think I did pretty good, especially in math, considering that.

When I was thirteen we were driving along US 59 in Houston one Sunday on the way to a movie. In Texas every ten feet there is a 400-foot tall billboard along every freeway. “What does that say?” I asked my mom as we passed right in front of a sign so big you could have read the print on Mars.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, which everyone knew meant that I wasn’t serious at all.

But later at the movie my parents noticed for the first time that I was sitting on the front row like I had been doing since I was six. Afterwards my mom asked “Why were you down there on the front row?”

“I’m always on the front row,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because I can’t see.”

The next day I was sitting in the office of Dr. James Key, ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. It was my first real eye test ever. I remember what a nice guy Dr. Key was, and how he had the thickest glasses I had ever seen. Afterwards he said, “You don’t really see much of anything at all, do you?”

“No, sir,” I said.

“We will fix that,” he said. And he did.

The day I put on those first eyeglasses it was amazing. The world was so filled with sharply defined objects! The colors all had edges! You could read from a long way off! And I could figure out whether my shoelaces were untied without having to guess.

MMX to the rescue

From that day on, my cycling glasses became the most important article of clothing I owned, and many years later my SPY Quanta glasses were the gold standard for eyewear. If you rode with me even once since 2012 I was wearing those glasses, which were developed and designed by my friend Michael Marckx while he was the CEO at Spy Optic. He went on to develop some of the best cycling glasses ever made by anyone, anywhere, during his tenure, but none worked for me like the Quanta simply because it could handle my thick lenses and had a ridiculously wide field of vision that didn’t distort at the edges.

I stared at those poor broken frames and thought about all that we had been through together: Crossing continents, hitting the pavement, chewing through incredibly bad weather and rough roads … those were the cycling glasses that had kept my eyes safe and had kept the road in front of me focused and clear. All of those things were nice to reflect on but what really struck me was the incredible generosity of which I’d been the beneficiary, because Michael had given me those glasses with the prescription lenses as a gift.

In fact, he gave countless sets of glasses to friends and grifters, most of whom never bothered to say thanks or who thought that because they raced for an amazing masters team of 50+ grandfathers they were somehow entitled to expensive eyewear as they “promoted the brand,” i.e. wore the glasses. Unlike the traditional frames that Michael also designed, these were built to protect your eyes and your face. And that’s exactly what they did, more important to me than any wheel, any frame, any drivetrain, any bicycle outfit.

What was funny is that I never wanted the glasses in the first place because I had no idea how transformative a great set of frames could be. Oakley had just come out with a narrow, razor-band style of glasses that could hold my prescription but that provided almost zero width of vision; they were like looking out of a gun turret slit, and I’d shelled out almost $400 for them. I was dubious that these new glasses would be an improvement, as simply having prescription sunglasses was revolutionary for me. Until then I’d cycled in John Lennon frames, with every manner of grit and shit getting around the lens and into my eyes.

In fact, with those John Lennon specials, every couple of years I’d have to go to the eye doctor to get pieces of steel surgically removed from my cornea, tiny bits of grit and road detritus that got blown into and lodged into my eyeball surface. The Quantas took care of that once and for all.

But Michael is nothing if not persistent, and when the Quantas showed up and I put them on, well, everything really did look different. If it weren’t for him I’d probably still be wearing those crappy Oakleys because, cheap-ass. And of course I wondered how many other people had been the beneficiary of his largesse, how many other people with significant eye problems had found an amazing solution thanks to this and some of his other phenomenal designs.

As I wondered what I was going to do, I rummaged around in my Random Bike Shit Drawer, and there in the back was another pair of glasses. Quantas. Worn maybe twice. It was like finding a winning lottery ticket as I took them out and tried them on; perfect fit and perfect prescription.

Thanks, Michael.

Quanta cycling glasses

Cracked by the hatchback!

Quanta cycling glasses

Long and faithful, hardworking friends!

END

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Flat earth theory

January 11, 2018 Comments Off on Flat earth theory

My wife rides a road bike with flat pedals. It’s interesting to watch how people react to that. Rather, it’s interesting how reactions are so uniform.

“You need clipless pedals.”

“Why don’t you get some riding shoes?”

“You are losing so much power.”

“When are you going to ditch those flat pedals?”

“You’ll go so much faster with clip-in!”

And etc.

Most of the people who see fit to comment on her sad state of pedal affairs know that we are married and that I ride a bike a lot, so it’s kind of curious that they don’t run that through their filter, like this: “She’s got flat pedals, but she’s married to Seth so she probably knows about clip-in pedals, so there’s probably a reason …”

But no.

The reaction is uniform and knee-jerk: “Are you going to get clip-in pedals tomorrow? Or today?”

I wondered why people care which pedals she uses. The ostensible reason is that she will pedal more efficiently and therefore go faster. But that’s a bad explanation; the last thing that a new cyclist should do is go faster. New cyclists should go slower and learn to control the bike at lower speeds. Physics aren’t linear when you fall off your bike. Incremental increases of one or two mph result in much greater force when you fall off, and therefore greater injury. Telling beginners they need to go faster is like telling new drivers they need to go faster. Huh?

And from a psychological perspective, why would you want someone to go faster anyway? Doesn’t that mean they will beat you? You should want them on the worst equipment possible, in fact, eating nothing but peanut butter and ice cream five times a day.

The biggest reason people want you on clip-in pedals, I think, is because without clip-ins, you look like a Fred. This means two things: If you’re riding with me, and you’re a Fred, then I’m a Fred, too. Or it means that riding with you reminds me of when I was a Fred, and it’s a lot more comfortable to think I was born knowing how to drape myself coolly over a 100% carbon bike that is all carbon and made of pure carbon rather than to remember that, yeah, I used to not know anything, either, and I looked like it.

And of course in road cycling there’s the fashion element, where people instinctively shun those who are clearly unfashionable in an activity where the way you look is oh-so-important.

With regard to safety, everyone should start with flat pedals and most people should never leave them. On a road bike there are too many instances where taking your feet off the pedals will keep you from crashing. Anyone who thinks that you need clip-ins to climb well should have seen Josh Alverson or Stathis Sakellariadis shred the Donut Ride the times they rode it in sneakers.

And a bit of Internet reading confirms that the idea that clip-in pedals somehow yield huge improvements in pedaling power is not true. At best, the differences are negligible. Tellingly, the athlete in the power test confides that he still wants clip-ins because they help him when sprunting for peak power. Not sure that has any meaning at all for 99.999% of all people on bikes.

I’ve used both, but prefer clip-ins for a very particular reason.

And I’m not telling why. At least not today.

END

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Meet the New Year (It’s the same as the Old Year)

January 9, 2018 Comments Off on Meet the New Year (It’s the same as the Old Year)

New Year’s Day in Kunming, 9:00 AM,  and the downtown was dead. There wasn’t a lot left to see or do but head to Changshui Airport to catch my flight to Hangzhou, where I had a 7-hour layover.

After several days I finally realized what it was that made this city sometimes feel like a big prison camp. It was the gates, walls, fences, grates, barriers, and bars that were everywhere. The point of all this design was of course to continuously break people down into their most basic, controllable unit, that is, the individual. A billion-point-three people could do some damage if they ever decided that the mandate from heaven had passed from the Party to someone else.

The streets? Divided not by paint stripes but physical barriers in the middle of the road. Bike/scooter lanes? Walled off. Walkways in subway stations? Divided by aluminum separators. The sidewalks were completely barred off from apartments and living areas with gates, locks, fences, and walls. Every unit, instead of having an open balcony, was enclosed by iron grating exactly like in a prison.

Nothing plays into the hands of control on a person-by-person basis, however, like the data aggregator/tracking device, which is so completely a part of existence that hardly anyone ever looks up. The devices allow the public to be pacified not with threats or generic propaganda but with customized eye and brain candy that is plugged into the purchase-consumption machine. People can’t act en masse without commonality of thought, and it’s hard to say the Party is wrong when you look at their docile charges, channeled and caged, and compare them to ours, who have made a complete mess of the freedoms they once had.

People don’t crave freedom, they crave a painless and brainless way to fill the horrible, aching, empty, yawning chasm of free time. The Party doesn’t tell them they’re free, it fills their time by telling them to work hard so they can afford the things that prove, once you have them, that you are happy.

The American Crudocracy, however, screams that you’re free, or that you would be if it weren’t for all the poor, black, and foreign people who have stolen your freedom from you by kneeling at your football game. The rage and laziness and ignorance are crystallized in the kleptocracy at the top, which insists that you’ll get your freedom back if you just allow a little more, okay, a lot more, kleptocracy and rage. And please don’t bother to vote.

The Party does its job with a lot more honesty, a lot less rage and theft, and with an eye towards helping the many rather than only a privileged few. Like the steel barricades that carefully channel pedestrians, China allows a lot of motion, and even some dissent, as long as you don’t try to hop the barricade. The control is gentle but firm and unresting, like the video cameras that track your every step.

So rather than saying it’s a New Year, it would be closer to the mark to say that it’s a not especially Brave, not especially New World.

Of the many great things that happened since my departure on the evening of December 25, one of the greatest was being cut off from everyone I know. No person is an island, but seven days in China without a data aggregator/tracking device sure makes you feel like one. I saw an American woman walking by, talking with a friend, and it was all I could do to stop from grabbing her arm and striking up a conversation. Luckily I refrained; the only thing that would likely have been struck is me.

Pretty soon it was time for me to take my leave of Kunming and I knew I’d be back, especially since I now had a tour guidebook that included the city’s most interesting destinations not next to a freeway. It’s funny how quickly a city goes from being scarily foreign to morning-after familiar. On the way to the station I even saw my disgusted street vendor lady who had been so mad at me for overypaying at the other vendor for the worthless stamps.

“Hey!” she said as we made eye contact. “I have more stamps! Cheap!”

“Next time!” I promised; she laughing at what she thought was a lie, me laughing because I meant it.

The train to the airport was full, but I was the only identifiable non-Chinese aboard. In a short two-hour flight I was back in Hangzhou, contemplating the miseries of a 7-hour layover and a 14-hour flight departing just before midnight.

Almost seven full days of a technological detox had been incredible. I wondered what had happened back home. How was everyone? Was there still air in my tires?

These long spells of nothing to do had made me appreciate being alone and filling my time with writing, reading, struggling with Chinese, and thinking my own thoughts with no one to bounce them off, no one to share them with, rocks skipping across a pond that left no ripple. The rest of China and the world were hooked on one huge algorithm syringe, and when you take the blue pill it’s astonishing what you see.

Part of China’s drive to become the lone superpower is its new policy of “civilization,” or “wenming.” Wenming is the philosophical vehicle to promote behavior and values that have made China a peer, and ultimately the global master.

For example, spitting. China had a terrible national habit of spitting. Young, old, male, female, toothless, toothy, the Chinese loved a good spit, and they did not GAF where the loogie landed. Somewhere along the way the Party realized that you couldn’t be a cultured superpower, respected by, say, France, if your citizens were covering the Champs-Elysees with a thick layer of yellow spatter.

Of course a lot of the spitting came from the chain smoking and the horrible air pollution, both of which result in throat/lung/respiratory diseases, but no great nation has ever simultaneously been a public spitting nation.

Spitting was just one obstacle to global greatness, but the Party decided that if it were going to send millions of tourist-ambassadors to Paris, Berlin, New York, and Decatur, it would need to also provide some basic cotillion for its spitting, pushing, hollering charges.

Enter the “Traveler Wenming,” or “Civilized Traveler,” a nationally distributed handbook available for free at every airport, in Chinese only. Here is a short list of things that the Civilized Traveler needs to keep in mind when he sashays abroad:

  1. No spitting!
  2. Say “Please,” “Thanks,” “I’m sorry,” and “Excuse me.”
  3. No spitting!
  4. No grabbing sale items, no shoving to do No. 1 and No. 2, no blowing your nose in other people’s faces, no shoving in line, and NO SPITTING!
  5. Don’t throw down fruit peels, used tissues, or trash.
  6. Don’t smoke in the non-smoking section!
  7. Don’t take pictures where prohibited. Don’t take flash photos in people’s faces by surprise.
  8. Don’t spend all day in the public toilet!
  9. Flush.
  10. Respect old things and keep your hands to yourself.
  11. Stop yelling and hollering.
  12. Don’t eat and smoke in church, and no spitting there, either.
  13. Obey the tour conductor and flight attendant.
  14. Respect other nationalities and customs.
  15. Wear clothing!
  16. No drunkenness!
  17. Where it’s a custom, tip and don’t be a cheapskate.

The Civilized Traveler guide goes on to list a total of 30 civilized “wenming” behaviors to exhibit, and many more uncivilized behaviors to avoid, primary among them, of course, spitting.

But this list is only a quick reference. The guide goes into much greater detail and is 46 pages long, with exhaustive breakdowns of specific situations that require “wenming” behavior, for example on airplanes. The airplane section is broken down into:

  1. Waiting
  2. Boarding passes
  3. Boarding
  4. Airplane toilets (no spitting!)
  5. Airplane equipment
  6. Eating on the plane
  7. Carry-on baggage

As odd as it seems, these booklets are working, because I saw zero spitting, zero pushing and shoving, zero hollering, and probably not much sitting in the public toilet all day, although I didn’t time anyone. To the contrary, if anyone could benefit from a Wenming for Travelers it would be the classy American tourist whose comment in the Kunming Starbucks guest book was, “Maggie likes dick!”

Traveling American behaviors, like American foreign policy ones, are essentially irrelevant to China, though. Get over it, and then get used to it. The New Year is upon us with a vengeance.

END

———————–

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Meet the New Year

January 9, 2018 Comments Off on Meet the New Year

New Year’s Day in Kunming, 9:00 AM,  and the downtown was dead. There wasn’t a lot left to see or do but head to Changshui Airport to catch my flight to Hangzhou, where I had a 7-hour layover.

After several days I finally realized what it was that made this city sometimes feel like a big prison camp. It was the gates, walls, fences, grates, barriers, and bars that were everywhere. The point of all this design was of course to continuously break people down into their most basic, controllable unit, that is, the individual. A billion-point-three people could do some damage if they ever decided that the mandate from heaven had passed from the Party to someone else.

The streets? Divided not by paint stripes but physical barriers in the middle of the road. Bike/scooter lanes? Walled off. Walkways in subway stations? Divided by aluminum separators. The sidewalks were completely barred off from apartments and living areas with gates, locks, fences, and walls. Every unit, instead of having an open balcony, was enclosed by iron grating exactly like in a prison.

Nothing plays into the hands of control on a person-by-person basis, however, like the data aggregator/tracking device, which is so completely a part of existence that hardly anyone ever looks up. The devices allow the public to be pacified not with threats or generic propaganda but with customized eye and brain candy that is plugged into the purchase-consumption machine. People can’t act en masse without commonality of thought, and it’s hard to say the Party is wrong when you look at their docile charges, channeled and caged, and compare them to ours, who have made a complete mess of the freedoms they once had.

People don’t crave freedom, they crave a painless and brainless way to fill the horrible, aching, empty, yawning chasm of free time. The Party doesn’t tell them they’re free, it fills their time by telling them to work hard so they can afford the things that prove, once you have them, that you are happy.

The American Crudocracy, however, screams that you’re free, or that you would be if it weren’t for all the poor, black, and foreign people who have stolen your freedom from you by kneeling at your football game. The rage and laziness and ignorance are crystallized in the kleptocracy at the top, which insists that you’ll get your freedom back if you just allow a little more, okay, a lot more, kleptocracy and rage. And please don’t bother to vote.

The Party does its job with a lot more honesty, a lot less rage and theft, and with an eye towards helping the many rather than only a privileged few. Like the steel barricades that carefully channel pedestrians, China allows a lot of motion, and even some dissent, as long as you don’t try to hop the barricade. The control is gentle but firm and unresting, like the video cameras that track your every step.

So rather than saying it’s a New Year, it would be closer to the mark to say that it’s a not especially Brave, not especially New World.

New Year, newly untethered

Of the many great things that happened since my departure on the evening of December 25, one of the greatest was being cut off from everyone I know. No person is an island, but seven days in China without a data aggregator/tracking device sure makes you feel like one. I saw an American woman walking by, talking with a friend, and it was all I could do to stop from grabbing her arm and striking up a conversation. Luckily I refrained; the only thing that would likely have been struck is me.

Pretty soon it was time for me to take my leave of Kunming, New Year or not, and I knew I’d be back, especially since I now had a tour guidebook that included the city’s most interesting destinations not next to a freeway. It’s funny how quickly a city goes from being scarily foreign to morning-after familiar. On the way to the station I even saw my disgusted street vendor lady who had been so mad at me for overypaying at the other vendor for the worthless stamps.

“Hey!” she said as we made eye contact. “I have more stamps! Cheap!”

“Next time!” I promised; she laughing at what she thought was a lie, me laughing because I meant it.

The train to the airport was full, but I was the only identifiable non-Chinese aboard. In a short two-hour flight I was back in Hangzhou, contemplating the miseries of a 7-hour layover and a 14-hour flight departing just before midnight.

Almost seven full days of a technological detox had been incredible. I wondered what had happened back home. How was everyone? Was there still air in my tires?

These long spells of nothing to do had made me appreciate being alone and filling my time with writing, reading, struggling with Chinese, and thinking my own thoughts with no one to bounce them off, no one to share them with, rocks skipping across a pond that left no ripple. The rest of China and the world were hooked on one huge algorithm syringe, and when you take the blue pill it’s astonishing what you see.

Wenming for fun and profit

Part of China’s drive to become the lone superpower is its new policy of “civilization,” or “wenming.” Wenming is the philosophical vehicle to promote behavior and values that have made China a peer, and ultimately the global master.

For example, spitting. China had a terrible national habit of spitting. Young, old, male, female, toothless, toothy, the Chinese loved a good spit, and they did not GAF where the loogie landed. Somewhere along the way the Party realized that you couldn’t be a cultured superpower, respected by, say, France, if your citizens were covering the Champs-Elysees with a thick layer of yellow spatter.

Of course a lot of the spitting came from the chain smoking and the horrible air pollution, both of which result in throat/lung/respiratory diseases, but no great nation has ever simultaneously been a public spitting nation.

Spitting was just one obstacle to global greatness, but the Party decided that if it were going to send millions of tourist-ambassadors to Paris, Berlin, New York, and Decatur, it would need to also provide some basic cotillion for its spitting, pushing, hollering charges. Wenming for the New Year was gonna need a major push.

Enter the “Traveler Wenming,” or “Civilized Traveler,” a nationally distributed handbook available for free at every airport, in Chinese only. Here is a short list of things that the Civilized Traveler needs to keep in mind when he sashays abroad:

  1. No spitting!
  2. Say “Please,” “Thanks,” “I’m sorry,” and “Excuse me.”
  3. No spitting!
  4. No grabbing sale items, no shoving to do No. 1 and No. 2, no blowing your nose in other people’s faces, no shoving in line, and NO SPITTING!
  5. Don’t throw down fruit peels, used tissues, or trash.
  6. Don’t smoke in the non-smoking section!
  7. Don’t take pictures where prohibited. Don’t take flash photos in people’s faces by surprise.
  8. Don’t spend all day in the public toilet!
  9. Flush.
  10. Respect old things and keep your hands to yourself.
  11. Stop yelling and hollering.
  12. Don’t eat and smoke in church, and no spitting there, either.
  13. Obey the tour conductor and flight attendant.
  14. Respect other nationalities and customs.
  15. Wear clothing!
  16. No drunkenness!
  17. Where it’s a custom, tip and don’t be a cheapskate.

The Civilized Traveler guide goes on to list a total of 30 civilized “wenming” behaviors to exhibit, and many more uncivilized behaviors to avoid, primary among them, of course, spitting.

But this list is only a quick reference. The guide goes into much greater detail and is 46 pages long, with exhaustive breakdowns of specific situations that require “wenming” behavior, for example on airplanes. The airplane section is broken down into:

  1. Waiting
  2. Boarding passes
  3. Boarding
  4. Airplane toilets (no spitting!)
  5. Airplane equipment
  6. Eating on the plane
  7. Carry-on baggage

As odd as it seems, these booklets are working, because I saw zero spitting, zero pushing and shoving, zero hollering, and probably not much sitting in the public toilet all day, although I didn’t time anyone. To the contrary, if anyone could benefit from a Wenming for Travelers it would be the classy American tourist whose comment in the Kunming Starbucks guest book was, “Maggie likes dick!”

Traveling American behaviors, like American foreign policy ones, are essentially irrelevant to China, though. Get over it, and then get used to it. The New Year is upon us with a vengeance.

END

———————–

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

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