Sunlight dapples the road in front of you, filtered through the amazing canopy of mangrove trees that line the quiet road. The electric bike hums along almost silently beneath you, the warm wind blowing your hair back. The journey to work is pleasant and fun. The two hours ahead will be easy, as the one-to-one lesson with a Chinese student keen to improve her English is already prepared.
The ride home just a couple of hours later will be quick and easy, work over, the rest of the beautiful sunny day yours to enjoy as you please. A short ferry ride to Hong Kong, or maybe a trip to Macau? Coffee at one of the many trendy local cafes nearby, or a meal out in the evening – there is a wide choice of dining options available.
China is so often presented in the media as a country where the people are oppressed, lacking many of the basic freedoms we are told we enjoy in the West.
However, having lived in Shenzhen for almost a year, I feel I enjoy an amazing sense of freedom that is not available to me in any of the Western countries I have lived in recently.
Of course there are challenges to living in a country ruled by a single governmental party, and Chinese citizens don’t always enjoy the same freedom to travel the world as Westerners do. But in Shenzhen, day-to-day life is pretty free from interference from any form of Government officialdom.
Upon arrival in China I decided I needed an electric bicycle. Thousands of them flit around the streets. It’s a quick and easy way to get from A to B without getting bogged down by the often slow-moving traffic. I bought mine secondhand from the local electric bike repairman on a side street near our apartment block. It cost me the equivalent of £80 (about US$120).
There was no sort of paperwork involved, just some good-old haggling, a hand-over of cash and I was ready to ride.
“Be careful,” I was frequently warned by my Chinese students. “Electric bikes are illegal, and the police will take it from you if they catch you.” My first couple of days were filled with paranoia. I stuck to the back roads and made a detour at the slightest sign of an official-looking uniform.
But I didn’t really need to worry. I watched other e-bike riders cross at junctions with a police car waiting for a green light. Nobody raised an eyebrow. Red traffic lights seemed to be routinely ignored, and even the policemen on their own e-bikes never paid a hint of attention to the other “illegal” riders like myself.
My confidence quickly grew, and with it my flagrant disregard for any and all traffic regulations. I followed the lead of my Chinese counterparts, riding happily in the hot weather without a helmet. I copied their tactics, using road, footpaths, bicycle lanes and even the grass verge whenever traffic conditions required.
A red traffic light became a mere suggestion for caution when crossing a busy junction. Lane discipline meant absolutely nothing in the quest to get to my destination in the minimum time with the minimum inconvenience.
The bike meant that I was free to explore the smaller side roads and lanes which cars routinely avoided, and I discovered different, quieter routes to and from work.
There is an amazing freedom in being able to ride how and where you like with no fear of any sort of police intervention. It really must be how Jax and his colleagues felt in hit US biker TV show “Sons of Anarchy”.
I’m pretty glad that there is a lot less likelihood of my daily dose of on-road rule-breaking ending in a bloody shootout!
As our time in China is now drawing to an end I am beginning to worry that I am going to struggle with the transition back to a world where I actually have to pay attention to the rules of the road, or suffer the consequences of not doing so.