Just What I Didn’t Need

Beijing, for a long time, was known as a city of bicycles. Even now, armies of bicycles crowd the gray sidewalks of Beijing and roll down the streets alongside cars. In some places along the sidewalk, the space left for walking has been so narrowed by bikes that it feels the sidewalk is more a parking lot for rows of rental bikes than a convenience for pedestrians.

Encountering technological issues just when trying to pay for an Ofo rental bike

Unlike the recreational purpose most bike-riding has in the U.S., Chinese depend on their bikes as serious forms of transportation to get them to and from work, school, or wherever they need to go. Naturally, we had many long conversations about biking in Beijing, and often compared the biking culture of the States and China. In fact, bicycles are so important to Chinese life that a biking phrase has developed and become a common saying when you find yourself in an unfortunate situation. The phrase literally means “my bike chain has dropped.” It is typically used when you find yourself lacking the very thing you need most. For example, if you lost your bus ticket when in a real rush to get somewhere, this would be considered “dropping your bike chain”, because you lost the most necessary item at the worst possible moment. This phrase seems to be a very special Chinese saying, since biking has been a very important part of surviving and thriving in China.

I did hear a few younger folks use the phrase to describe an especially inconvenient situation but I did not catch the phrase on television or on the streets of Beijing. It is a bit more of an established saying, so a wider range of age groups are familiar with the phrase.

When I eventually decided to try my hand at city biking in Beijing, I had a literal experience with my bicycle chain dropping. Hoping to get to class quickly, I found an Ofo rental bike. As I tried to put my foot down on the pedal to move forward, I looked down and noticed that the bike’s chain had dropped and the bike was no use… it was exactly what I didn’t need at that moment, and truly a “dropped bike chain” situation!

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My name is Chaya Cassell. I am a sophomore from Indianapolis, Indiana and I live in McGlinn hall here on campus. Currently, I am in the Program of Liberal Studies with Chinese as a supplementary major. My studies in both these areas actually began a while back when my parents decided on a classical curriculum for my education. I learned Mandarin Chinese on and off from a variety of teachers, including my mother. In high school, I developed a deeper interest in studying Chinese and decided to make it more of a focus at Notre Dame. Outside of my studies, great books, long course meter training pools, and deep conversations fascinate me and bring me the most joy.