A pink taxi

A pink taxi

July 14, 2010

Biking in China

My five year old daughter is fascinated by anything Chinese. She has covered the theme in First grade and has brought back hand cut lanterns, plastified hand held fans, and has worn Chinese dresses with pride. When I read a children's book called "Mao and Myself", she listens attentively.

As I read, page by page, admiring the illustrations, showing her the chop sticks, the Chinese characters, the cloisonne vases, she asks questions. I give her my own rendition of things which consists of recollections of my trip to Mao's China in the summer of 1978. I have returned to Shanghai and Guangzhou for a wedding in 1994 but it did not come near that trip in the Summer of 1978.

In those days, men and women were all dressed alike. Even their black shoes and kakhi hats emblazoned with a red star were uniform. Unmarried women wore two braids, married women cut their hair. They all rode on bikes. They carried little red books with Mao's writings. My daughter asked me about Mao and I tried to explain in simple terms. She recognized his ubiquitous portrait by Andy Warhol from her uncle's house!

I also told her about the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. However, she was most interested in my bicycle story. That summer, we were visiting my First Maternal Aunt (in the way the Chinese refer to family members), who lived there with her family because her husband was in the Iranian diplomatic corps (a few years later we visited them in Korea before it became an emerging tiger). My cousin, a year older than me, had a bicycle with just two wheels. I practiced riding it, finding equilibrium and balance and confidence. One memorable day, he let go of me from the back and I found myself peddling solo. I had learned to ride a bike in Mao's China. My daughter who still rides with training wheels asks me to repeat the story over and over again, in order to build her own confidence to one day do the same.

I post this blog on my dear Khaleh Claudia's birthday. She hosted us in China two decades ago. She traveled immense China with her kids with the same ease I take to travel tiny Switzerland.


  1. You also forgot to mention reading Pearl Buck novels, which you passed on to me, and was my way to discover the beauty and harshness of China. I was in the womb on your memorable trip to China in 1978, but I was there in 1994. I remember the Chinese Santa Claus all over, the long bus rides, everybody singing happy birthday to me on the bus karaoke style, singing karaoke, the new shopping malls in Shanghai displaying common shampoos and soaps as though they were jewels, and quite awful food....all eel based! Where were the cantonese delicious meals I expected? We all lost weight on the white rice diet until we reached Hong Kong where we compensated happily....I have great memories of that trip.

  2. No words can describe the experience and memories of the historic visit to China circa 1978.Accompanied by extended family,two children and a pregnant wife was an expedition by itself,boarding a PIA plane to Karachi,then landing in the vast Chinese mainland.We were the only foreigners arriving at Peking airport,few black official Russian made cars parked in front,and literally thousands of huge bicycles streaming the wide avenues!We stayed at the apartment of our diplomat relative,while few others stayed at the only official hotel,strictly for foreigners.It was July,sizzling weather,no air-conditioning ,no cold water,and only Chinese food at it's best.
    Taking the children around was like taking rock stars on a tour.After seeing the acrobats,Chinese ballet and other cultural activities,our little blonde,and her cousins,a red hair and a brunette were the centre of attraction!The Chinese have never seen colours of the rainbow before,so the actors were touching the kids to see if they were real!
    Shopping was only allowed at the Friendship store,where authentic goods and artifacts were sold.Little did we know that 40 years later,the world will be flooded by Chinese goods.
    Visiting the forbidden city,the summer palace and the museums was another experience,since we were the only foreigners around.So people will be looking at us instead of the the lovely surroundings.The train trip experience was amazing,where the only drink was hot water or green tea,and the food was strictly white rice.
    As I said,no words can cover that China Experience of the Great Wall,the empty Tianmen Square,and the other landmarks of the sleeping Dragon!

  3. I'm so impressed with my niece! As an Asian Studies major, I'm very excited to see that Syraat is interested in China and Mao. I look forward to seeing her passion grow and discussing China and Asia with her. Perhaps, you should organise a family trip to China.

  4. Have you tried dumplings and roast ducks? They are the famous and traditional Beijing dieshes. And also bird's nest soup? Its a delicacy in China.

    Enjoy your days~~~