vendredi 10 août 2007

Paris is The Most Beautiful on Bike

The older I get, the more I realize that things happen at a certain time for a reason and timing is everything.

I am one of the few people who have never learned to ride the bicycle. In my case, as I’ve been told many times, it’s quite ironic because I am so Chinese - people in France like to associate the Chinese with riding bicycles.

I left China at the age of five, and growing up in New York downtown Manhattan, I never had the occasion to learn to ride the bicycle. Though my father, an immigrant who holds quite dearly to his lifestyle back in China, would daily make the 20 minutes bike ride from our East Village neighborhood to Chinatown. During the many month-long summer vacations of my childhood to my birthplace of Taishan, Guangdong province, China I was always content to sit in the back seat of the bikes of my family. Without realizing it, I was afraid to learn and never thought it would be useful. And the years passed.

I was in Amsterdam for a week in November 2006 visiting a Dutch filmmaker friend and attending master classes and screenings at the IDFA festival. My friend had a guest bike and while I eyed it with curiosity, I never thought much about it. I walked each day to and from Jordaan to Leidseplein where the festival was held. I love walking and can walk for quite some distance. But while I enjoyed the daily walks along the breathtaking canals of Amsterdam I couldn’t help but observed the many people bicycling by. In the back of my mind I wondered, here I am in the city where everyone bike as the main form of transportation - and I couldn’t.

On July 15th of this summer 2007, the Mairie de Paris came out with the Velib bicycles ( and every single day I saw endless sea of people of all ages and all backgrounds, both local Parisians and foreign tourists alike riding the bicycles in every corner of the city. I felt gypped. I felt like a loser. I felt I was really missing something in life. And for the first time in my life I realized I had to do something - I knew I had to learn, even if I was scared.

On the morning of August 1st 2007, the day after I turned 28, I was at the doorstep of my friend, Marie-Pierre’s home in the Belleville neighborhood. We took her 10-year-old daughter’s pink ‘Princess’ bike to Place des Fetes and my friend patiently taught me balance. At the end of the afternoon, after many bruises and sweat and frustration - but never giving up, I got it!

And what sensation it was to be able to bike! I felt like I was flying! What freedom!

What sense of accomplishment!

I biked around the Place des Fetes in numerous circles, hair blowing in the wind and a huge smile of disbelief on my face. Marie-Pierre looked at me proudly, as if watching her baby learned to walk for the first time. Truly, what amazing feeling it was for the student and for her teacher.

And from that day onwards, I would eagerly practice 2-3 hours each day. I felt the pain and see the bruises, but I was really happy. I saw these as just proof of the effort I put into learning and practicing. And with each day that I biked, I felt more confident and I felt the quick progress. I was really proud of myself!

Paris may not be China or Amsterdam, but it is becoming a bicycle friendly city. (Interestingly enough, it was in Paris that the first pushbike - ancestors to today’s modern bicycle was introduced in 1818). There are many bike lanes to follow throughout the streets of Paris. In the 11th arrondissement where I live, I am right by Canal Saint Martin and it has become one of my favorite bike paths. I like to take my Princess pink bicycle and go up the Canal into Parc Villette.

I didn’t realize what I have missed in my life until now. There is much to appreciate about biking. Whether biking solo (it’s a time for reflection, and you get to meet other random bikers), or duo with a friend, or in a group - it’s all nice. The availability of the Velib bicycles in Paris has also enabled friends to rent the bikes and ride along with me. I have the choice to go with an itinerary or follow a random route where a bike lane may lead me. Biking is really a different way to appreciate the beautiful Paris landscape. One can bike along the Quai des Celestins on the Right bank and then cross the Notre Dame, and go onto the Seine river on the Left Bank. It’s possible to see all the famous Parisian landmarks on this route. It’s a whole new world on two wheels.

The experience of learning to ride the bicycle has really motivated me, making me realize how important and exciting it can be to learn something new - no matter what age I am. Biking is also a much-needed exercise for me, to be in the outdoors (even if in the city). Like a lot of people, I spend really too much time online, working on the computer.

On the day that I learned to bike, a friend replies: “Bravo Shumin! You are now part of the biker family” - - indeed I am. And I can’t wait to bike in China and Amsterdam when I visit the next time!

9 commentaires:

JC a dit…

Hi, I found your blog on I had a similar story when I came here. But I grew up in Miami and moved to Paris. I did live in New York City (Elizabeth st. and Hester, I know the schools and all the places you talk of in your blog) for a little while.
From one expat to another, keep blogging. Because I think your experiences are very interesting.

Stephanie a dit…


Jadawin a dit…

Votre histoire est charmante et attendrissante. Apprendre le vélo à 28, vous devez être très determinée. Félicitations.

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Ben a dit…

I've been checking you blog since July when I moved with my family to Belleville (but in the 19th). Thanks for the new post, and, yes, isn't cycling fantastic!

Roland Hulme a dit…

Ha! I'm not alone!

I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 23 or something. And I learnt in France, too.

Love riding them now, though.

cgyh a dit…
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evan a dit…

Hi MA, you're story turned into my story. After riding with you that one day (one of the most perfect I have known) I started blogging on the velib:

I'll always remember that lovely afternoon riding toward Parc Villette.

Bambi a dit…

People should read this.