It seems like just the other day I was bragging to someone about how amazing it is in China. Heck, the few rules that they did have in place were not even enforced. A good way to describe it is probably like “The good ‘ole Days” that our parents always told us about…except with scooters and 200hp Superbikes at our disposal!
I made my first trip to China 22 years ago and have been back well over 100 times since. The best way to describe the first 10 or so trips over would be in a single word… Intimidating. With communist rule, a massive language barrier, cultural differences, and no way to tell if they liked you or hated you, it was fascinating but scary all at the same time. Fast forward to maybe 5 years ago and the single word to describe China would be … Change. (And lots of it) Imagine being in a place that had loads of money, booming infrastructure, yet the people chose their English names from a 1960’s American Western movie or built a high speed train using Japanese technology with the ability to go 350 kilometers per hour yet used low grade steel to build the railroad tracks which then limited the top speed to 150 kilometers per hour or face derailment. I like this one, a country that sells Oceanfront condos for a premium as most places would due to the beautiful view, but… then fill in the ocean for as far as the eye can see with landfill and put up “new” oceanfront condos in front of the old ones! Welcome to the New China. Wait, I have one more classic example, they have the most advanced radiology department at the local hospital with state of the art MRI and X-ray equipment yet shaved the hair off my broken wrist (like I was a cat with a wounded paw) before they felt I was ready for a proper X-ray. In the corner of the hospital room was a pile of the protective blankets to protect the family jewels from radiation. You could tell they hadn’t been used in years. I walked over and grabbed one…
Believe me, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives in the new China. With billions of people living there, you can always be sure to fill the grandstands on a race weekend. How hard is it to get 20,000 people or more to come out on a Sunday and watch a race out of a population of several billion? It truly is a numbers game in China. Racing is relatively new there, the racetracks keep popping up, most are world-class facilities. Imagine Road America or Daytona type facilities at even the smallest race track! Being a racer in China could be compared to being a MotoGP rider in Spain – Lots of exposure. Now factor in being a foreigner racing in China and being lucky enough to get on the podium and multiply that exposure exponentially. I remember a few years back walking into a convenience store one night to get some water and while I was at the cash paying for it, the TV screen that was integrated into their cash register was promoting my upcoming race that weekend. I almost didn’t even notice as who really pays attention to TV’s playing in stores. When I heard the sound of race bikes on the TV, it caught my attention and as I looked up, there was a close up of me on the grid followed by maybe 5 seconds of me being featured in a previous race. That may not sound like a big deal but imagine strolling into a grocery store in Toronto and seeing yourself on the TV at the check-out for an upcoming Mosport event. Actually take a step back, imagine even seeing an advertisement for a Motorbike race being advertised period in-Stores.
China’s a place where they aren’t used to getting things for free, I mean anything. To this day, you have to pay for toilet paper if you want to use public washrooms. The Chinese very recently come from a time when there was no money for the majority, there was barely food. Now imagine taking your kids to a racetrack to see Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s race, Superbikes hit 300km/h and wait… racers signing posters and … GIVING THEM AWAY FOR FREE! Of course you can imagine that, just go to Shannonville or any other race track during a National and it is almost expected. In China, when you sign posters, the line up forms fast, it goes for what seems like miles, and yes, security is absolutely necessary. It is complete chaos. The funny part of it all is many of the people in line don’t know what they are lined up to get but they know it is free. They also are more excited to touch you or get a photo with you then we would be with a celebrity. Again, the funny thing is they have no idea who we are.
One cool thing about being over there racing is you meet some really nice people and you naturally feel a connection-especially the other foreigners that race there from other parts of the world. You end up hanging out at night for dinner, sharing crazy China experiences and forming this type of bond. It is a strange feeling since on the race track, you might have some fairly aggressive run-ins with another rider but that night you find yourself cruising through town on a scooter or pit bike with that very same guy. This leads me to the title of my blog; I will use the cliché “All good things come to an end.” With China’s fast growth and recent financial win fall, things are starting to change and it is still too early to tell if this is a good thing or bad thing. Actually, I know the answer; it is most definitely a good thing for the Chinese. But for a handful of foreigners that come over and race, it appears that it is quickly becoming that place we enjoyed getting away from on occasion… our home country. Think about it, up until 3 months ago, you could ride around town on anything that had at least a wheel on it. Pit bikes, dirt bikes, ATVs, scooters, even your race bike if you wanted. I drew the line at pit bikes but my good friends from Australia are Pro Stunt Riders in China and they had been known to practice their latest tricks on their actual stunt bikes, in town on city streets using the locals cheers as a sign if the latest trick was cool enough or not. Scooters are now illegal in many developed cities in China or even some semi-developed cities. GAME ON! So here’s the deal, you drive anything on two wheels with a motor and you are breaking the law. The good news is, they still haven’t figured out how to punish you effectively. How do you enforce a law when the only punishment is they take away your $200 pit bike or scooter? But, even to do that, they have to catch you. They won’t chase you, they don’t have traffic helicopters, they don’t radio ahead… what they do is if you stop at a street light or for any reason and the police happen to be around, they will use these large scissor like spring loaded clamps and run over to you and clamp your wheel so it can’t turn and then confiscate your bike. You are then free to walk away. Here is the irony of that… You can buy scooters and pit bikes at almost every corner yet it is illegal to ride them… It still looks like “The Wild East” is changing and might be coming to an end. DISCLAIMER: I personally would not knowingly break any law in any Country or run from law enforcement officials. Don’t shoot the messenger; I am just sharing some stories.
Every now and again you do get wind of a story that does make you think twice about straying from the rules and if nothing else, certainly reminds you that you are not in Kansas anymore. 2 months ago, a guy was caught doing something like 250km/h on a sportbike in the streets of Beijing, was caught, and was put to death. Absolutely a true story. The Chinese do like to make an example out of people but it is a clear reminder that as backwards as parts of China can be, you are a guest in their Country and can’t get too comfortable. It certainly makes Ontario’s new law seem pretty tame if caught going 50km/h over the speed limit ($10,000 fine and impounded vehicle)
The good news about blogging about a foreigner’s life in China is you don’t have to worry about the China Government reading you blog since social network sites and all blogs are not accessible in China on the Internet. Don’t ever forget Communist China is the King of Capitalism but in the end, still communist ruled.
I am writing this on a flight home from Europe and head back to China for a 3 day test on July 30th. Enjoy the rest of summer. Dan #71