Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tools and thanks

By Kevin

As we pulled into the bicycle repair shop at the end of the bike storage yard on campus, I wondered how much it would cost to get my bike back into riding shape for the next ride we've planned for Saturday.

I waited for the repairman to finish patching a tire, then Wes started to explain my predicament. Within ten minutes he had replaced my front tube, agreeing that indeed it was too big, noticed a buldge in the side of my rear tire, which he said was rotting, so he replaced it.

"Do you want to keep the old tube?" Wes asked me.

I briefly thought about how if I wanted to, I could make a tire patching kit out of it, but realized that it's so much easier to just bring it to the repairman when I get a problem.

"Nah, I don't need it."

"Are you sure, cause I'm sure he's going to patch it and sell it to someone else and make a profit off of you."

Thinking back to all the repairs he's done for us for 1-5 RMB or less (we're talking 15-75 cents), I wasn't too worried.

"I think it's fine if he makes a profit off of me."

"You sure?" Wes joked as we looked at his dingy clothes and grease-covered hands as he greased the chain. "Obviously he's living a life of extravagance."

Finally, he re-tightened the troublesome nut that wreaked havok on my last ride. It seemed he didn't have any truly new nuts to replace it with.

"Duo xiao qian?" I asked.

"Si shi kuai." Wow, about $6 for an inspection, a tube, a tire and their installation. "Probably his biggest sale in a long time," Wes said. I handed him 50 kuai and he dug into his pocket to make change.

"I don't think I could even buy a tube for $6 in the States," I told Wes as we left. Even after two and a half years in China, I'm constantly amazed at how much less things cost here. I probably could have negotiated the price lower, but he earned the money.

As we waited, we saw a foreigner, who looked like he couldn't be much older than our students, walking with a girl toward one of the dorms -- the same foreigner we saw earlier in the day at KFC. Mind you, this is the first Westerner I've ever seen in Weinan (met a family of Koreans, but they blend in pretty well), so to see him twice in the same day was a bit strange. "Wonder what he's doing here?" My encounters with most foreigners I've met in China who don't work for our company have been strange. Most seem to be social outcasts of some sort, who either thrive or wither at the sudden attention they get in China. I always find myself wondering what they are doing here.

After the repairs were done, we rode off to find a nut and tools I could bring with me on Saturday's ride. No troubles on the way, so I guess we've gotten that nut tight enough to last awhile, but I don't want to get stuck again, so I need the right tools.

When we pulled up to the tool shop, Wes guided me to a woman he'd done business with before. "She's a sister," Wes said, pointing to the thick Book sitting on the table behind her.

She smiled and greeted us warmly, then proceeded to find the right tool for us.

We also bought several nuts and lock washers and some concrete nails so we can hang some pictures on our walls (it's impossible to drive regular nails into these concrete walls).

When we asked how much we owed her, her response caused a brief argument. I couldn't understand all the Chinese, but the gist of it was something like this.

"Nothing," she said.

"Oh no, we have to pay something."

"No, you are my brothers. I want to give them to you."

"Can't we just pay something for them?"

"No, I insist. They are my gift to you."

"Well, is there something we can do for you?"

"Just talk to the Father about me. That is enough."

"Ok, we will do that. Thank you so much."

"Thank you," she said.

As we left and I put the money back into my pocket, Wes said, "Maybe money would be an insult to her. We should make sure to bring her a pie or something next time."

It was a great reminder of how gracious the Chinese are here, especially those who know hope.

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