Electric Bikes

My wife, Meryl, and I were on a cruise a few years ago around the British Isles.  One of the last stops was to the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, located midway between England and France.

Even though at the time we were well into our 60s, I still like to think of us as adventurous travelers.  To take advantage of the interesting historic WWII sites on Guernsey, I decided to arrange for bike rentals so that we could leisurely explore the small island.  Since the terrain is hilly, I decided to splurge for the electric bikes that the agency was offering. 

Everything was arranged online in advance, including the lengthy disclaimers which we had to sign before our payment was accepted.  When we arrived at the port, the bikes were waiting for us in a locked area and we only had to unlock them using a code they had sent us with the confirmation.   

Getting used to on an electric bike takes some time since the battery is built into the frame, making it considerably heavier than a regular bicycle.   The power-assist feature easily switches on when you need to go up one of the steep hills. 

Soon after I thought I was comfortable with my bike, I saw something that I wanted to photograph, so I slowed down and gradually attempted to dismount as I would do on a regular bicycle.   Unfortunately, since the center of gravity of the bike is different, I fell over and the bike landed on top of me.  My wife, following me about 50 feet behind, saw me fall but she couldn’t tell if I had injured myself since the bike was obscuring her view.

She raced up to me as I was still lying on the ground. 

“Are you all right?” she screamed. 

“I think so,” I answered as I quickly surveyed my body parts for any signs of a broken bones.  From the abrasions on both hands, there was a little blood on my shirt and my knees were skinned.  Otherwise, I felt lucky that my helmet was intact, and I hadn’t fallen in the middle of the street traffic. 

“This is the last time we’re renting bikes!” she yelled, obviously referring to our last trip when I had fallen on a path a year before in Málaga, Spain. 

I picked myself up and concluded that I wasn’t hurt badly enough to need any medical attention or to have to return immediately to the ship.  Since I was feeling a little bit defeated, I decided to change our itinerary and stay within the central district not too far from the port. 

As we proceeded along the bike paths, we stopped to admire the beautiful view across the English Channel.  A French mother and her two teenage children were standing in the same location so we started to talk.   Noticing that I had blood on my shirt from where I had fallen onto my hands, she proceeded to tell me that her husband had fallen the day before on a bike trip and had injured his shoulder, severely enough to require an ER visit.  The doctor had suggested that they return to France that evening for possible surgery.   

As we continued our ride, we saw a man on a park bench with his arm in a sling. Figuring that he was the injured French husband, I stopped to say hello to him. 

He was amused that I had heard the whole story from his wife.   I could see that he was in considerable pain.  He told us that he was looking forward to their ferry back to the French mainland in a few hours.  

My wife took the opportunity to remind me again that I wasn’t 35 years old and that we should possibly stop doing things while we’re traveling that could get us even more severely injured. 

“This could have ruined our whole trip if you had hurt yourself worse,” she said.  “Imagine if we had to miss the rest of the cruise because you had to have surgery!” 

I agreed with her that I was very lucky not be any more seriously injured. 

Only a few hours later while safely back on the ship, we were standing in line waiting to have dinner and couple behind us was talking about what had happened to them a few days before at a previous cruise stop. 

The woman, in her mid-60s like us, was sitting in a wheelchair pushed by her husband.  She told us that she had fallen off an electric bike and fractured her pelvis. 

At the next stop, they were disembarking prematurely so that she could return to the United States where she might need to have surgery.    

I looked down at my hands, both with only small bandages covering my minor wounds.  I realized how fortunate I was. Even though I had initially felt bad that our excursion had been cut short, after seeing the French man with the injured shoulder and the woman in the wheelchair, I easily admitted to my wife that I have to be much more sensible in our travel planning.  

She couldn’t resist the opportunity.  “It could have been much worse!”.    

In Search of Prunes

I love Carrefour. Besides enjoying every visit in whatever country, I love the Carrefour logo.

When my wife, Meryl, and I arrive in a foreign city, the first thing we do is to head to a local supermarket.  On a trip to the Chinese province of Yunnan a few years ago, we had a memorable adventure which proves that this kind of excursion is a way to orient ourselves into the local culture. 

We had spent two weeks exploring Yunnan, the large province in the southwestern China sharing borders with Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.   We had concentrated on the high-altitude area stretching to the north into Tibet. Since we had jumped around from one hotel to the next, we decided to end our trip with a leisurely four-day stay in Kunming, the capital of the province.   

Yunnan, the province IN RED

Kunming is known as the “Garden City” and “The Eternal Spring City.”   We were staying in the centrally-located Sofitel Hotel.   In researching where to stay, I noticed we were within a 15-minute walk of the Carrefour supermarket, one of our favorite chains which has locations all around the world.  It is an expat’s dream since it features many international products as well as the full range of local items of the host country.    

For security reasons in most Chinese supermarkets, there are lockers located near the entrance to store your personal items.   However, since the instructions were only in Chinese, we must have had a confused look on our faces since we didn’t know where we could leave our backpacks.  A very friendly Chinese woman recognized our problem and motioned for us to follow her to a desk inside the store where we could also leave them.  With very limited English, she asked us what we were looking for.  Normally, visiting Carrefour was just a sightseeing excursion, but in this case, we were searching specifically for two items:  buckwheat tea and prunes. 

Some weird items

Luckily I had used Google Translate beforehand to search for both of these items so I was able to use the store’s Wi-Fi to retrieve the Chinese terms on my phone.  Buckwheat tea is a type of tea we discovered while traveling around Yunnan. But with so many varieties of tea in China, you can understand why it turned out to be pretty confusing to locate this less popular type.   With the assistance of a store clerk, we were taken to the exact shelf with about six different brands of buckwheat tea, but all with labels entirely in Chinese. Then out of the blue, the same helpful Chinese woman reappeared and asked us if we had found what we were looking for.  She even recommended which brand she preferred. 

Prunes, however, turned out to be a little more challenging.  The translation app didn’t provide an exact match and when we showed the Chinese characters to a few store employees, they were perplexed.  A few just shook their heads implying that they didn’t have prunes. One person finally led us to the produce area where there were aisles full of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as many types of dried flowers, leaves, seaweeds and mushrooms.

Regular-looking chickens and black chickens
The Chinese love their junk food. And in some strange flavors too!

The variety of dried items was overwhelming but we couldn’t find our beloved prunes.  If, we had been searching for chili peppers, we could have chosen from over 20 different varieties. Apparently we weren’t in the right department for dried fruits.

Then, as if our guardian angel had heard our prayers, or at least had observed our dismay, she reappeared and again tried to help us.  When I typed in “dried plums,” she finally understood what we meant. 

I’m sure it was very obvious that we didn’t understand a word of what she was saying in Chinese, but she was eager to help us!  She took us by the arm and brought us to another section of the store where we found packages and containers of dried items, again mostly with labels only in Chinese.  We saw all the common dried products including many we couldn’t identify.

Finally, our mystery helper found the dried fruits.  There were dried mangoes, papayas, mangosteens, tangerines, lemons, figs, and dates.  Eventually we came across the dried plums and she was ecstatic that she had succeeded. 

What surprised us the most was that this perfect stranger was so persistent!  It reminded us of when we were in Japan and appeared to be lost on a street and several people approached us and took us out of their way to find what we were looking for. 

But what was so remarkable here was that this woman kept on reappearing!   With our translation app, we found out that she was an ultrasound technician specializing in fetal imaging.  She was excited to find out that I was a pediatrician. 

Our Carrefour Guardian Angel

Throughout our trip to some very remote areas of China, we had experienced countless examples of such unusual friendliness.  Some of the looks that we received made us feel as if we were the first non-Chinese people with whom these people had ever interacted.  Just by saying a few words in Chinese, we had been invited into people’s homes and entertained and fed tea and cakes.

Despite the political differences our countries may have, the people whom we met on the street were so warm and accommodating especially in the more mountainous and rural areas.  We couldn’t imagine that people in the U.S. would ever extend Chinese tourists the same courtesy we received, but we’re sure going to try when we see an unfamiliar face back home.  I know I always go out of my way to help a group of strangers, but I’m not sure that I would have ever been as persistent as our Carrefour friend.  

We love Carrefour almost as much as Costco!