One of our first ventures into the inner city was to the „Friendship Store“ to buy a bicycle, which we also needed to register with the police office at our compound, to get a little license plate. The Friendship Store (Youyi Shangdian) was a department store where foreigners were able to buy imported goods and other rare items (better quality chocolate, milk powder, …) for so-called „Foreign Exchange Certificates“ – a parallel currency for foreigners, highly sought after by Chinese citizens, because the possession of „FEC“ allowed them to shop there. More about the thriving FEC black market later…
Basically, there were two ways to get into the city center which was about seven to eight kilometers from the student dormitory: Take Bus line 55 from the Wujioachang – the „five-corner square“, as it is a junction of five roads. Or ride my bike. As Wujiaochang was the head station of line 55 the buses were always empty when you got on there, but filled up rapidly on the way to the city center. So I took the bus often, and regretted it each and every time on the way back, when I had to get on a more than packed bus back to the uni during rush hour at Waitan (The Bund). Had I come by bike I would have been back sooner than by bus!
By the way, there were two ticket vendors on each bus. When the bus was very full so that they could not get through, your fellow passengers would pass your money – typically 5 fen (cent) or 1 jiao (ten cents) – to the vendor, and return the ticket – a ridiculously thin paper strip and the change.
And yes, there were for pay bicycle parking lots, and parking tickets when you parked in the wrong place. And bikes were stolen. And of course there were terrible accidents every day. Luckily, I was never involved in any.
Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times, as the Chinese saying goes. So let me post some pictures from my first ventures into the city…
Here you see why I apologize for the poor picture quality in the preface. Once bright and clear slides have turned freckly and unclear with age.