Down with Shanghai – Time to “crash”

This year, back in March, I was lucky enough to escape unharmed from a bike crash. I was cycling across the junction of Julu Lu/Shaanxi Nan Lu…post-work, headphones in, daydreaming in the Springtime…riding straight through a red light taking my front wheel down the side of a cream Mini Cooper car. The bike took the brunt of the collision and is completely off the road now…and I escaped pretty unharmed apart from a graze and thigh bruise. I felt lucky that day and thought, since then, I’d be a bit more careful…that was until today.

In hast of being late for an 11am meeting in the m50 art district of Shanghai, I was cycling like I owned the streets (as usual to be honest), with confidence, conviction and drive. I love it. As I was cycling North up Shaanxi Bei Lu, at the junction with Wuding Lu right by one of the best massage places in the city (I think anyway), my luck changed very, very quickly. A Chinese man on a scooter was riding in parallel to me on my right hand side and decided to turn left, without looking, and into me at full speed. I, and my confidence, was suddenly brought to a very severe halt. I went straight off my bike somehow falling onto my right shoulder…it felt so fast yet at the same time in slow motion. This is it, I thought…broken bone time and I’d done so well…only a month until the UK! Luckily that wasn’t the case. I froze and lay there showing the world my white M&S knickers from under my navy blue Ralph Lauren preppy polo dress, dazed and shaken until an Italian guy on a scooter dragged me and my bike to the side of the road as cars didn’t stop coming. A crowd of Chinese people then surrounded me where I became the inevitable “laowai” spectacle for the morning. One man even laughed at me straight in my face, so I very aggressively swore at him in Chinese. He was so shocked at this confrontation he walked off. I feel bad for using that language but it was a horrible feeling. People then appeared with various pharmacy products – iodine, gauze, bandages, cotton buds, alcohol pads – all trying to help, literally wiping blood off me and I had to stop them. Who on earth touches someone else’s blood like that?! I tried to get hold of a friend but they’d left their phone at home, so I called my housemate who kindly conversed with the guy responsible. Another man there showed me a translation on his phone that said “We’ll take you to the hospital”…but I didn’t think there was any need. It was painful though, so, so painful. As a child you think you are indestructible, or maybe you don’t remember the pain as much, but as an adult it’s different. Though at that moment I felt like a kid again. I was surprised people stuck around to help to be honest, as usually, when a crash happens in Shanghai or China, people disappear as soon as they can so no blame can be made. Anyway, here’s some of the damage…my shoulder is killing me right now…knees and joints swollen…and the bruises are coming up a real treat, including on my chin, wrist and thighs. I must learn from this right? It’ll never stop me from riding…but I was, well let’s just say, pretty nervous when cycling back home constantly shouting 当心 (dāngxīn) at people around me – “be careful, look out”…


  1. Sorry to hear about you accident and glad it wasn’t more serious. I had several close encounters in Xiaoshan but touch wood in the 15 or so months I had my scooter I never had an accident. Get well soon and keep riding.

  2. OMG Rachel! This is so frightening! Not that it means too much from a half a globe away, but, I really hope you’re ok.

    Sorry about the bruises…and… I really hope not… but there may be some new aches and pains tomorrow. 😦

    Still, as you said, that’s a whole lot better than a broken shoulder, oh gawd, I don’t even want to think about that! O_o

    Your article totally reminds me of cycling in Hong Kong. Actually, I think I was more afraid than you. But I too knew the energy, power, freedom, liberation, and joy of it. In the city it was pretty dense and scary. SO much traffic. But out in the more remote / rural areas like up in the New Territories, you could “own” the road and go so fast and feel so free. It’s a sense of aliveness and power. And maybe also, since it’s “not your country” this feeling of freedom and connection to the land and space is extra delicious and empowering, sort of like a gigantic hug from exactly the right person at the moment you so totally need it.

    But then, of course, a vehicle will eventually come by, and since the road is so empty they’ll whiz by you at some terrifying speed, and I used to think that in a way this was more dangerous than density of the city where traffic wasn’t moving so crazy fast.

    I did love those cycling days. Yet honestly, I do not miss them.

    It’s funny the mixed emotions I feel right now, joy at remembering a treasured time of my life, and trembling fright at your accident.

    And your pix, I’m sure you didn’t take them, yet, even in this horrible moment they have a sort of Rachel duality of immersion and detachment. They are, of course, documents of an awful, painful accident. Painful in both physical terms and in the loss of confidence they represent.

    Yet, forgive me, but the formal qualities of these images seem inescapable to me. They fit with your recurring motif of cropped moments, and as isolated body parts, even as I think about the pain and misfortune they represent, I can’t help but notice their graphic vibrance. The bright red blood against the pale white skin against the dark blue Ralph Lauren. Forgive me (again) but they’re brilliant compositions.

    Anyway, brilliant photographs aside, I’m so sorry to hear the news. I do hope you will be ok, and I hope you can manage to rest for a few days. I don’t really know what I can do, but my thoughts, whatever little they are worth, are with you. Perhaps your misfortune can be turned into a future performance work of some sort.

    Be well, Rachel.

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