Chinese island nixes wheeled vehicles.
Not even bikes! When we traveled around China in 1987, it seemed that everyone rode a bike. In other cities, when the traffic light changed, pedestrians dashed for the sidewalks to avoid being mowed down by the throng of bike riders pedaling toward them 8-abreast.
Not on Gulangyu. When we visited my husband’s birthplace, the 20,000 residents of the hilly little island were still traversing its lanes on their own two feet, just as they’d done for as long as anyone could remember. I have no idea why they chose to prohibit the use of wheeled vehicles in a time before smog and vehicular traffic even posed a problem.
If rickshaws had been allowed when my husband’s grandmother was alive, she would have been a frequent rider. Like other women of her generation, her feet were bound and broken when she was a child. Consequently, she could barely walk. If she wanted to oversee her properties or visit a friend or take in an opera, she had to go by sedan-chair. For a time, she hired two sedan-chair carriers on a full-time basis. Then one of them got her maid pregnant and she let both of them go.
A pleasant walking tour
My husband hadn’t been back to his old hometown in 34 years, so he enjoyed walking up and down its old familiar lanes. Each evening we took a ferry back to Xiamen and then a taxi to our hotel. The streets in Xiamen were filled with bicycles and an occasional car or bus. I couldn’t help thinking what a disaster it would be if every one of those bikes turned into a car.
Smog in Beijing, but the air is still clear on Gulangyu.
Well, in China’s major cities, that’s exactly what happened. Last year 13 million cars were sold in China, more than in any other country in the world. The result: horrendous traffic jams and unbreathable air. So why don’t people just go back to riding their bikes? It’s better to drive, they say. The air is too polluted for walking or riding a bike or the bus.
And Gulangyu, the little island with a quaint rule banning wheeled vehicles, the island that used to be famous only for its beaches and pianos and the view from Sunlight Rock … Now it’s known for its quiet lanes and clean air.
Next week’s post: An Immigrant Author’s Story