Tuesday, December 15, 2009

bike buying

before this fades...
We did go to buy the bike on Saturday. I try to think of an equivalent journey -- it's not like taking off for some unknown neighborhood in Chicago on a gulf cart, but that's about as close as I can come.
We went at 1pm so we'd have lots of daylight -- it wasn't clear if this was going to take 2 or 4 or 6 hours, so I said if we don't leave by 1, we're not going. We walk out to our main road and look for a CNG - that's the 3-wheeled motorized transport. It's allowed on all the main roads. They're not always available and they have been known to charge high fares. OK, so we found one right away but the guy did not seem to understand "Bongshal" and I wasn't sure enough of my pronunciation and/or whether it was a street or a neighborhood. So I look around and yes, already, two or three people are pausing to see if they can help. I describe Bongshal as bikes? and the guy behind me nods and starts to tell the driver. Two more people chime in and a discussion ensues in Bangla. OK, so he's got the idea where we want to go and I make sure that all of the 7-8 people now gathered agree this is the bike street. Yes, yes. Then I ask the driver what the fare will be and he answers (but it's not a number, or at least not one that I understand). I look around again, and my lovely cohort starts negotiating. They tell me he's agreed to 200 taka. I'm surprised (it's 100 to work and that's about 25-30 minutes. I thought this would be at least 500 taka (about $7).

Great -- we're on our way. We ride through the neighborhoods we know, go through the neighborhoods we've seen once or twice (the tour or on a bus) and then we get into unknown territory. I take out the map and the driver tells me where we are. Right direction. Then we go very slowly on some crowded main roads where we are between buses and trucks and can't see much of anything. The popcorn vendors offer us some popcorn. We make slow progress. Going on 2pm. I ask if this is Ramna Park, and yes, then he shows us the Supreme Court. OK. More traffic. More city. The city goes on and on.

Then he says, here we are. No bikes in sight. I ask at the nearest market vendor about bikes. He says other direction. At this point traffic is so thick that we get out to walk and thank the CNG driver very much. We walk across the street and start to see bike stores. These are open market stores -- everything is accessible from the street. Matan starts to ask prices. Too many flashy bikes, mountain bikes, multiple gear bikes.... I wonder if I brought enough money.

We keep walking. There must be 100 stores. Just on this street (we don't realize that it goes on and on beyond, in fact the used bike stores are a whole additional area). Matan finds the bike he wants. Still too much. We keep going. He finds another one like it. This time the price is better. We get ushered into the back of the shop and seated. Don't understand. Are they getting the bike out for him to look at? They want me to pay before he tries it out? No, they're sending someone to bring the bike from storage. They don't actually pull the bike out of the 20 on display (good thing since there was rust on the display bikes). We wait and look around at all the locks and bells, etc. The bike comes. Matan likes it. We pay for it. They start making adjustments. He brings it back to have the seat raised. We ask how to get it home (crucial and unsettling question since we are now many miles from home). They said to walk about 10 minutes to the edge of the market where the motorized traffic starts up again and there to find a CNG and put it on the roof.

We start walking. People ask us how much did it cost? We find the edge of the market but turn to start looking for a cab or CNG and find nothing. This part is a bit unsettling. We ask a rickshaw/flatbed driver, but really it's way too far to go by bike. However, once we start asking questions, lots of people have suggestions. They send a 10 or 12 year-old boy with us back in the direction we came from. He's been told to find us a CNG, help get the bike on the roof and set the price. And he did it! It took about 4 CNGs until one agreed to take us (this uncertainty is challenging) and then he started looking for twine on the street to tie the bike on the top. It worked. He set the price (same 200 taka!) and we were on our way. This driver went a different route, but actually got us back in less than an hour. I think part of the argument at the beginning was whether to take this faster route or not, and the first driver wasn't sure enough about it. So. Here's a picture of the bike upstairs in our living room on the first night and then there's a picture of our morning fog and if you look very carefully, you'll see Matan on his way to school. He looks distant, but that's because I'm taking the picture from the 5th floor. By now he's gone to school 3 days with the bike and is really happy with it. We'll get him a helmet next week when we're in Israel.

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