Tuesday, August 24, 2010
For those of you reading this who already know me, it is no surprise to read about my love of the bicycle. I have spent countless hours riding for sport, hobby, transportation, physical and emotional empowerment, as well as just plain FUN! Through bicycling, I have met so many fantastic people, made best friends, and even met my soon to be husband. Who would have thought this 2 wheeled contraption would have such a significant impact in my life?
Oh, it's not just me. Ask anyone who is truly PASSIONATE about cycling in ANY capacity, and they will have some significant moments shared with others (or themselves) on the bike. From toiling 100+ miles day after day in the mountains to tooling through the park on a sunny day, the stories are plentiful.
However, in the USA, we are a minority. It IS a growing subculture with lots of bicycle advocacy groups and it seems to be moving in a positive direction. But still there is a long way to go!
When I lived in San Francisco, I CHOSE to bike commute. Why not? I had no reason not to. Yes, I was fortunate to have showers at work and it was actually quicker than taking public transportation. Certainly cheaper than driving, non polluting, as well as burned a few extra calories and got my blood flowing even when I felt tired. A "no brainer". However, it came with some risks. I was "car doored" a handful of times, escaped numerous driver not looking maneuvers, and even hit by a taxi. I quickly became a "road warrior". I learned to always anticipate the worst. Never assume. Be ready for that pedestrian to dart out across the street, the car to last minute decide to turn and of course, red lights are meant to be driven through!!
Then I moved here...The land where bikes are a normal part of life. It is commonplace to see women in dresses with panniers on their "everyday" bikes, groups of retired folks going for social rides, kids commuting from school, as well as racers training all in a radius of 5km. What's most impressive is that everyone KNOWS their bike etiquette. There is no jousting for position, no screaming on your left, no snide comments such as "why do they have to ride so fast?". If you have a bell, you ring it and if not a simple "yo or halo" will suffice. It's AMAZING! I once encountered a group of 30+ retirees meandering on the bike path and as I came up, they methodically pulled to the right and let me by. How civilized!
And for those of us, who follow bike racing, here it is a RESPECTABLE sport. It ranks right up there with other professional sports. Pro racing is always broadcast on TV and every newscast will mention results of most big races. No more do I have to search for cryptic internet feed broadcasts in the middle of the night! In addition, many of the classic races take place here and can easily be driven to to by bike or car. There is never a lack of live entertainment.
Beside the pro level, amateur racing offers numerous categories and I am amazed on how well organized and attended these races are. Race promoters set up fully equipped with PA systems, motos, and immediate race results. The local police and townsfolk man the traffic control and somehow it all seems to run smoothly. The inscription is usually at a local bar or sporthall, so no porta potties are needed. Usually there are local businesses open for libations but it's not unusual to have additional Frittes/Beer stands for the fans. Families come out to support their racers as well as the locals, who set up chairs outside of their homes. Once again, it's just a normal part of life here.
Kids are encouraged early and there are plenty of programs to facilitate them. At the Zolder race circuit, they just built a BMX course and have training programs for the kids. Parents/families routinely take their kids out on bikes and they learn the rules of the road ASAP. In Limburg, most roads have bike lanes and busy streets usually will have some sort of designated crossing areas which cars abide to. Roundabouts also include the bike lane and bikes roll in with the cars. It all seems so naturally smooth. Why then is it so difficult for cars and bikes and pedestrians in America to be "friends"?
I ascertain the cultural history of biking plays a major role here but wonder why the folks in the USA can't learn from it. What better ammunition against the war on obesity as well as being a bit greener....Hmmmmm makes sense to me.
Oh well, I got to go now. Time to get the bikes ready and take the kids to their Mom's house. "come on, put on your helmets!"
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
It’s amazing how fast 2 weeks go by. I find it interesting that this phenomenon occurs when one is either EXTREMELY busy or when one is on holiday. Obviously, just returning from 2 weeks cycling in the French Alpes, I just experienced the holiday effect.
Coming from the fast paced life in the SF Bay Area and transitioning to life in a small town is a new exercise in slowing down the pace. This is a good thing for me. I didn't realize how I had been running on overdrive for a number of years. Apparently, one becomes immune to it. The norms adjust to the environment and I was just status quo.
Nonetheless, I have always been one to get the job done. Once the priorities are set, “Chop Chop” and let’s get busy ticking off the to do list. There is always something to take care of and yes, that applies here, but at this point, the priorities have shifted.
Currently, my “To Do” list is a bit stifled as I have to wait for some bureaucratic regulations before I can legally work and have to wait for the summer holidays to end to start my “imburgering” class. This is a mixture of Flemish language, Belgian history/culture that is offered for new immigrants. 12 weeks, 4x per week, 3 hours a shot. It's good timing as I have time for Mr. "X's"3 kids as they are on summer holiday. In addition, I have the time to observe, ponder my thoughts and experiences without the hectic-ness of having to get EVERYTHING done!!!!
In previous postings, I noted that for the most part, every day activities seem to take much more time than in the states. For example, a bank transaction in my town will take about 20 minutes longer than in the USA. If one is not using the ATM machine and needs to do a human transaction, it is most likely there will be a line of some sort and yet there is rarely a sense of urgency. people JUST patiently wait! In SF, it’s normal to see a person holding a big “To Go” cup of coffee, talking on a cell phone, standing in line impatiently, all the while making a business transaction and complaining about the ineptness of the bank tellers.
Hmmmm, I haven’t seen that here in Zolder. I can't say I've even seen a "To go" cup in Belgium.... People wait patiently and when we get our turn, don’t expect to run out in a minute. What seems like a routine procedure might take a bit of time, so I quickly learned to put no expectations on that one!
Local businesses close for the summer holidays so it’s typical to see businesses shut down for 2-3 weeks. In Zolder, only 1 grocery store is open on Sunday and only until noon! This is small town living.
Do I like it? Yes, so far, so good. I am embracing "Life in the Slow Lane". I can't say that I miss the frenzy and "on guard" mode needed to succeed in a big city and If I do want my urban hit, I can go to Brussels. However, San Francisco will ALWAYS be my home town in my heart and I will be back, well at least for visits.
Many of my friends have expressed that I am brave to just uproot and leave the USA for a new life overseas. Brave? NO, I just want to keep experiencing new things, different challenges and expand my personal limits. I often think of my Father who left his native country of Iran in the early 1940's to go to school and start a new life in the USA. He was the first of his family to leave and he never looked back. He managed to succeed in a country where everything was different. Language, culture, rituals etc. He knew only a handful of guys who cane over on the barge with him.Through trials and tribulations, he managed to become proficient in English to finish his graduate level classes and pass the California Bar. (BTW, he was the first Iranian to do that) Now to me, that is brave!!!
I've got a lot of work to do to keep up that standard...
And for now, well I think I'll have a cup of coffee :)