Roadside bicycle repairmen are easily found in Beijing (as far as I can confirm, there are no women doing this job). Their services are cheap, tyre inflation is generally offered for free, puncture fixes are about 3RMB and new bearings cost around 6RMB. I spoke to two bike repairmen in Beijing’s Xicheng district about their work.
Mr. Li has is stall in Huguosijie, a street best known for selling traditional Beijing snack foods.
How did you start fixing bikes?
I’m from the countryside, in Anhui province. We grow corn, but can’t make money from it, even though the government gives us a subsidy now. My wife and two children stayed in the countryside, but I came to Beijing about 5 years ago looking for work.
When do you start and finish work
I normally start work around 6.30, and finish in the evening about 7.30.
Did you have a teacher?
The repairs I do, you don’t need a teacher. I just watched other people fixing bikes.
What are the most common jobs you do?
I’d say flat-tyres are the most common, second is probably wobbly pedals.
How much do you earn a month?
About 2000 RMB. I’ve been earning more since I moved to this spot near to the subway exit, before that I was under a bridge and used to earn less.
What do you do to relax after work
After I’ve finished work, cooked and eaten dinner, I usually just watch TV before I fall asleep.
What shows do you watch?
I don’t have satellite, I can’t get shows from Anhui. I like to watch one show called Shenghuo Tian, on Beijing TV’s arts channel, it’s about family disputes, everyday life stuff. I also watched this good drama show a few days ago, about this girl looking for her father after her mother dies, can’t remember what it was called.
Mr. Tong places his stall at the end of the long Hucang Hutong , where bored security guards and chefs on their post-lunch breaks often gather just to watch him at work. Establishing his name was a bit difficult, as he still has a strong accent, and had trouble writing even the character for his surname.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from the countryside near Wuhu, in Anhui, but I’ve been in Beijing more than 10 years now.
How old are you?
I’m 61 this year.
Who do you live with?
I rent a place with my family. My son and his wife lives with us, she makes my dinner everyday.
Are you used to Beijing?
I still can’t speak proper Mandarin, when you’re my age its hard to change the way you speak. Sometimes my customers can’t understand what I’m saying. I understand them all right. I worked in Shanghai for a bit selling souvenirs on the street, but I left after a month, I don’t think I’m much of a salesman.
How’s business recently?
Not what it used to be. I used to have spot in the university district, there were a lot of students riding bikes so business was good. But then the place where I had my stand got demolished, and they wouldn’t give me another spot. So I moved here. I usually earn 1,500-2,000 RMB per month.
(Thanks to Berta Tilmantaite for the photos)