Bikes, Bruises, and Triumph

After my fifth day of being in Japan, I have expe­ri­enced frus­tra­tion, ela­tion, and per­sonal growth. While in Japan, my first con­cern was trans­porta­tion. Liv­ing in West Seat­tle, I can eas­ily walk to buy gro­ceries and other neces­si­ties, and if I need to go some­where far­ther I can sim­ply ride pub­lic trans­porta­tion such as the light rail and bus. How­ever, stay­ing in Mat­suyama, Japan I learned quickly that bicy­cle rid­ing is one of the most com­mon modes of trans­porta­tion. This dis­cov­ery was much to my dis­may because until recently, I had never learned to ride a bike nor was it my par­ents’ goal to teach me. Thus, began my frus­tra­tion and embarrassment.

Our first day at Ehime Uni­ver­sity was ded­i­cated to ori­en­ta­tion, tour­ing the cam­pus, and rent­ing our bicy­cles. After receiv­ing our maps, hand­outs, and allowances for meals, we all walked for a few min­utes to the bike rental shop. Through trep­i­da­tion and shame, I stood by as my other trav­el­ing com­pan­ions read­ily grabbed their bikes. Not being able to ride a bicy­cle, I imme­di­ately labeled myself as the prob­lem child of the group. “What are we going to do with Arun, she can’t ride a bike,” is what I thought to myself. For­tu­nately, I was able to get around by hitch­ing a ride on my friends’ bikes. And though I was grate­ful for their will­ing­ness to help me, I loathed my lack of inde­pen­dence. As a per­son, I dis­like rely­ing on oth­ers to do things, and to a cer­tain degree I am much more com­fort­able being able to rely on my own skills to take care of myself. This is what par­tially moti­vated me to learn how to ride a bicycle.

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(First day get­ting bikes.)

With the help of one of my trav­el­ing bud­dies, I made a goal for myself: learn how to ride a bicy­cle as soon as pos­si­ble! Once I rented my bike, I spent as much time with it as I could. With only less than 16 days to learn, I had to put as much time and effort into learn­ing as much as I could. Prac­tic­ing before classes, and when­ever and wher­ever I could, I did fall a few times. Bruised and bloody legs, falling only made me more deter­mined to get back on the bike. When I did, I learned from my friends to “keep your back straight, relax, and look where you want to go.” I quickly adopted this as my mantra, and even­tu­ally fol­lowed it to the letter.

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(First time I fell on my knee.)

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(My first time on a bike)

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(After I crashed into a pole?)
That’s me in the pink. To the left is Win Tong, teach­ing me how to ride a bike.

The next day as I was rid­ing with my physics pro­fes­sor to Mat­suyama Cas­tle, he taught me to apply the con­cept of angu­lar veloc­ity to the wheels of my bike. I soon real­ized that if I prac­ticed down­hill to increase my veloc­ity, I would be able to gain bal­ance on my bicy­cle and ride smoothly with­out con­stantly stop­ping and start­ing (as I mostly did as a begin­ner). With patience and resilience, I was able to ride a bicy­cle within the same hour! Filled with ela­tion and self-satisfaction, my self-confidence grew, and soon after­wards my skills as a bike rider excelled. With­out some­one need­ing to hold the back of my bike to bal­ance me or tell me what to do, I was able to finally ride on my own!

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Ehime BST 498 SkyDrive.