Well, not exactly. The truth is, my bike has been stolen. Right from the supposedly secure storage area in the basement of the 20 story apartment tower that I live in, even though the basement is also home to the squadron of security guards that are ever-present! But there’s a little socio-linguistic double-talk that takes place here when someone’s bike is stolen. The most commonly-heard phrase is wo diu-le wode zixingche (I lost my bike.) Rarely does anyone say wode zixingche bei tou-le (My bike has been stolen). I don’t know if it’s an attempt to avoid the passive grammatical construction or what, but I’ve always found it a bit annoying.
I first encountered the linguistic oddity 20 years ago when a teammate had her bike stolen. The officials of our school came and scolded her for losing her bike. We were dumbfounded. But it was stolen! She didn’t lose it! To the officials, it was all the same. She lost her bike. That was that.
Well, now it’s my turn! Before this week, the last time I’d ridden my bike was last Wednesday afternoon—I’d ridden it home from work, parked it in the basement where I usually do, and went upstairs to my apartment. The next morning was the The Killer Pop-tart Incident, which, combined with the fact that my mom was in town, kept me off my bike for the next week.
Wednesday morning of this week, I loaded up and headed off to work. First stop, the basement to get my bike. But lo and behold, it wasn’t there! I looked all around, thinking it might have gotten moved. Nope. Never mind, I thought. I must have left it over at the campus where my office is. I walked to work, but when I got there, no bike! It was becoming clear to me that the thing was gone, but it was astounding to me that it would have been stolen from my building, with so many guards around day and night.
When I got home in the afternoon, I talked to the guard and told him that my bike was missing. "You lost your bike?" he said to me. Grrr. Well, no, I hadn’t lost my bike. I know exactly where I’d put it, but someone had apparantly "lost" it for me. He sucked his teeth (a Chinese non-verbal that means "we have a problem"). I asked him if it was possible that it could have been stolen from the basement, and surprisingly he said yes, in fact, it has happened before. I sucked my teeth.
By this time, a couple of young boys (12 or s0) coming home from school had stopped in the lobby to listen in on our conversation. The sights and sounds of a foreigner speaking Chinese are sometimes too much to resist. When it became clear to them that I was talking about the fact that my bike had been stolen, one of the kids said "aiya! women zhongruoren diu mianzi le." (Oh no! We Chinese have lost face!). I was a bit taken aback that someone so young would already be wearing that lens—the lens of the collective Chinese face. The fact that I, a foreigner, had had my bike stolen by a Chinese person, caused him to lose face. I gave him a funny look and assured him that bikes were stolen everywhere in the world. It didn’t seem to make a dent, because on the elevator he was still going on about the face thing. And yes, he was sucking his teeth as well.
Well, I certainly don’t hold Chinese people responsible for the loss (oops, I said that word) of my bike. But nor will I say that I lost my bike. It was stolen. Plain and simple. I shouldn’t complain too much, though. In 20+ years, this is the first time I’ve had a bike stolen. I’ve got friends (Chinese and foreign) who’ve had 3 or 4 bikes stolen.