I was born and grew up in the same area of Chengdu. My primary school and middle/high school were 1.5 kilometers away from my house, so I almost spent 12 years "commuting" between school and home. As a veteran commuter in this city, I observed the changes of how people going here and there.
During my first years of primary school, my father took me to school by bike. Private cars were rarely seen on the streets in those days. After school, parents and grandparents crowded around the gate, having arrived either on foot or by bike. Those who lived nearby walked home hand in hand with their family. And I, sitting on the back of my father's bike, counted the storefronts. This was how I started to know the city. On the days when my parents and I overslept, my father would rush to send me to school in pajamas and slippers. At that time, I thought it was a bit embarrassing for my father to be in such a mess. But now, I am too old and too heavy for the old man to take me by bike. And guess what—we don't even have a bike.
After I entered the higher grades of primary school, I became more social and wanted to spend more time with my friends and be more independent. So I went to school by bus. There were only two stops between school and home on the number 3 bus, which, 20 years ago, was a short route that circled around my community inside the First Ring Road. Now that route goes well beyond, near Third Ring Road.
At the time, the bus fare was only 1 jiao and of course there was a student pass, which made it even cheaper. The student pass was a small piece of cardstock upon which was glued the cardholder's photo and the month written on it. Every month we had to change it, but sometimes I forgot, so when the conductor approached to check my pass, I would show it very quickly with my thumb over the number. Most of the time, I succeeded—but even if I failed, the conductor would always forgive a little girl.
The following six years of middle and high school offered me lots of inspiration to keep a bicycle diary. For teenagers in the 1990s, a bike was more than a means of transportation. They were a symbol of connection and the bond between friends. We went on dates on our bikes. We waited for each other somewhere to go to school or home together. We skipped classes to go off by bike and have fun. We talked and talked after school by the roadside until the night came and then we pedaled home. We rode our bikes side by side and got dirty looks and gruff words when we blocked other people. Bikes were a carrier of laughter and tears. And definitely, the bike served as proof that we were once young.
It was also in the 1990s that the city witnessed the prelude to modern-day massive and constant infrastructure construction. The Second Ring Road, the biggest municipal project in the city's history, was completed at the end of 1993. And that was just the start. Later, Chengdu locals welcomed the Third Ring Road, then the outer ring road, Tianfu Dadao, and many others as the city expanded. The growing veins of the city have changed how people go here and there too. Cars dominate the roads. Scooters have replaced the bikes, and the bikes have been relegated to a vehicle for leisure and sport. When the metro finally started to run at the end of 2010, people began to move not only above ground but also underground.
Chengdu's transformation over the past 20 years never fails to impress people. The developments are hard to get used to. My mother is still surprised that I can finish my business trip in Chongqing and return home in the same day. It used to take her a whole night from the basin to the hill. However, my father says, "There are more cars. There are wider roads. But these things make it more difficult to go here and there in the city." It takes me one hour to go from my home to the city south around the Second Ring Road by bus or by car when there is a serious traffic jam—theoretically equivalent to the time from Chengdu to Mianyang. It seems as if the so-called development of the transportation network makes moving harder instead of easier. I should acknowledge that there have been improvements. But the problems following development usually seem to be more outstanding.
The day when I wrote this, construction of the second layer of the Second Ring Road was completed. It will be put into operation soon. How this big, ugly, and daylight-blocking structure will alleviate the city congestion, especially at peak hours, we can only wait and see.
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