the pains of culling

where will you take me next?
where will you take me next?

After nine months of procrastination, I decided to give up my self-storage unit at Koala‘s Sanlitun branch. The significance of my decision is probably only obvious to those who live in Beijing and have been waiting for months (generally in vain) for a unit to become available at Koala’s most popular branch.

In the beginning…

I took a self-storage unit when I first moved to Beijing six years ago because I’d moved from a 3-bedroom unit in Shanghai to a one-bedroom, and hated the sight of boxes stacking against the wall in my apartment, especially since I was running my consulting business from home at that time. After years of hiring professional movers to pack and move my stuff from Shanghai to Prague then to Beijing, I accumulated 50+ boxes of stuff without ever looking at, let alone evaluating, the contents of half of these boxes.

It was only when I lost my job three years ago and was planning on moving back to Vespa Fair at 2 KolegasAustralia that I forced myself to confront my physical baggage. With no clue when and where I’d find a new job, I felt I had no other option. To say I was horrified at the contents of these boxes would be to put it mildly. I couldn’t believe I’d been spending money moving and storing boxes of fake DVDs my friends left me when they left China, clothing and shoes I haven’t worn for years, moldy furniture and magazines, folders of useless documents and stationery, obsolete mobile phone chargers, cables and other electronic/digital knick-knacks. Even after giving away, donating and throwing out as much as I could, I still had about 30 boxes of things I then thought I couldn’t live without.

Through a surprising turn of events, I found gainful employment in Beijing and stayed on. I was already very pleased with how much of my possessions I’d edited by then, and felt it was reasonable to take a self-storage unit to store the remaining boxes of stuff I didn’t immediately need in my new apartment. I remained in this state of satisfaction and contentment for the last two years.

The turning point

Then I read the stories of Graham HillGeoffrey Szuszkiewicz and Julie Phillips and all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so smug about my 3-cubic-metre self-storage unit anymore. I was convicted enough by their stories to start culling my belongings in storage, but a smaller storage unit never became available at Koala and I couldn’t make up my mind about taking up a friend’s offer to store my stuff at his house.

Things all came to a head when I decided to upgrade to a road bike. After saving up enough dough to buy an alloy road bike, Serk mentioned they could possibly build a road bike with a carbon fibre frame for a price that would exceed my budget by about a third.  The idea of getting a custom built carbon bike for slightly more than the price of a top-end off-the-rack alloy bike from Giant got under my skin and I began obsessing over where I’d get the extra dough to cover the shortfall without having to resort to swiping my credit card.

After two days of agonising and fruitless contemplation, the solution came when I was swimming — the money I’d set aside to pay rental for my self-storage unit was the exact amount I needed to cover the shortfall. By the time I got out of the pool, I’d already decided I will donate whatever I can and move my remaining boxes to my friend’s house.

What actually happened

I ended up buying a second-hand, one-month-old Giant alloy road bike that cost me less than half of what I was going to pay for the custom-built carbon bike. A cycling buddy, who recently bought a second-hand bike himself, called me from Singapore to talk sense into me, and helped me find the bike I eventually bought on 58.com.

I’ve given up my self-storage unit.  I’ve donated bulky items to Roundabout and moved my boxes to my friend’s dusty third-floor balcony last Saturday. I’ve been feeling bad about imposing on my friend and his girlfriend, but my concerns were completely unfounded. They had more than ample space, and they liked some of my things and intended to put them to good use. It was a win-win situation.

Making this decision has changed my spending habits. Sorting through my boxes the last couple of times has only strengthened my resolve to be more mindful about my purchases, and focus on buying quality, multi-purpose items within my budget and with the aim of replacing items that I plan to throw out. It was no fun throwing things out, knowing full well how much I paid for them and how little I’ve used them.

I feel like a physical weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. Handing over the access keys to my storage unit to Koala’s admin on Saturday afternoon turned out to be an incredibly liberating experience. Through decluttering, I cut off ties with my material belongings and am now better able to focus my mind on those (intangible) things that are more important to me — my relationship with God, family and friends, writing, health and exercise.

the joys of buying a bike

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There are two main types of bike: ones people want and ones they actually need.

– page 29, The Bluffer’s Guide to Cycling

I was devastated when I got out of Nearby the Tree after a night of drinking too much beer and making out with an Austrian boy I’d met only that night to find that Sottie’s Giant bike was stolen. In my haste, I’d neglected to lock the bike to an immovable fixture, THE golden rule of locking a bike in thief-ridden Beijing.  Austrian boy and I made a cursory search in the surrounding area, knowing full well it was gone, before I resigned to the fact that I had to take a cab home.

I was inconsolable about the loss of my beginner bike, but that didn’t stop me from going out the next day to Merida and plonking down my hard-earned cash on a white Merida Duke mountain bike (MTB for short).  An MTB as defined in the Bluffer’s Guide “has 27 gears, tractor tyres, full suspension, no mudguards, disc brakes, and a big soft saddle”.  It took me a while to get used to riding with my back at a 45 degree angle to the bike, working out which gears to use when, and how sensitive the disc brakes were. But boy did I enjoy riding this MTB after riding a heavy bike with only 3 gears.

I rode my MTB everywhere everyday for 5 months before I realised I may have bought the wrong bike. For one, I rode my bike in the city most of the time. With Beijing traffic as it is, I’d be lucky to get a smooth ride with no stops along the way, whether it be for a red light or an idiot driver/biker doing a U-turn in the middle of the road.  Stopping while riding an MTB is painful for me. You can say I asked for it when I elevated my seat so high, I can only stand on tiptoes while waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Sometimes when the lights took a while to change, I’d feel my right foot go numb. I confess to breaking almost all of Beijing’s traffic rules in the past in a bid to alleviate this discomfort and I could’ve been killed any number of times, if it wasn’t for God’s protection.

The other thing was, with no mudguards, on the rare occasion when it rains in Beijing (though it’s become less rare these days), whatever I wore while riding the MTB would be covered in mud splatters by the time I reached my destination. This was the case even when I wore raincoats.   One of my new work shirts I wore while cycling to work on a rainy day now has a stubborn mud splatter on the back even after going through a wash.

I weighed up my options,  which essentially were:

(a) only buy and wear dark clothing and pants all year round so I can ride my MTB, or

(b) buy a town bike that I can ride wearing anything I currently own.

A town bike is defined as “tall, sturdy, upright” with a “proper mudguards”, “step-through frame”, “few gears, none high” in the Bluffer’s Guide.

I decided to go with (b).  After trying out a Mongoose (7 gears, white, grey and plain), a Giant (7 gears, ugly colour and design) and a Forever C (no gear, cool pedal-powered headlights, gorgeous as you can see in the picture above), it was a no-brainer which bike I ended up buying. After riding my Forever C town bike for 2 days, a part of me wondered why I was so against buying a town bike initially, and the other part of me missed the speed, gears and disc brakes of my MTB.

My Forever C was easy to get on, went faster than I expected and wasn’t as heavy as I feared. When I stopped at the traffic lights, my right foot was practically on the ground.  I also attracted the envious stares of many pedestrians, though I didn’t care for it. Needless to say, this new relationship has gotten off on a good start.

Perhaps I might start hating my town bike after riding it in rainy weather and discovering another irremovable mud splutter on the back of my last nice blouse. Weather forecast for tomorrow: scattered showers. 🙂