It’s not unusual for bicycles to disappear around here. Especially if they’re parked in the “free parking” areas at any of the local supermarkets. Most of the foreigners we know have lost multiple bikes during their stay in Tianjin…it seems like every week at least one person that we know loses one. So far, we haven’t lost any bikes…but ours are older and mine has a really pretty paint job from it’s previous owner to make it a little more noticeable (and harder to resell, I’m sure).

This past Saturday, one of our friends lost her fifth bicycle. This one was parked and locked up next to her husband’s bicycle, right next to their own apartment building. Sunday morning they discovered that his bike was still there, while hers was gone…locks and all. That afternoon, we went to their house for some dessert and coffee, and as we were locking up our bikes I realized that one of my locks had been stolen! We had parked them just outside our building for an hour or so earlier, and I’d left one of my locks in the bike basket (because we had used Joel’s locks to chain our bikes together). There were no keys in the lock, but this is the kind of lock/chain combo that could still be used as long as the original padlock could be removed and a new one put on.

I was a bit frustrated, but mostly at myself for leaving the lock where it could so easily be stolen. Our neighbourhood just feels so safe that I’ve become a little relaxed about things like that. I think I was also frustrated because I felt that our neighbourhood had just proven itself to be not quite as safe as I had thought.

Later that night, as Joel and I returned home, I made a few cynical and suspicious comments about the missing lock. Something to the effect of “I’m going to be watching these bikes (belonging to our neighbours) parked right here by the stairwell to see which one turns up with my lock on it.” I also said, as we entered the first floor and started the long climb up to our sixth-floor apartment, “Hmmph. I wonder which one of these apartments has my lock in it?” I did realize that the loss of the lock was my own fault, but I was having a really hard time feeling charitable toward my neighbors.

Till yesterday afternoon. Joel came home from studying Chinese with my missing lock in his hand. Our first floor neighbours had seen it in my bicycle basket and were worried that someone might steal it (it is a really good lock). So they took it and put it in their apartment for safekeeping. When they saw Joel coming home they ran inside, brought out the lock, and explained it all. I was so thankful that they were looking out for us and felt really bad for my snide and suspicious remarks the previous evening. What had looked like petty theft was actually a matter of our neighbours taking care of us and helping us to continue to feel safe and welcome in the neighbourhood. When you’re a stranger in a strange land that kind of consideration feels really nice.

To be fair, it doesn’t always turn out this way…after all, plenty of bicycles are still missing! And even though I recognize that, I’m very thankful for the way it turned out this time. I learned a bit about my neighbors, and continue to love the area in which we live. However, I also learned a bit of a lesson…that even though we feel safe here, it’s just not smart to become careless about leaving things around.

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