Flying Pigeon Factory Tour
Ted and Jason and I arrived in Tianjin around 10:30a via train. We waited in line for about 10 minutes to get a cab. I called Mr. Wang, the flying pigeon sales guy, and handed the phone to the driver. She drove us down the highway for about 20 minutes and dropped us off at the gate of the factory. The outside of the building was dirty and aged. Mr. Wang, a short, middle-aged Chinese man with grey hair, greeted us at the door. He brought us upstairs to the conference room and served us hot tea. We fired questions at him about shipping, quality, options, etc. He took us into another room that had about 10 bikes on display. They wer
e all a little dusty and the tires were flat. He pumped a few of them up, and Ted and Jason and I tested them out on this weird walkway. It was a long room with translucent ceiling. Pathways were made using a 6 inch tall picket fence with plastic grass inside. The pathways wove in and out from one another, creating little picket fence islands where they had a few bikes on display. And of course dust covered everything.
Ted quickly found himself in an intense game of ping-pong at the end of the testing area. He battled against two older women, who were easily the best ping-pong players I’ve ever seen. I joined in the doubles game with one of them as my partner, playing against Ted and the other woman. It was out of control. It drew a small crowd and there was lots of laughter.
After a couple games we went back to the bikes and tried to wrap things up. I wanted Mr. Wang to assemble two samples for me based on the parts that I specified for pick up next week, but he became a little surely at the idea. I told him that I want to see the bikes I was going to order first, and that I’d pay for the samples, if I liked them and placed the order my money would be refunded, and if I walked I would take the two bikes with me. He agreed to this.
Mr. Wang took us downstairs to the factory. He was a little ashamed of it, and said that it is very old. He couldn’t understand why we liked the way it looked. Outside the building were mounds of rusty bike frames, fenders, and forks waiting to be processed inside. They looked better than the sculptures I’ve seen at some of the galleries in Beijing. The factory was humming with machines and flashing blue lights from all the welders. Mammoth looking machines lined the walkways where women used them to bend steel for the forks. The warehouse was dark and smelled like welding, and the air was thick and hazy.
We walked out the other end of the building and into another where they were assembling the bicycles in a ford-like fashion, each person responsible for one task. We wound our way to the back where young men were loading wheels into a pneumatic machine to lace the hubs and tighten the spoke ends. The building smelled offensively of rubber from the stacks of tires.
Mr. Wang took us into another building where the frame welds were being ground down in preparation for painting. The frames were then placed on hooks that carried them into the painting area like carcasses to be washed, primed, and then painted, all in a matter of a few minutes. On the other end women attached the decals to the frame tube and chain guard. The space was dark except for task lights near the workers. Walked out one of the doors and were in the parking lot.
Mr. Wang got his car, a very compact mini van. He ordered Ted to sit in the front, “big, big, very tall” in a thick accent. He took us to a restaurant for lunch. He ordered the food for us, which was an impressive spread. We made small talk, and also asked some more questions about the bikes. After we ate he drove the three of us to the train station. I gave him 800 RMB for the two sample bikes (a little over $100) and he hand wrote a cryptic note as a receipt. He dropped us off and we said our goodbyes. We waited in line after line, to buy the tickets, to enter the station, to enter the platform, and then once we got to Beijing the same thing, waiting in line to exit the platform, and to get a cab. But the trip was certainly worth it.
A few days later:
I’ve been gathering quotes for a 20’ container to be sent from Tianjin to Ann Arbor. It is looking like the deal will go down. So far it seems that the shipping charges are $4500 from China to my door in Ann Arbor. A container holds 143 bicycles, which are 75% assembled. Mr. Wang quoted me between $52-57 per bike depending on the options.