Sometimes you run into people who are a true inspiration. They may not win medals or public acclaim, but they are determined, cheerful and unpretentious, and generally make the world a better place.
But I’m getting ahead of the story. Let me back up.
People were surprised when we ordered a bicycle online, finding such a large item an odd thing to have delivered -- only partially assembled -- in a box.
The convenience factor was definitely an attraction, and, as I wrote recently, we were satisfied with the quality of our new Chinese-made bike.
Still, I felt a tinge of guilt about buying from a disembodied entity on a screen, especially after reading that China's bike-sharing boom is putting even more pressure on some bicycle shops.
Bike shops and mechanics play an important role in the cycling ecosystem. We depend on them, and enjoy being around like-minded souls.
About a year ago, we started patronizing a bicycle mechanic who had a business in a closet-sized space.
He had pluck and did good work – he was a little bit of a mechanical wizard, unafraid of rebuilding and modifying things when necessary. He was always smiling and happy to see us. But not too long ago, his budding business disappeared.
We'd been getting by, going to several places, when a few weeks ago, my wife Delores passed by a small storefront with a new red sign, and bicycles and accessories on display.
I’ll let her pick up the story: “I looked into the shop, and in the doorway stood our guy! I'm not sure which one of us grinned bigger when we saw each other. Despite the language barrier, I managed to make him understand that I had been shocked and sad when I went to his shop and he was gone.
"He made me understand that the English name he uses is Wally. I am so thrilled we found him again. The whole time I was there, people came by for little things, a squirt of oil or minor adjustments. He'd stop and help them.
It was really funny -- I could tell from looks and tone and good-natured laughter that he was telling everybody about the funny foreigner lady who was so happy to see him again."
Wally’s new storefront is still small, but larger than his previous space. He now carries a modest inventory of road and racing bikes, and takes bankcard payments.
Wally runs the kind of shop that is the heart of a community. Little old ladies ride up to get air for their ancient bicycles and Wally fills their tires for free, with a smile.
He's open nearly all the time and works hard. He's obviously very proud of his little shop. He's a man with a dream whose ethics seem solidly intact. He's the kind of person who inspires loyalty.
You might call Wally an everyday hero.
I feel certain that he will be one of the enduring memories I have of China, no matter how long I live here.
Matt Prichard is a copy editor and writer who works on the front page team of China Daily. He has lived in China for more than four years, in Shanghai and Beijing. Before that, he had a 30-year career as a reporter and editor in the United States and Latin America. He has an ABJ from the University of Georgia and did postgraduate work at the Universidad Nacional del Sur in Argentina. He speaks Spanish fluently and is still learning Mandarin.