China First Hand

15 February 2006


Filed under: Culture — china1sthand @ 11:14 pm

park002.jpgWhat’s great about China is that loads of things are done outside. There’s none of this in the privacy of your own home nonsense that is a particularly English attitude. The Chinese are at the other extreme: Food is often eaten out, going for walks is a popular pastime and for some, most social gatherings happen in public areas.

river2.jpgToday I went for a walk by the river. As far as I have walked, the river is framed by a decorative path and wall along each side (see picture left). Banks then rise up to the world above, with occasional steep steps. This results in a closed-off, peaceful atmosphere, seemingly distant from the bustling roads. There is a hidden world here – down by the riverside.

When the water was frozen, perching001.jpgfamilies played on the ice and men fished under bridges (where ice is thin or melted). In hot weather, some people went swimming in the river, even though the water is dirty. As the weather warmed, more people went for walks along the river. I see such a variety of people here. On one walk I passed a couple of uniformed girls looking purposeful; some young lads having a laugh; two middle-aged ladies enjoying a relaxing chat; and a group of middle-aged men pulling things from the river! I overheard a child reciting English sentences on one wander. You often see men perching on walls killing time (see picture).

It is more usual for people to visit a park. A pastime that China is particularly famous for is kite flying. (Quite a skill to it, apparently.) Often, people congregate on park seating to chat or play games (see picture, top). The classic Chinese seats are stone barrel shapes; with the table another barrel and a round stone slab on top. If it’s really fancy, it may even have a chessboard or ‘go’ board on the top! Naturally, there was one of these in our park just outside. 😉 Typical park design will have water, stone, and trees– all landscaped according to the rules of Feng Shui.

Playground equipment gets a lot of use. …Kids play on them too!

I took a double take when I passed a children’s playground, only to see an alone old lady… gaily bouncing up and down on an animal-shaped seat on a spring!! As these sights became more normal – I realised that this equipment was probably designed as much for the elderly as for children. The apparatus in a Chinese playground include a swing for each foot, that you use like you’re walking in skis. Then there’s a board that goes round, but only one person can stand on it and they push themselves round using the frame surround. No, these aren’t designed by idiots! Elderly people use this equipment to stretch and do light exercise. It’s something else that we should do, as it makes perfect sense! It’s all swings and roundabouts. Due to the aging population of China, there are many elderly people and they like to take care of themselves. It is not uncommon to see an 80-year-old with leg on a wall and head near their knee! Now I am pretty flexible – but the average old person in China is probably more elastic than me!

Another exercise common in Chinese parks is T’ai Chi. This most often happens tai-chi001.jpgfirst thing in the morning, and you walk through the park to see people dotted around (see picture), maniacally flailing their arms, shouting like they’ve got Tourettes, and tapping their bodies! No – these people aren’t crazy. But I do love that such an idea would never even enter the minds of the Chinese. Don’t laugh – because then you realise that you too can do whatever you like. 🙂 Go crazy! The people don’t judge you in China.



  1. […] I’ve had a chance to explore my local area this week. Beijing currently has 6 ring roads (though the first one is fiction) and we are between the third and fourth. Walking west from my home you can see the hills on the outskirts of the city. Five minutes walk east is the river that goes to the Summer Palace. South is the shopping centre, with major bus stops behind. North is a beautiful park. […]

    Pingback by Walkabout « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  2. […] Haidian district is in North-West Beijing and is literally cluster upon cluster of new tower blocks. These are various complexes of identical buildings, each with their own security and usually some kind of park within the compound. My friend’s parents own two apartments in one tower block, and one is practically unused. I walk in and notice the shining wood floor, the huge size of the room and a big bay window. Everything we need has been provided, and they will cook for us so a kitchen is unnecessary! I am living in a rent-free two-bed apartment with a friend that I’ve already lived with for 3 years. I think I’ll be comfortable here. […]

    Pingback by Scene Change « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

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