China’s public parks are something the government at home might do well to emulate. I enjoy the free theatre and interesting, quirky things I see whenever I visit one. The Chinese are justly proud of their public spaces which are meticulously cleaned by armies of workers through out the day. They are usually formally laid out and one is only allowed to walk on the paved paths. Walking on the grass is not permitted! They are oases in the tower block jungle.
The parks are full of people from early morning, ( I sometimes run at 6.30) until they close at about 9.30 at night. People of all ages start the day by exercising in various ways. Some like a gentle jog or to walk backwards, hitting their arms to get the circulation going or rubbing their stomachs. Others stride along, shouting out every now and again to clear the vocal passages – I get quite a fright when someone decides to give a blood curdling yell just as I’m running past them. There are outside gyms with equipment that looks like it was designed for a children’s playground but it’s for adults and a lot cheaper than David Lloyds! Then of course there are the ever popular ping pong and badminton games. I wouldn’t dare to take anyone on at either of these as they all seem to be semi professional whatever the age.
As the day progresses, groups of people gather for Tai Chi led by practitioners of various schools. They are mainly older people dressed in colourful Chinese costumes. They follow the master who has recorded music playing for all to hear. Some judo experts, dressed in black, practise alone or in groups, displaying fearsome combat moves. Women can be seen dancing with fans or scarves while the younger dancers learn ballroom, tango or jive. Old age pensioners have regular keep fit classes and seem to thoroughly enjoy them. What a good idea for Britain’s army of house-bound and isolated elderly. Everyone has their space. Some need lots of it too, such as the whip- crackers – just like in the circus – or those doing kick ups with weighted, feathered shuttle cocks.
On Saturdays, in the park near my flat, old men go for a gossip but they bring their caged birds with them. Evidently both species need space to communicate with one another. Musicians also use the park to practise their instruments and at night, whole choirs sing old revolutionary songs.
The freezing winter weather does not deter the hardy Chinese from using their parks from early til late. The only thing that’s changed is that the plants, shrubs and smaller trees have been wrapped up in plastic to save them from the frost and I haven’t been so keen to get out for those early morning jogs!