Why do you must visit a Chinese park?
Why do you must visit a Chinese park?
Many experienced travelers to China include in their programs the visit a neighborhood market thinking that the essence of the culture of the people is concentrated there. And they have their point, but not only in the market you can meet local people. I tell you, the visit to the market should be complemented with that of a park, a big one if possible, because it will provide an indispensable complement for the knowledge of this country. Many of the most important parks in the cities have emerged around historical monuments, either because they were part of them, or as modern protection, so they will have a good number of pavilions, gates, kiosks and other traditional constructions, and if it has a certain size, one or two lakes or ponds inside.
Some parks have centennial trees, and the number and variety of wild animals that populate them is increasing. They are usually well cared for, and are adorned with flowerbeds of various colors, which alternate according to the seasons but usually create surprisingly beautiful sets around May 1st and October 1st, the main national holidays. The activities that take place in a park change throughout the day, as well as the protagonists of the same, providing the external observer at each moment different facets of the local society and culture.
“Park” is written 公园 in Chinese, that is Public 公 Garden 园.
Taiji and the park in the morning
Early in the morning, people who perform taiji and other exercises meet. Although if you ask a guide he will tell you that they are practicing taiji, in fact they are engaged in a good number of gymnastic exercises and social activities. Those who practice taiji sometimes do so under the banner of a master, take it seriously and wear a comfortable dress in some way related to Chinese tradition. Others, more solitary, may be performing breathing exercises related to qigong, which even related to taiji, is different, or (in some parks in Beijing it is quite common) absorbing the energy of some old tree.
Another important group are those who practice dances, which have numerous followers. Many of them start dancing early in the morning, although there are others who do it in the afternoon, before or after dinner. Sometimes they follow some teacher, who is in charge of bringing the music. Others meet more or less spontaneously, fans of a particular style, and dance to the music that they bring. On the weekends it is normal to see groups of immigrants from other provinces who gather to dance with their countrymen, which in areas where there are many immigrants from minority areas is very striking, with colorful men and women dressed and moving to the sound of music.
Usually these activities end before 8 a.m., or maybe even earlier, since many people arrive at the park early, and do their exercises for half an hour or an hour, before starting their daily chores. Some do jogging, but it is not very common. It is easier to find people playing badminton in places sheltered from the wind.
The tranquility of the day
Then the park is populated by its favorite inhabitants during the day: babies accompanied by mothers or grandmothers, old people who take advantage of the opportunity to walk slowly resting on the benches, lonely readers who enjoy the tranquility, etc. Some are dedicated to writing Chinese characters with water, which as soon as they are written begin to disappear. Others play badminton, kick the pen or other games. There are groups that take advantage of any bench to entertain themselves with endless games of cards. And some must be considered great masters by local followers, as their games are watched by a small crowd.
Musicians are other typical inhabitants of Chinese parks. Sometimes they are solitary individuals, who with their flute, violin or erhu, rehearse their melodies in a quiet corner of the park. This bucolic image will be modified by the spectator when he pays more attention. Their instrument is connected to a loudspeaker. This means that if there is another musician nearby, which is natural because parks with their tranquility are the place where fans concentrate, the music of one is mixed with that of another, and with that of the group of dancers, and in the end only a tremendous roar is heard. It must be impossible to convince them to leave the loudspeakers, and in the end, they are either relegated to some areas of the parks, or directly continue with their musical activities outside the parks.
The dances at sunset
At sunset the park takes on Chinese characteristics again, and the practitioners of taiji, breathing exercises, dances, and other rituals, take over their territory again, usually already eaten, to say goodbye to the day in a healthy way.
At night, it has become a custom for some years, in Beijing and other cities, the presence of improvised orchestras. The neighbors, mostly women, meet in any convenient place, better a park but it can be a corner with wide sidewalks, and they can be playing the drum, the cymbals, and singing tremendously repetitive traditional songs for an hour or more time. In fact, although their rhythm is not too out of sync, it is very nice to see them singing for a while, but if you have the misfortune of having them every day at the window of your house or office, it is a little torture.
But good these are the small tensions that arise in every society, the joy of some sometimes causes discomfort to others.
Some of my favorite parks.
Beijing: This city is a paradise of parks, it has so many and so big. Because of the variety and environments and activities, I like the one at the Temple of the Earth. 地坛公园.
Xian: I think that after the last renovations the linear park of the wall is the most beautiful and recommended. Clean, always with people and under the imposing walls.
Hangzhou: The banks of the West Lake 西湖 are a continuous park, those of its eastern part, closer to the city, boil with activity in the morning.
Kunming. The Cuihu Lake 翠湖公园, in the center of the city, is the most animated, and generally has numerous emigrants from the nearby districts, dancing in their typical costumes.
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