Having lived in China for some years now, I've discovered that going to the local park is one of the few places (apart from one’s home) where you can find slight peace. Each city has parks ranging from minuscule to expansive in size. In the early morning, the local parks are the ownership of senior citizens while the afternoon invites young children to burn off their remaining energy.
In a drastic difference to back home, you are unlikely to see middle to high teens hanging out at the local park, instead, they are kept inside preparing for the ever increasing number of examinations coming their way. By the time they venture outside again for university, they have no social ability, preferring to stay inside glued to computer games.
As a warning for those looking to visit a public park in China, I inform you that there aren’t rules in place (or at least they are not followed) for picking up dog poop. You’ll simply find it everywhere. You can’t spend a moment outside in fact without noticing dog poop. If you choose to sit on the ground, pay attention before you take a pew. As a further warning, you’ll notice it’s not only the dogs who are allowed to poop freely. Indeed, parents will more often than not allow their young children to poop outside too, despite being a stones throw from the public toilets. I tell you this for information, not to put you off.
With that in mind, I shall continue.
On the weekend, the public parks in China thrive. Today I went for a walk to my local park, and the experience encouraged me to write. Thus, here I present to you five reasons why you won’t forget visiting a park in China.
1. Parks are well facilitated. In most parks you can expect toilets, snack stands (dry snacks and water), illegal street food (these people are always avoiding the authorities), and a security hut should you have any questions. That said, I rarely see a guard doing more than reading the local newspaper or dozing the afternoon away. The same can be said for the security of my apartment complex.
2. Unusual themes. Parks in China tend to have a theme. The imagination is really the limit for this, regularly serving no bounds. Themes can include countries, flowers, fruits and vegetables, sports and movies. The park near my home gets its theme from Holland. The name of the park is ‘The Holland Park.’ True to name, then, it has a life-sized wind mill and many lakes to make one feel just like they are in Holland. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of those special cafes everyone visits Amsterdam for.
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3. Individual time. Many people—in particular elders—go to the park for a snippet of "me" time away from caring for their grandchildren. I wasn’t aware of how much elder Chinese people love flying kites. They come in all shapes and sizes but what is more eccentric is just how high the flyers fly. Another individual activity is calligraphy. Elders (again) come to the park with a large writing brush and a jug of water. They will write traditional phrases on the pavement which last for a few minutes before evaporating. Interestingly, I have never seen a woman doing this.
4. Parks are ideal for dancing. In the picture here you can see the seriousness of this woman’s concentration on her forthcoming steps. The music was, and I don’t exaggerate, extremely loud, as it blared from their portable speaker. This man and woman were the only dancers in this area of the park while I was visiting but this is a common sight in Chinese parks. My instinct tells me if I had waited around longer the two women in the background would have joined in with the elderly couple.
5. Pet stands. This one may come as a surprise. But you read correctly. You can indeed find pet stands in China’s parks. In actuality, you can find people selling animals on just about any street corner. The small pet stand in the park serves as a way of making money from the huge amount of children traffic passing through. You can buy goldfish, hamsters and rabbits. If you’re feeling more exotic, you can even buy small turtles. These animals really are for the pleasure of the children. There is little, if any, sense of treating animals with respect in China. Indeed, on many occasions I have experienced animals, big and small, being maltreated. Try to hurry past this part of the park to prevent emotions running wild.
If you visit China, you will undoubtedly set foot in a local park. The above five occurrences are those that have had a memorable impact on me. The local parks are so different from those at home, I often reminisce of playing on the swings. I feel somewhat sad for the children here who don’t get to take pleasure in those simple moments.
The fundamental importance of a park in China, though, is that it can give you a moment away from the constant hustle and bustle of the megacities here. Whenever I visit my local park, on leaving, I feel refreshed and ready to embrace once again the folly that is living in China.