Parks and Recreation
Spring has arrived and it's showing its colors all over China!
Traveling around Shanghai a couple weekends ago opened my eyes to the Chinese love of nature, and more specificallly, of parks. Shanghai is a city that is renowned for its skyscrapers, nightlife, and modern architectural designs, but it should also be known for the shear amount of beautifully landscaped recreational parks. I was happy to see that in a city that is the symbol of the current China’s modernization, there was detail put into the city that would bring nature back into the concrete jungle. The plum blossoms that are just beginning to bloom and the flourishing white and pink magnolia trees were bearers of instant joy and happiness, also a reminder that spring has finally arrived.
What I really enjoyed about the parks in Shanghai was the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, from newborns to teenagers to elderly grandparents, were gathered together, enjoying the services that the parks were providing. It seemed that these parks were always in use, no matter the time, and were always the center for multiple activities. In one corner of the park, grandmas and grandpas were singing at the top of their lungs, a song probably from their teenage years, and around them were many singing along; in another corner there would be families flying kites; another corner there would be old men debating the latest hot topics of China.
For most of the parks that I visited in Shanghai, about three or four in total, there was always a little section of people dancing. The dancing that I saw included salsa and some sort of slow motion glide dancing. For the salsa, there were young and old couples, and for those who weren’t a couple, mostly ladies, they just danced with the others who didn’t have a partner. The slow motion dancing was by far the sweetest and most endearing dancing I saw. In the background played old Chinese pop music that was slow and melodic, and these older adults and senior citizens would just be taking their time, feeling the music, and as if gliding, “dancing” to the music. There was one man in particular that stole the show for me - he would shimmy his shoulders to the music, and though his body was moving slowly, his shoulders and upper body were quick timing with the song. It was so fun to just watch these people dance and move to their hearts’ content.
From what I remember of the States, or I should say, of California, parks aren’t nearly as popular as they seem to be in China. On any given day, one can go to a local park and find communities of people enjoying the great outdoors. It’s as if parks are a second home for some. I talked to my friend’s mother who lives in Hunan province but visiting her family in Shanghai, and she told me how she goes to the park everyday, to meet up with her park friends, do exercises, dance, and be outside. From the way she was talking, it seemed like it was the way she loved to start her day. In sunny California, it seems a day at the park is a planned activity – a picnic, a concert, or whatever reason. The joys of exploring and going to a park don’t seem to be ingrained in the culture as it seems to be in China.
What was also lovely about my park hopping, was seeing the community engaging with each other, getting together with neighbors, meeting new friends, bonding with family, taking pictures of flowers, and being awe-struck by the natural beauty that surrounds them. Parks, I feel, in their essence, are supposed to do just that – provide a space that is open to all. They have a way of providing a joy, a freedom, that is hard to find elsewhere - especially when traffic and city life are everywhere – and a reminder to live a simpler, more community-oriented life.