It’s early in the morning and already the park next to my apartment is filled with old folks practicing Tai Chi and stretching. There are tens of them, all moving in time with each other, as I am making my short commute to the area where I take Chinese classes.
Around lunchtime I go to sit and work at my favorite coffee shop, and through the window there’s another larger park and the people in it are now dancing. The songs they dance to range from old Chinese folk songs to upbeat western pop music. I once saw a group of old folks dancing to a remix of Fergie’s ‘My Humps’. They know all the moves to all the songs. There are also young children playing on bikes, scooters or with jump ropes. Some people are playing Chinese Hacky-Sack, including workers on their lunch break, even a woman wearing a tight skirt and high heels.
Later, after work when it’s already dark, I go to sit in the park by my apartment. People are still dancing, but the mood has changed and now they are in pairs, waltzing or swinging or tangoing to the music. Some of them are quite good and some of them not at all, but no one is bothered to care- they are just enjoying themselves. I walk to the far side of the park where a woman is singing sweetly in Chinese, accompanied by a man playing a classical Chinese instrument. This is my favorite time of the day.
To me, parks are the heartbeat of Beijing life, and park culture is my favorite thing about China. By going to parks and watching the people there you can see the values of the Chinese people- community, family and harmony with one another. These people will welcome you if want to join them (and have the courage to dance), but if you prefer, simply take a Chinese textbook to the park and begin studying and in no time you will meet many people excited to share their language and culture with you.
This is the China that I’ve fallen in love with.