Living With the Locals In China

Today’s Post by Ken MacAdams

It was an Indian summer day; warm, sunny, and no excuses to be inside! The locals thought so also…

What better way to rub shoulders with the locals, than to go where the locals go? Fengqing Park is a mile walk from our apartment, a nice leisurely stroll on a gorgeous day! Approaching the park entrance, we could hear music wafting gently through the thick vegetation the makes a natural wall around the park. It sounded like something worth investigating!

Following our ears, we came to a little tree-shaded pavilion where 20 or so people were performing Tai Chi moves in syncopation with music. Some of the dancers were dressed in finely decorated costume, while others were in street clothes. A boom box provided the music, which sounded like Classical, with an Oriental twist. China is a large, multicultural nation, and this costume dress was likely from a faraway province. On our walks, whether in the morning or evening, we’ve passed numerous places where we’d spot people of all ages, gracefully going through their dance moves. Each group seems to have their own soundtrack they exercise to. The dancers seem quite amused that foreigners stop to watch and listen, let alone photograph them!

Back in the ’50’s, when Xi’an outgrew the old city walls, the planners managed to parcel out parkland. Fengqing Park has miles of winding trails, some along the lake, some deep within the bamboo growth. Rose bushes sporadically raise their delicate blooms heavenward. On the trails we see power-walkers, geriatrics slowly walking, hands clasped behind their backs, in imitation of past leader Mao Zedong, and grandparents pushing grandbabies along in strollers.

Continuing on along a tree-lined pathway, we came upon a recreation area. All the ping-pong tables were in use, and grandparents were clustered around the slides, keeping watch over their little grandbabies, while older children were climbing on the Jungle Jim. Beyond the ping-pong tables was a cluster of outdoor exercise machines where numerous men and women were stretching or performing a routine. Few in the generation over 50 years old know English beyond “Hello!,” but they’ll crack into a big grin when I point my lens at their grandbabies! Priceless!

A big cultural difference surfaces here: Women who in the past worked for the Party, or another job, have a pension, and retire at 55; the men at 60. Their second career is childcare! This was the “one child rule” society until recently but when their child married and had a child, the grandparents now become the child care system. In the Mao days, both parents were expected to work, and today, while the regime has changed, both young parents usually work, and that’s where the grandparents come in. Quite different from our Western way of life!

Waving goodbye to the adults and kiddos, we walked on down to the lake. Across the water, a graceful, white arched bridge connected to an island. Crossing a bridge to another island, we came face to face with a stately pagoda on a nearby split of land. The pagoda was overshadowed by nearby skyscrapers, with the reflection on the water like an etching on glass. In my mind, it was a juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern. Standing there hand in hand, Mary said, “It’s so quiet and peaceful”! Now we know why the locals come here…