I had what I thought was a brilliant idea of adding Pīnyīn (Latin alphabet version of Chinese characters) to some of my blog posts’ titles to help me learn and practice my Mandarin. When I told my boyfriend this idea, however, he scoffed at me and said that if I would only do just that, then it will take me forever to learn. Well, in some ways, he is right. Yet, I still think it’s better to make an effort, although small, rather than not at all.
That being said, let me proceed to the main subject of this post, which is the issue of public spaces. In the Philippines, or at least in Metro Manila, it is not common for people to go to parks or plazas for recreation. I think that is mainly because there is a lack of adequately safe and interesting parks in the Metro. Because of this, Filipinos prefer to go to shopping malls where it is much more secure and more forms of entertainment are available.
Such is not the case in Guangzhou. Here, there are many places where people can gather or find some quiet spot to reflect. Each district in the city has a park or two and these parks are not just a few square meters in size. Some are massive, like Yuexiu Park where you can find the iconic Five Ram Statue, and will take you at least half a day to explore its entirety. The parks are well planned, often with walking trails, private nooks with benches or pagodas, bamboo – lined pathways, lakes and ponds, statues and fountains, and grassy patches lined with flowers. You will even find wide assembly areas where people often gather for public performances, dancing or tai chi.
Believe me, in parks here, you will often see a lot of people, young and old, dancing unabashedly or singing in front of an audience. One time, while I was in Tianhe Park, I witnessed at least 4 different groups of people just 1 to 2 meters away from each other. Each group was dancing to their own music blasting from speakers. Just imagine hearing traditional Chinese music, K-Pop, ballroom, and classical music played at maximum volume all at once. Your ears will definitely struggle not to burst from the cacophony.
Parks are also often used as a venue for exercising. Aside from joggers and cyclists, a common scene is old men and women walking backwards, as if they’re doing the moon walk. I’m not quite sure how walking backwards is better than walking normally fitness-wise, so if you know the reason, can you enlighten me?
Another thing I observed during the summer was a lot of men at the park walking around with their shirts raised and tucked around their midriff, as if they were wearing cropped tops. I saw this so often even in the metro, that my friends and I started to jokingly refer to this as Chinese men’s fashion. When I asked about this, someone told me that in China, big bellies represent a prosperous and wealthy life. That’s why men here proudly bare their bellies for the world to see!
Despite the popularity of parks among the locals, there remains to be plenty of space in most of them for quiet, solitary reflection. If you’re not too lazy to explore, you will surely find a private corner where you can ponder upon the deeper meaning of life and find your zen.
My boyfriend, who enjoys his solitude, told me about how he once found a peaceful seat in a pagoda in Tianhe Park enclosed by a bamboo grove. Across him was an old man who played the violin. Everyday at lunch, he went to the same place and the man would also be there playing tune after soulful tune. He sat there quietly, listening to the man’s music accompanied by the soft rustle of leaves as the breeze brushed past them. They never talked or looked at each other. They just took delight in the communal peace they shared.
If you happen to be at a park near the Pearl River, then you’re in for a treat! Be sure to be by the riverside at sunset and witness the glorious moment when the sun slowly makes its descent, bursting with radiant hues before it plunges the world into darkness. Then, if you stay long enough, you will see Guangzhou come alive as lights from signs and buildings begin to the dot the horizon. Trust me, this is the perfect time for an intimate walk involving some heartfelt conversations. :)
There’s a quote that says, “Life is not a walk in a park.” In China, however, walking in the park offers an interesting slice of life.