In a moment Brett and I are going for a walk in the park behind Golden Lake Apartments–a posh name for a building where plush, rat-faced Pekinese are permitted to pee in the elevators at any time of the day or night. It’s not a bad apartment, though, in other respects. There’s a doorman who leaps up at my approach to unlock the glass doors to the elevator. We have a card that unlocks it, but Brett always has it. I’m pretty sure the doorman groans internally every time he sees me, although his lithe spring around the counter when greeted with my cheerful “Nihao!” doesn’t betray him.
The park is called “Tuanjiehu Park,” and we have a secret entrance. We slide the magic key card, open a door in a white wall screened by bamboo, and there before us is a lake, pine trees, and paddle boats shaped like swans. Chinese people are sitting on benches, walking at snail speed around the rock pathways. These pathways snake up over little tree-covered hills, and dip down suddenly–twisty, untidy, slipshod–much like the city itself.
Last time we went for a walk, we saw a man standing in front of a tree, rhythmically pounding his body against its trunk.
“I’m not sure if he’s exercising, or he has some sort of tree fetish,” Brett mused.
Although the latter might seem more likely to one unaware of Chinese approaches toward exercise, I think the man was in fact getting his morning workout.
What exactly are the health benefits of smacking one’s body repetetively against a tree trunk, you ask? Well, in China, lots of people believe that slapping a body part over and over improves circulation and decreases the risk of arthritis. In other words, it’s good for healthy. That’s why you’ll see couples out on walks in the evening (more like strolls, really–Chinese people are some of the slowest walkers in the world, and therefore I fit right in), and the woman will be slapping her forearm over and over again in the same spot. She’s not a self-masochist; she just keeping the blood flowing. She’ll switch to the other arm soon.
Another popular, low-impact form of exercising here is group dancing. Any morning of the week, or evening, if you walk past a public park, or a nice open length of sidewalk, you’ll find a group of Chinese woman of all ages engaged in a sort of slow-motion Taibo/line-dancing routine. We saw that on our first venture into our park, too, right after we passed the tree-humper. No, I take that back. We came upon the dancers after we passed a man doing slow-motion Tai Chi on a rocky ledge. His focus was commendable as he slowly circled and spun and twirled his arms in ancient rhythms. Right after him we encountered a fellow serenely playing the erhu. A caged bird hung from a tree beside him.
We passed the dancing ladies with their brightly colored fans, streamers, and Chinese pop songs emanating from a boom box on a nearby bench, and next came upon a ballroom dancing class. I told Brett we should join them. Maybe when we learn Chinese, we shall. So…not any time soon.
It’s a nice goal, though: ballroom dancing with the erdu player.