Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saturday in the Park*

Most Saturday mornings, it’s hard to get the boys going. After a week of getting up and listening to us hassle them to get out the door, they’re not ready to do anything more than lay around. Typically, that means that we don’t head leave to explore until after lunch at which point we traipse them all over the city exploring this and that. But this past weekend, we gave them a special treat and told them we won’t be going any farther that afternoon than the block it took us to get to the north gate of Zhongshan Park, the park just south of our apartment complex. While there are other, more famous parks in Shanghai, Zhongshan Park surely must be one of the busiest; it truly is the place where locals go to hang out.

Doug and I enjoyed checking out everything that was going on in the park, and let me tell you – there was a lot to check out. In addition to the seniors doing tai chi, there were people playing vigorous badminton,

reading the newspaper that’s placed behind glass-fronted display cases every day,

and singing and dancing.

Usually, the dancing groups are couples who are cutting the rug to the tune of modern Chinese or Western style music, but on Saturday, we got to enjoy a group of 20 or so women dancing in time to the drums they were beating, led by a man with cymbals. Highly entertaining.

The singing and dancing are particularly enjoyable to me. Pretty much every afternoon, if it’s not raining, there are large groups of people either dancingor singing in the park and large groups of people clustered around people engaging in said activities, regardless of whether they’re good at it or not. Some of the more enterprising singers even bring little plastic stools for their audience to sit on while enjoying the show.  It seems to me that the Chinese are like moths to a flame when it comes to microphones; even in markets, you’ll see huge groups of people watching someone selling some lame thing, but because s/he has a microphone to sell it, they can’t help but stop.

In addition to the large groups singing and dancing, there are also large groups standing around talking (about what I don’t know, but I’d love to find out) and large groups standing around checking on the various merchandise for sale (mostly cheapo kids toys) although the guy below clearly wasn't selling anything good as there aren't many people around.

Note the theme here: large groups of people.  I suppose that's inevitable in a city with over 23 million residents in a country with well over a billion people.

Kite flying is also a favorite past-time, with old men being the primary fliers; my Fulbright colleague Jeanne (who joined us on our outing; she’s here doing research. She also has a 7 year old daughter and is fluent in Chinese) pointed out to us that the large group of people on the lawn around the kite fliers were standing right behind a sign asking people not to stand on the lawn.

I came back later in the week to find a man with a whistle trying valiantly to hold back the tide to just one side of the grass. Surprisingly, he was somewhat successful.

For the boys, the highlights of the park were two-fold: the small amusement park with rides and the little pond that has bumper and small motor boats. With a little help from Jeanne, we were able to figure out the ticket system, so the boys enjoyed a spin on the spinny swings, the Pirate Ship (just Quin on that as Berkley’s not tall enough) and the bumper cars. I was slightly nervous about letting them on some random looking amusement rides in China, where concern for safety is not a number one priority, but all’s well that ends well I suppose.

The boys loved the bumper boats; $5 scored them 15 minutes of parent free cruising.

The only damper on the outing was the fact that Quin’s bumper boat got pinned under the spray that emerges periodically, soaking the seat of his pants and of his bumper boat, forcing him to come in a bit early.

All in all though, it was a lovely afternoon topped off by an evening out with our friend Sean from Dartmouth, who was here on business. So while we enjoy our exploration and travel (so much so that we’re off to Xi’an this weekend to see the Terra Cotta warriors), sometimes the best times are when you just stick close to home.

* Every time I think we spent Saturday in the park, I can't help but sing the old Chicago song - it definitely wasn't the 4th of July though.


  1. A great time--love the microphone thing. Colleagues and students do not understand why I don't use the classroom mics, instead strolling up and down the aisles (student sit toward the back) as I lecture, Ramblin' Jack Elliott style (yeah, that reference is lost on Chinese students too).

  2. Badminton -- a sport for all ages...gotta love it!