|Scene in Tuanjiehu Park, Beijing|
The men selling pancakes at a stall inside the local supermarket are extremely amused by my presence, and yell out "Ni hao, ni hao, ni hao!" whenever I walk past. I am really enjoying my interactions with my neighbours in the local area - the elderly ladies bringing home bags bulging with vegetables and eggs, and the old men walking small dogs - so many dogs! The streets and lanes are filled with the sound of children playing - so many children!
|Children in Tuanjiehu Park|
Tuanjiehu Park, further down my street, is action packed. I followed the sounds of drums and brass band instruments to find a large group of mostly elderly people singing the revolutionary songs of their youth with huge gusto, led by a woman in a vivid green jacket who alternated playing the drums with exhorting ever more dramatic singing. Later, over the bridge and past the willow trees, the pavilions around the lake were punctuated with groups of people playing traditional instruments - I am assuming the erhu, but really, what would I know? - and singing traditional songs. Such strange cadences and unfamiliar sounds. Unselfconscious dancers, people doing tai chi with swords, fans and various forms of exercise. One woman with a long grey plait walked the length of a path beside the lake kicking her legs over her head in an alarmingly painful looking fashion. Others danced together and separately. Water calligraphers were utterly absorbed in their task. And through all of this, families with tiny children made their way to carnival rides, play equipment and swan boats on the lake. I watched for a long time, occasionally stopping to ask people if they minded me taking their photograph. This request was invariably met with a big smile and an even more dramatic pose.
This whole panorama of leisure brought a chapter in my Chinese textbook, in which a bizarre pair of men called Mr Wang and Mr Zhou discuss their 'shenti', or well-being, and their exercises in the park, to life in a much more entertaining fashion.
The day ends with the cries of children playing outside dwindling at about 9 o'clock, and the street gradually becomes quiet. Never completely quiet, though. In a city of over 20 million people the presence of others is always a tangible reality.