Monday, June 02, 2008

New Century Park

This little neighborhood park across the street from the hotel will always be my centerpoint in China. Not nearly so glamorous as The Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors of Xian or the stone Buddha of the western ranges, this was the first place I really dared to go out and walk among regular people, doing regular things.

I've not been here during the warmer months where the plants are in bloom and the people are going about their warm season activities. By and large, the latter do not seem to vary all that much, I still saw people walking backwards, rubbing trees, playing badminton and doing Tai Chi. Just more of it. Add to that one muscled westerner who was a spitting image of Mr. Clean powerwalking in his skin tight black shorts with a tucked in skin tight white tee and you have the complete picture. While not much had changed, the park took on a warm weather feel I had not previously encountered.

I was even lucky enough to see the illusive Coronet Man, the fellow who practices his horn in the parking lot next to my hotel each morning before the work day begins. I've tried on many occasions to get a picture, but he is wary and not easy to capture on film.

It was warm and getting sticky when I made it across Ya'an Road and down the walk to the entrance. Scooters bearing early morning commuters were already presenting a barrier to getting across the boulevard. It being summer, the Philodendrons under the raised road were growing into man-eating stage. I remember them from every dentist's office I'd visited, but none of those were as huge as these.


I was rambling on last night about the Oleanders and decided to include a shot of these since they were all over the park and as you can see they are large and successful in this climate. I don't know much about them, having only seen them in the desert. It must be the heat they favor, because this climate is as far from the desert as one can get. That fact was being driven home by the patina that was forming wherever the bare skin of my arms contacted the waterproof liner of my shell. It was not all that hot, but a little bit of exertion goes a long way in this humidity.

I took this picture of these coin operated rides because they reminded me of those that used to be out in front of the grocery stores of my youth (hmm, that might be an interesting title for a future blog). Except, I suspect these animals are just a bit off center for the tastes of 1960s American children. You'll notice the beer coolers in the background, something you will never find in an American park.

The lanes in the park form a couple of circles, each inside of the other. Connecting these are little stone paved paths that wind in and out of the bamboo and bushes. The people doing their morning exercises are found in the little nooks and glens along these paths, and it's not uncommon to come across someone standing on a little patch of grass yelling at the plants. People yelling in secluded parts of parks is not something we find interesting in the West. It usually means they're in trouble and those yells almost always precipitate the police. The first time it happened to me, I was not sure whether I had scared or offended the woman doing it, but judging from her complete disregard for my presence, it was obvious I was not a threat.

Moving along behind a slow moving couple who finally walked off the path in a little opening. The woman joined another woman, already present, in manhandling two large trees. A funny exercise option, it looked like they were doing a search for concealed weapons. The original woman was running her hands up and down while the new woman was doing more of a patting thing. The man went off to the left and began doing some sort of wild Tai Chi which was more of a flail than than the precise rendition you normally see. I walked on.

Down the path and around the bend I came across this man, singing in a soft, clear voice from the book he held. Not sure if these were traditional Chinese songs or hymns or what, but it was very pleasant and peaceful to listen to, and quite a contrast to the traffic noise and the yelling exercisers off in the distance.

I sat and listened for a bit before moving on, at this point, I was getting hungry and wanting to get to the Penthouse before the hordes of western businessmen took the place over.

The last half of the park is my favorite - bird singing corner. I've written about this in the past and posted a few pictures of the caged songbirds competing for the attention of distant females. This was where I met The Man in Black, who allowed me to photograph him with his prized singer. This time of year the area is far more crowded with many dozens of cages and their owners, but I hoped to see if he was there. And he was, sitting amidst the other men gossiping and reading the paper and discussing the mighty events of the world. Like his avian charge, he too had changed plumage for the season, now clad from head to toe in white. A silk jacket, trousers and a cowboy hat, all in the shade of snow. I was not able to get his eye, and I'm not sure he would even remember me because in the last season I saw him, I was the Foreigner in Orange, reflecting my colder season soft shell. Today I was in green, tomorrow I'll see if I can catch his attention.

Leaving now I came upon a little piece of home, one of those things that reminds you that while you're in the moment in a foreign place, your regular life is always just a plane ride away. Walking away from the chorus of the birds, I passed a small restaurant that backs up into the park. Behind a screen of Oleander, two dogs were mindlessly barking at who knows what. Just a little reminder of my mornings back in the world.

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