The niggling possibility of getting hacked to death by axe wielding terrorists has, for some strange reason deterred some tourists from coming to Xinjiang, so the streets of the region’s capital Urumqi were hardly awash with foreign faces. Locals are obviously made of stern enough stuff to not let such a trifling matter interfere with their daily routine and for many this means going to the park. In Urumqi the security concerns for patrons of the People’s Park were subtly addressed by the use of a perimeter wall and airport style security with machine gun-toting soldiers and armoured cars on street corners. And so life within the park remains untroubled by the world outside.
Parks in British cities at the start of the day may be more of a proving ground for super strength lagers or home to lonely dog walkers more in search of love than exercise for the dog but in China they are a town planner’s dream of an ideal world, where a throng of enthusiastic citizens communally participate in a range of civilised past times designed to improve their well-being. Scant chance of encountering popular UK sports such as collapsing unconscious in your own vomit or hurling stones at squirrels.
Most popular is group dancing, often characterised by the Chinese version of line dancing, which can be immediately recognised for its superior quality by the inherent lack of country and western. For the more sophisticated, Chinese ball room dancing is another popular style, although it should be noted that whilst I am an avid fan of dancing, I am a firm believer that it is something best practiced under states of extreme intoxication, guided only by the mantra, dance like no one’s watching. Hence my understanding of the subject’s technical terminology may be slightly limited. Fans of this invigorating start to the day tend more to the female and mature, which means that if only I had a modicum of aptitude for natural movement I would undoubtedly be hot property on the park scene. Undeterred by the sexual imbalance, women happily take each other as partners, at least as far as the dancing goes.
Musical accompaniment is not always limited to a simple amplifier and speakers, on occasion musicians or even a small traditional orchestra may be on hand, where a crowd clutching song sheets merrily belt out the classics of yesteryear. I suspect that my own personal preference for the thump of acid techno, through a 10K PA at 8 in the morning may take a little while to gain in popularity.
Physical activity is most certainly not limited to dancing, as parks everywhere are equipped with a range of exercise machines. Having proudly got to the age of fifty, defiantly having never seen the inside of a gym I have absolutely no idea if these devices differ in any way from those at home. Without fail, the local grannies will be straddling these contraptions with a vigour and suppleness rarely seen in their British counterparts, instead fuelled by gin and tonic and discount chocolate bars.
No park is complete without a pond and People’s Park in Urumqi boasts two, teeming with elegant schools of carp, delightfully counterpointed by dozens of men with fishing rods around the edge, enjoying a day of licensed poaching.
A pension is not however the only requirement for using the parks, as you will see young couples whose lips may touch for a moment not under the gaze of the family; parents and kids picnicking on the lawns and teenagers on skateboards practicing their ollies, dreaming of the day they finally make that nolly flip crooked grind ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lc3tvFLc8o0 – for those of you unfamiliar with the sport).
It is people who make parks what they are and even if they were just rubble strewn stretches of wasteland, rather than the well-appointed, arboreal treasures that they tend to be, I don’t doubt that they would still be busy with Chinese dancing away their cares.