Having grown up in a rural American village of 3,000 people I always knew the world as a park. The park was where I went to play Little League baseball. (I was a catcher because they got to wear the cool equipment. Never any good, of course.)
I first learned the value of public parks when I moved to Beijing, a city of 22 million people. China, in total, has 119 national parks and Beijing itself has dozens more. And Beijingers, for their part, make very good use of them.
Feng shui, of course, puts a lot of emphasis on trees and plants and water and while that may not directly explain the generous resources devoted to parks in China, the general thinking is in there somewhere. The Chinese love plants and flowers in a very fundamental way.
The city planners in Beijing also love to plant trees, both to help with air quality and add visual beauty to the city, but because the city sits on the eastern edge of the Gobi desert that has, in the past, been the source of sand storms which literally turn the air orange. (It is fairly infrequent today.)
The devotion to family also contributes to the utilization of public parks. In a city with the density of Beijing there is no such thing as the ubiquitous American barbeque on the patio or deck. There aren’t any patios or decks.
The parks in Beijing are not the place where the loners go. They’re filled with families and one of the things I enjoy most about them is the number of three generational families you see. My parents are both deceased and my own children live in the U.S. so it gives me a certain sense of connection being among so many extended families.
To really use a park, however, you have to know how to relax and Americans, in general, aren’t very good at that. If we’re not working we’re on the rowing machine or working in the workshop or mowing the lawn. The Chinese, however, as much as they are focused on their health, don’t have rowing machines or workshops or lawns.
Americans are universally thought of as ‘up tight’ and, in general, we are. I believe it’s because we’re too damn deductive. We need to explain everything or our universe becomes unsettled. Cause and effect. Cause and effect. (When I have corporate visitors from the US they inevitably ask me why the bottoms of the trees are painted white. I can guarantee that few Chinese have even noticed the fact but the reason is insects, in case you’re wondering.)
The Chinese are not up tight at all, except when it comes to money. They’re inductive in their worldview. They could care less why the bottoms of the trees are painted white unless there’s a business opportunity in it. They are white because someone painted them white. That’s all the Chinese need to know.
I think there is a lot to be said for the Chinese worldview. As hard as the Chinese work, and as frenetically as they work when they do, they also know how to throttle down. It’s like they have a switch that they can flick at a moment’s notice. I envy them that.
As an American ex-patriate working in China I have a lot of conference calls at night. And when I’m done I simply cannot just brush my teeth and go to bed. I have to decompress. I have to decipher cause and effect or my mind just won’t shut down. “Why did so and so say what she said?” “What does that mean for me?” “How will my region be affected?”
The Chinese have no such issue. They can sit down on a bus and be asleep in mere seconds. They can nap on a park bench surrounded by thousands of other people.
Young people, I’ve noticed, tend to go out in groups. I have seldom seen young couples that appear to be dating. I’m told that’s true all over the world among the younger generation but it’s truly evident here. And when you do see a group of young people here you don’t sense the level of hormonal tension you do elsewhere when a group of young men and women are together. They seem more like brothers and sisters than anything else and I really believe that is how young Chinese think of their relationships.
Chinese of all ages often touch when they talk. Old men, as well as young women, will frequently stroll arm in arm when they are walking and talking with a friend. It means absolutely nothing about their sexual preferences.
The Chinese love to play cards. Sometimes it’s serious. When you see a bunch of taxis parked off to the side of the road you can be assured there is a high stakes card game going on. But families play for fun.
And while the Chinese are as enamored with their smart phones as the rest of the world, they actually talk to each other as well. I often see pairs of people or groups of young people just sitting on the grass talking. I have few American friends who have the patience to just sit on the grass with me and chat.
Wedding photos are often taken in parks. As are advertisements. It’s common to see a small army of photographers with lens that must be able to see the craters on the moon trailing a beautiful young model around Beijing’s parks.
All told, I am enamored with Beijing’s parks and visit them every chance I get. I love the trees and the grass and the flowers. But more than anything else I love the people. They are serene. They are just enjoying. They aren’t trying to figure everything out.
My Chinese wife said it best. We were coming up out of the subway once and were on what had to easily be the longest escalator I have ever seen – every step filled with 2-3 people, of course – and I have traveled the world. I commented: “There must be an enormous electric motor powering this thing.”
My wife’s mouth dropped open in complete disbelief. “You think way too much,” she said. “It’s no wonder you sleep no good.”
Giveaway: If you are one of the first 50 people to send your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org I will send you a free copy of my newest novel, The Message?, by Avam Hale. I’m sorry, but US only please. Glassmaking isn’t that lucrative.
Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China
Notice: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity. They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.