Park Envy at the Temple of Heaven

May 31, 2012

As much as I love my little neck of the woods here in China, every time I visit a bigger, more cosmopolitan city, I can’t help wondering what life would be like if I lived some place, you know, cool.

Like some place people have actually heard of.

I have to admit it would be nice to live in a city that my friends might want to come visit. So far I’ve only managed to coerce people into visiting me by promising them that they can sleep on my couch.

And this tactic really only works with hobos. Unfortunately, I don’t really know enough hobos.

Most of my friends are like, “Umm, and why would I go all the way to some random city in China just so I can sleep on your couch?”

Obviously, they haven’t seen enough pictures of my couch.

Dear Friends, This all could be yours! (Well, not ALL of it... but I'm willing to share.)

I go to Shanghai about once a month. And every time I’m there, I have to admit that I feel the teensiest bit envious of my friends who live there.

I mean, they get to do all this fun stuff like buy cheese and go to Western restaurants on a regular basis.

It’s like they live in a parallel universe version of China. A universe where the dairy section of the supermarket doesn’t just consist of weird yogurt drinks and beer is served as it should be – chilled with a nacho platter.

Cold beer! Nacho platter! I love this universe!

After my recent trip to Beijing, I started to feel a new twinge of big city jealousy.

But it had nothing to do with cheese or nacho platters.

Okay, maybe it did have a little bit to do with cheese.

But, mostly, I was jealous of Beijing’s parks.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Wuxi has a crazy amount of parks. Like, I’m pretty sure this city has more parks than people.

I can leave my apartment building from pretty much any direction, and I will hit a park. And, once that park is finished, I will hit another park.

I know this because I’ve spent the past few months running through all the parks in my neighborhood in an attempt to train for the Great Wall 10K. Every time I’d get to the end of one park, I’d be like, “Looks like this park is finished. Guess I’d better turn around and head home.” And then I’d see another park right across the street from the park I had just run through. So I’d have to keep on running until that park finished. But then there would be another park after that park. And so on and so on until I could no longer feel my knees.

It’s like Wuxi wants my body to self-destruct.

And, trust me, these parks are not sad, tree-less, concrete-covered affairs.

They are sprawling expanses with sun-dappled walkways fringed with green grass and leafy bushes.

Ooo, walkways!

There are park benches and playgrounds and ornately carved pagodas.

Ooo, pagodas!

And there are tons of bridges — the pretty, arched kind of bridges that remind you of old water color paintings.

Ooo, bridges!

My favorite local park is a wetlands protection area that rests along a small portion of the massive Lake Tai.

There are all these signs everywhere that talk up the different types of birds and plants that live in the park.

There’s even something called a “waterfowl appreciation area.”

It's about time waterfowl got a little appreciation, am I right or am I right?

There’s also a funky little sculpture garden full of cool sculptures like this one:

Cool, right?

And creepy sculptures like this one:

Creepy, right?

As you can see, my local parks are really nothing to scoff at. Especially because I’m pretty sure that banana statue comes alive at night and will totally eat your face off if you even dare to scoff at it.

But it wasn’t until my recent trip to Beijing when I realized what my parks were missing: people doing crazy stuff.

Sure, there are people at my local parks.

But they’re usually just doing boring park things – like walking or sitting or staring at the weird white girl running around in spandex pants. (Ahem. That would be me.)

Nothing to see here, folks.

There are the occasional tai-chi-ers.

There’s one lady who likes to walk backwards, with her hands up in a large V-shape.

And there’s one guy who can do a full split and stay that way for at least five minutes.

But, for the most part, the crowd at my local park is pretty ho-hum.

Now, this is definitely not the case in Beijing – at least not at the Temple of Heaven Park, which I visited on my last day in the city.

I can’t say I was feeling particularly in a temple-y mood when I decided to hit up the park. But it was within walking distance from my hotel, and I felt I should leave my hotel room at least once during the day to justify the ten pounds of food I had eaten at the breakfast buffet.

Mmmm... breakfast buffet.

After I’d entered the park gates, it didn’t take me long to realize that the main attraction at the park wasn’t the temples.

Sure, the temples were pretty and all.

Ooo, pretty.

But those temples couldn’t possibly compete with the crowds of over sixty-somethings who descend upon the park everyday.

You see, if you happen to be retiree in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven Park is apparently the place to hang.

Quite literally.

It was like one big senior citizen center, except a super awesome senior citizen center where the senior citizens come packing their own accordions.

There were people dancing.

And knitting.

And playing cards, mahjong and Chinese chess.

And singing.

And hacky-sacking.

There was workout equipment.

And newspapers to read.

And a marriage market, where parents could try to match up their unmarried sons and daughters.

And there were whole bunches of people doing this amazing dance thing that involved what looked like badminton rackets. I stood there watching them with my mouth open for at least twenty minutes. And then I took this video.

I mean, how do you even get gravity to work like that?

I suspect there was some kind of wizardry involved.

Since returning to Wuxi from Beijing last week, I have to admit my favorite local park has kind of lost its place in my heart.

I mean, sure, it’s got pretty pagodas and cool statues and a weird white girl running around in spandex pants. (Ahem, me again.)

But where’s the action and excitement and the anti-gravity badminton rackets?

I seriously think those waterfowl are going to have to step things up a notch. Like start giving me something to appreciate, if you know what I mean.

Have a favorite park? Tell me all about it.

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On May 31, 2012 at 11:27 am Selly said:

    Shall step in your footsteps and also marvel at the delights of Beijing parks while there, though if I keep expanding my list of things to do I will soon have to give up my precious sleep in favour of seeing it all!

  2. On May 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm Lillie Marshall said:

    Ok, first, you never fail to make me laugh so hard my belly muscles get cramped. 🙂

    Second, I am also OBSESSED with the Temple of Heaven Park! I led an educational tour to Beijing this February with 42 teens from Boston, and in our subsequent articles about the trip, 60% of the photos featured were from that park: including photos of locals doing dancing aerobics to “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” sword fighting practice, and us doing back-bends in front of that gorgeous main temple. 🙂

    Oh, and RESPECT for running that 10k!!!
    Lillie Marshall recently posted..Kobus: How a Job Teaching Online Gives Freedom to Travel

  3. On May 31, 2012 at 3:32 pm James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly said:

    I totally prefer the nice Wuxi parks to the Beijing ones. Peace and quiet, I say. I was in a Saigon park this morning when a heroin kid hit me up for 5 cents while kids were playing on a swing set over astroturf. Not a natural blade of grass in sight. Consider yourself lucky, young lady! Anti-gravity badminton racquets? Meh…
    James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly recently posted..Photo of the Week — Durian, the King of Fruits

  4. On May 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm DebbZ said:

    I visited Temple of Heaven Park last December. It’s huge and pretty. But it was too cold during the winter, I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted too 🙁
    I’ve never been to Wuxi though, sounds like a quiet place to relax 🙂
    DebbZ recently posted..Hong Kong: Food Porn

  5. On May 31, 2012 at 6:22 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    What a gorgeous park!!!!!! You should really meet my friend when you’re in Shanghai next time, you would LOVE her!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Macau: Day 3 (Part 1)

  6. On May 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm Priya said:

    The parks & bridges in Wuxi look soo pretty! Like so, so, sooooo preeetyyy! I want to go and see all the prettiness. Yeah, I just have boring Chicago parks here where people don’t really do any of that Beijing cool stuff.

    I’m still getting over the prettiness. And the nacho platter! (I’m drooling right now.) And um, can I come sleep on your couch? I promise I will love it like my very own couch.:)
    Priya recently posted..How I Left the Country with a Complete Stranger [Part One]

  7. On May 31, 2012 at 10:02 pm Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) said:

    I can’t decide if that statue makes me want to eat all of the bananas in China (before they eat me!) or never eat another banana again…

    Also, what is up with that badminton video?! I assume it must be some kind of scam where they mesmerize you with their skills so that you don’t realize someone has stolen your wallet… With such powers comes great responsibility!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..The Best World Communication Device Ever?

    • On June 1, 2012 at 12:09 am Sally said:

      I really hope those guys weren’t using their wizardry for evil. But you do have a good point… luckily, I managed to make it out of the experience unscathed and with my wallet still with me.

  8. On May 31, 2012 at 10:34 pm Jessica Hill said:

    I spent a week stranded in Hanoi, Vietnam with no money, so I made it a goal to see all of the parks! It was a lot of walking (it was far too hot to run and I had no cash for a taxi), but the parks were beautiful and they all had a lake in the middle.

    However, I also understand your Big City Envy. I had that a few times when I was teaching in a small town in Thailand. Are you teaching in China? Or how did you end up there? I’d like to go there next…

    Love your blog.

  9. On June 1, 2012 at 1:09 am Roy Marvelous said:

    Uh. What’s up with the smiling banana???
    Roy Marvelous recently posted..I Had To Cross An Ocean To Realize It’s A Small World

  10. On June 1, 2012 at 1:32 am Furio said:

    Yeah, the banana is pretty awesome, even if a bit random haha

    Temple of Even Temple is also one of my favorite in Beijing… you forgot to mention people using a huge brush for writing ancient Chinese characters on the floor with water.

    Another spot where there is a massive market for single children is People Square, close to exit 16 of the subway, in Shanghai.

    • On June 3, 2012 at 2:21 am Sally said:

      I didn’t see any of the people writing with the huge brush while I was there — I must have missed them. I did see that in Xi’an while I was there & really loved it. So cool!

  11. On June 1, 2012 at 8:30 am Emily Cannell said:

    I`m in Tokyo- here the adults also like to really engage in the park life. Group jump roping is high on the list of activities, as well as chase, hide and seek, and playing of all instruments banned by your apt complex. Good to know that match making is available in parks in China- for future reference.

    • On June 3, 2012 at 2:19 am Sally said:

      What? I lived in Kobe for 3 years and we didn’t have any kind of crazy park shenanigans like that in my area. I’m totally jealous. I would love to see adults doing group jump roping.

  12. On June 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm Ava Apollo said:

    A marriage market? Thank God, at least I know where to go when I get desperate.

  13. On June 1, 2012 at 10:38 pm Ayngelina said:

    Smiling banana is definitely weird. A smiling apple is not.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Food Friday: Where to eat in Hana?

    • On June 3, 2012 at 2:15 am Sally said:

      Probably the weirdest sculpture there is a pear with an ear in it. Ewww, right? I didn’t put it in the post for fear it would make everyone vomit.

  14. On June 2, 2012 at 8:48 am Naomi said:

    The senior citizens have gotta be somewhere in Wuxi, maybe you haven’t found their special place yet? Or they run and hide when they hear “big-foot” coming!!

    Green Lake Park in Kunming (which I think is smaller than Wuxi) has the oldies playing mandolins and singing opera in falsetto- kinda like chalk down a blackboard! And mahjong, dancing, tai chi etc.

    there’s a challenge before you leave: find Wuxi’s “secret pensioner society”! If that’s not too challengey for you. 😉
    Naomi recently posted..I’m no number cruncher

    • On June 3, 2012 at 2:15 am Sally said:

      Yes, it’s possible I’ve scared them off with my Sasquatch-ness. There are some parks in downtown Wuxi that have lots of old people doing different stuff — but that’s kind of a trek from where I live. I think the parks around me aren’t quite as active just because there aren’t so many old people living in this area. I live on a huge university campus which is right across the street from another huge university campus. So most of the people I see here are college-aged. But I’ll keep looking!

  15. On June 2, 2012 at 11:21 pm Ceri said:

    Too freaking awesome, Sally. 😀 I love parks and little places like this where you could spend hours just people watching.
    Ceri recently posted..Joining the Circus (Part 2)

  16. On June 3, 2012 at 4:23 am choi kum fook said:

    The huge and long history country like China, expectantly, it has huge place for forming parks and many historic cultures and ancient buildings can be seen. Good post! Different activities and cultures can be shown at the parks. I seldom believe the wizardry things in my life! Apparently, “Practice Make Perfect’, they do the exercise or action with great patience continuously! You wouldn’t lose your wallet unless you have ” body-contact” with somebody!

  17. On June 4, 2012 at 7:33 am Letícia Gomes said:

    hmmm.. looks like fun! China, is on my top of lists to visit this year because its rich in culture, traditions, and historical places.

  18. On June 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm Elle of SOLO FEMALE NOMAD said:

    My absolute favourite park was Summer Palace park in Beijing! I loved walking through the park, and unexpectedly coming across walzing couples – just too cute. It was also the time when the trees were blossoming with cherry blossoms. Lovely!

  19. On June 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm jan said:

    I cannot wait till I am over 60 and move to Beijing. I am going to start practicing my knitting, monkey bar skills and dancing right now. Did I mention I have two unmarried children. I had better get their C.V.’s up to date. Bye.

  20. On June 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm kelly@thehungryegghead said:

    My favorite park in Beijing is definitely the Temple of Heaven. I never expected to be that huge!4 hours later and I have not seen the whole park.

    But Beijing in general is huge. I remember it took me 17 minutes to circle the city block that my hotel was located on!
    kelly@thehungryegghead recently posted..Staring into Trees

  21. On June 7, 2012 at 6:07 am Waegook Tom said:

    That banana smile monstrosity that you call a “statue” shall haunt my dreams tonight.

    Now, I also know where to go if I ever want a Chinese sugar daddy that works out.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..The Problem With English Education in Korea

  22. On June 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm DebbZ said:

    I nominated your blog for a blog award games. I’d like to pass the award for you. Please check my blog to find out. Cheers 😀
    DebbZ recently posted..Blog Award Backlog

  23. On June 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm choi kum fook said:

    Miss Sally, In Malaysia,Wherever there is a housing garden,it has a park, but small, like the size of a basket court.Just few children playing objects will be installed on it. There is no way to compare with China park!

  24. On July 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    wow – awesome. We are always so focused on dog parks … we might be missign out! (that banana IS weird … but the Pear … good call).


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