A Walk in the Park

May 8th, 2010

Fresh green leaves overhead, chirping birds, the occasional tickering of a bicycle rolling by and maybe the faint sound of a water fountain.
The feet either on plain earth or light gravel, the nose is delighted by the smell of trees, blossoms and rich soil.

Walking in a park is magical. It’s one of the few things that almost everyone loves. It heals the wounds of stress, it nourishes the senses and calms the mind, preparing it for the next tough week of life ahead.

It’s a piece of freedom of the cake of space around you. Geez, that’s heavy stuff.

People in an elevator, at least in Western ones, throw one another a short nod with the head as a sign of acknowledgement of the other person’s existance. It’s a brief statement of ‘I will accept your privacy’. People in a park however tend to joyfully express a “good day” to any stranger that crosses their path.

Being there underneath these high oak trees, you’d think this must be the most relaxing place on the face of this planet.

Think again.

When your country has more than a billion inhabitants and just about four economic centers, things are a slight bit different.

In Hamburg, where I used to live for the last 15 years, people pride themselves in quoting an ancient law, that is still in place: Any street of the city must feature at least one tree. It is therefore one of the greenest of the world’s bigger cities and still has lots of even greener parks on top, like the Ohlsdorf cemetary, Europe’s biggest.

In China there isn’t any such law, but I believe there is be a spoken rule that says: Any spot in the city must feature at least ten or more people.

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and the like are therefore ideal giant settings for a music video of Michael Jackson’s “You are not alone”.

Because that’s what you are, just never alone. Ever.

Look at it this way: a city with less than 3 million citizens may not even be represented by more that a tiny dot on the map and people might not have heard of it, even if it’s only a 100 km away.

In that light, Hamburg with it’s just-below-2mio would probably not have much more than the status of an upper-sized village.

Let’s keep that in mind.

So, when you’re about to enter a park in China, the first thing you do is to line up behind the 100 people before you at the ticket counter. Yes, that’s right-you need to purchase a ticket to get in! And this would usually be somewhere around 6 Euros or above and only gives way to any general park-ish areas. Please pay again, if there’s a temple, greenhouse, large rock or any other amazing specialty in there.

And the ticket office was only the beginning.

Chinese like to go to bed early. And that in return makes them get up way before you. So when you finally reach the park, early in your own time, you bet that you’re welcomed by at least 5,000 fellow park enthusiasts. The early bird tramps the worm.

The noise level and plentitude isn’t much different from the streets out there. There’s babbling, shouting, running around and eating food where ever you go. A fairground atmosphere. And in the glorious times of iPod and music phones, there are also numerous walking sources of one-man entertainment centers and mini DJs.

Of course, having a phone’s tiny speakers cranked up to the point where it sounds like they’re about to give in any minute means one thing: the person in charge needs to speak quite loudly in order to communicate with the others in their group. You’d think they either want to listen to blasto-phone OR talk OR walk, but once more logic doesn’t apply.

And with a price this high (think of the average income level), most visitors will stay as long as possible, getting the highest return on invest as possible. You’d even see them bringing tents and turning the whole visit into a celebatory picknick-nap-play-nap-picknick event. They’ll do a lot to make sure they don’t have to go home too soon.

Well, you will say, at least you have the fresh shading trees, the calming nature and wonderful smells to enjoy, right?

Oh, how nice that would be.

The North of China doesn’t exactly enjoy a large supply of water. The nearby desert sends lots of hot dry air and only few rain clouds ever sneak through it to actually reach the area, making for sparse growth. And that makes parks quite a bit less green than their European counterparts. However, powered by wishful thinking, there is no lack of signs which try reminding you to keep away from that obviously invisible green stuff.

But the Chinese are easy to satisfy. Show them a half-bread tree with a handful of flaps that in a way resemble leaves, tell them this is wonderful nature and they shall believe it. Posing in front of anything that looks like it’s not fake they are happy as a bunch of squirrels in Spring time.

Fake? Yes, they actually HAVE fake trees and blossoms, too. Why? Well, because “it looks so nice”. Right, and it’s care-free. Made in China and all…

Don’t expect any shade from the aforementioned tooth picky trees though and stow away your romantical expectations of laying underneath and watching birds do birdy business.

The blossoming flowers might be there, but don’t look too closely-you might find they are all in plastic cups, being put there only a week ago. No need to plant any. The Winter is too harsh, so why bother? This way you can just easily replace them by buying new pallets and switching the dead ones. Oh, lovely passion for nature.

And as for the smells–you’ll have the wonderful scents of preservatives from cup noodles and other quick bites which prove to be astonishingly intense and long lasting.

I do adore the Chinese though. Here we are nagging about how impossible it is to find peace and calm in this environment. Meanwhile the crowd around us doesn’t give a chicken foot about it. They’re obviously enjoying themselves, kicking feather balls, taking loads of pictures with kitschy poses and doing whatever it is they like to do. They possess the ability to see nothing around them and focus just on themselves and their leisure time. For them, the park fulfills all the expectations they put into it: a place to be themselves.

That again is something to learn from.
Darn. Again!

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