BY LEWIS CALVERT
On Sunday we visited Beijing People’s Park. Which is not to be confused with the People’s Park of Beijing or Beijing Popular People’s Park. Splitters! To paraphrase the film Life of Brian.
Tiantan Park, Temple of Heaven Park or the Bejing People’s Park as it is more commonly known, is located in the centre of China’s capital.
Take a trip to Liverpool’s Sefton Park and you’ll likely encounter any number of supposed fitness fanatics who take selfies of their new running gear before walking half a lap of the park just so they can tell Facebook: “been for a jog… smiley face”.
Beijing People’s Park is something quite different. It is something quite special.
It is the perfect example of what a park should be: a beacon of activity, buzzing with life, a place to socialise, to laugh, to play, to sing, to dance, to keep fit. A place where strangers become friends in an instant.
We entered the park’s North Heavenly gate and were greeted by tinny Chinese pop music blurring out from cheap speakers. The closer we got, the more engrossing it became and under the protective shade of looming trees we found a gang of octogenarians twirling in tandem.
The bizarre spectacle of elderly people in florescent colours, looking like an 80’s get-fit-quick video is strangely hypnotic and before we knew it we were clapping and spinning with them.
It is an environment akin to a music festival, only without the drink or drugs. Unfortunately. But Beijing People’s Park has something much more valuable: a true sense of community spirit.
As temperature soared well into the thirties, people well into their sixties, soared well into the sky. The most unassuming of people, small in stature yet mighty in strength lifting their bodies effortlessly on the pull up bars of the outdoor gym.
We met a group of seniors who looked more like body builders than OAP’s. Their beige leathery skin, worn by the sun, pronouncing there muscular physique ever more so. One man who was 62 had a body like a suite of Roman armour. And we hate the Romans.
62 YEAR OLD MAN
It is far cry from the scrawny lads who bounce around Newsham Park with t-shirts in one hand and a spliff in the other, thinking they’re the Messiah. They’re not the Messiah, they’re very naughty boys.
Note to reader: This article makes a lot more sense if you have seen Life of Brian.
There were ingenious metal contraptions dotted about the place that allowed users to give themselves back and foot massages which brought me no end of relief.
We delved further into the greenery of the park and came across various circles of senior citizens flailing there legs about, martial arts style, as they partook in games of Chinese hacky sack. Here they use a jianzi, an improvised shuttlecock consisting of a few small weighted discs strung to four vertical feathers. Each person volleyed the bird-like object skyward and it would glide to the other effortlessly. Or it was supposed to.
In what is essentially keepie-uppies, I quickly realised it was not as easy as they made it look and was schooled by a 60-year-old woman. To be fair, she showed elements of control Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be proud of, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Liverpool F.C. tried to sign her this summer- she is available on a free transfer after all.
I managed to haggle myself a jianzi from a local stall owner for about 50p or five yuan: “Ten for that you must be mad?” And I look forward to practising in Chavasse “People’s” park.
Children run amok and there is a plethora of activity amongst the elderly. Although the term “elderly” doesn’t quite seem appropriate due to the activities they were excelling in. Bemusingly though, there didn’t seem to be any middle aged people in sight.
We were again treated to an impromptu music session. This time dozens of locals gathered around the brass band, chanting along to their military esque tune like well a rehearsed choir of soldiers.
Rows of of ancient gantries slither throughout the park, their timber ceilings decorated by detailed light teal and royal blue patterns. Taking solace in the shade they offered were old folks playing cards games and dominoes which gave you overwhelming feeling of togetherness and collectivism.
We thought one group of people were pitching pennies as they were tossing coins at a near by wall, or playing “jingles” as it is known in Scouse. They were in fact partaking in an activity called “divination”, which is essentially like reading your horoscope, or “being divvies” as it is known in Scouse.
The game, I Ching, allows for 64 generalisations as opposed to 12.
Long story medium: you drop three coins and make a note of whether the majority of them are either heads (draw a line) or tails (draw two dashes). You do this six times and you are left with a line/dash pattern, which supposedly reflects your yin and yang. Mine said I would write an unfunny sarcastic article in the near future. So it was way off.
At the heart of the park there lies the Temple of Heaven. The towering cylindrical monument looks out over the park like a religious lighthouse. Marble white steps encase its awesome structure and the vast open square it dominates allows you to marvel at all it’s magnificence. It was here where the emperors of yester-dynisty would sit and “control china”. Not bad for something that looks like a big walnut whip.
What have the Chinese ever done for us? Well, we could learn a lot from them with parks like this.